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New York District Links Parents and Teachers With Computerized Voice Processing System

At Barker Central Schools, a K-12 district located near Buffalo, N.Y., communication is considered a top priority. "The more we communicate with parents, the better we are doing our jobs as educators," says superintendent Robert Bouldin. To help achieve that objective, the district #172;elementary, middle and high schools all housed in one building—has installed a new computerized voice processing system designed specifically for education. The technology allows institutions to place information about class activities, homework assignments, and even sports updates or the lunch menu just a phone call away. Teachers and staff record messages on "voice mail boxes;" parents call in using any touch-tone telephone and select the boxes they wish to hear. Parents also have the option of leaving messages for teachers. "Technology-Minded" Staff Bouldin describes his staff as being "technology-minded," so the idea of using a computerized voice-processing system was appealing to everyone. In selecting a system for their site, the superintendent visited Parlant Technology in Provo, Utah, makers of ParentLink. He says he was impressed by the company's "forward thinking," including their view that product development is an ongoing process. Based on that visit, Barker Central Schools purchased Model XII of ParentLink, which consists of a 486 DX2-66 machine with 16MB RAM, a 420MB hard disk and two four-port voice cards. The system also contains a 2400 bps modem for remote diagnostics. Following installation, instructors were "brought very rapidly up to speed" on how to record messages, according to Bouldin. And parents have responded with great enthusiasm. In fact, after three months of operation, nearly 50,000 mail boxes have been accessed. "For a district of 1,200 students, this shows that ParentLink is frequently used," notes Jeffrey Costello, the computer technology assistant. Timely Information The system is especially popular at the elementary school level. "Parents can call the teachers to get assignments and information on what is happening in the classroom," says Roselyn Morgan, elementary principal. "And it's a good way for parents to leave messages for teachers." Costello explains that ParentLink has many applications. For example, he says, staff have recorded messages containing everything from trivia quizzes to weekly classroom reports by students. "And new ideas come up regularly." But the benefits of the voice processing system extend beyond teachers and parents. Students often call in while studying or completing homework. Some teachers even update their mail boxes to provide information that cannot be heard in class. And, if a student is absent, a quick call to ParentLink lets them know exactly what was missed. Finally, as a reward for good work, students are allowed to record the classroom updates. "Students love to hear their names and voices [over the phone]," says Costello. Not Just for Homework Mail boxes are also reserved for "fun things," such as audio clips from Buffalo hockey games, according to Costello. A daily "Sports Challenge" box supplies clues and asks listeners to identify the answer by leaving a message. These entertaining messages generate even more interest in the system from students. Parents have already grown so accustomed to ParentLink that they'll call the district office if messages are not updated regularly. To further involve parents in their child's education, the schools plan to implement Teacher's Assistant. This ParentLink module works with electronic gradebook systems, such as Excelsior Software's Pinnacle, to deliver grade and attendance information over the phone in multiple languages. Costello expects that Teacher's Assistant will make the voice processing system even more invaluable at Barker Central Schools. "Then, ParentLink can be used to get the word out about anything we want."

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.

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