Program keeps parents informed

Monday, August 20, 2007

SIKESTON -- Gone at some area schools are older forms of communication such as phone trees and letters to parents.

They are being replaced by SchoolReach systems, which provide recorded messages from school officials in an emergency or just for general announcements, such as cancellations.

"It's just another tool for communications between the school and the parents for any and everything that you may want to use it for," said Steve Borgsmiller, superintendent of the Sikeston R-6 district. The district purchased the system in November 2004 and has used it ever since.

The Dexter School District has also used the program for the past year, and the Chaffee School District recently jumped on the bandwagon and purchased it as well.

"We haven't installed it yet, so it will probably be about a month before it is up and running," said Ken Latham, superintendent. "It's a safety issue and a semi-convenience as well."

Response to the program has been good at both Sikeston and Dexter. "We have been very pleased with the system and our parents have reported that they have been very pleased with it as well," said Dennis Jarrell, assistant superintendent at Dexter. "Safety is one of the main aspects, especially if you need to contact a lot of people in a short period of time."

Borgsmiller said the program could have been used to keep parents in the know when there was a bomb threat back in May. He said a central system is now located in the Board of Education offices as well as individual schools in case of such emergencies, to cut down on rumors, he said.

"I think we're only fully beginning to recognize the potential of the program," Borgsmiller said.

At other times, the systems have been used to alert parents of closings due to inclement weather, reminders of parent-teacher conferences and other activities.

"If you can give people a reminder the day before it's helpful," Jarrell said.

Phone calls are made to parents through the automated system within 30 seconds, Latham said, and the school's name will show up on caller ID. Text messages and e-mails can also be sent if the school has that contact information.

It also records whether the phone was answered by a person or machine and who answered it. For attendance purposes, the program will automatically call homes and leave messages at a pre designated time.

"That's a big time saver for administration," Jarrell said.

Up to 99 lists can be saved in the program, and it includes an unlimited number of calls, Latham said.

And if all those benefits aren't enough, the system can help save postage costs. Latham said: "Just in postage alone it will probably pay for itself."

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