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Overall Parent Communications Improve at Schools via Emergency Notification Systems

K-12 schools are seeing unexpected benefits when they implement emergency notification systems. Ninety-five percent of staff that uses the application for attendance notification reported improved attendance rates at their schools. Of those schools that use it for parent engagement, 95 percent reported increased involvement. And one out of five schools that use their mass notification system to communicate in more than one language reported that software translation capabilities have improved communication with hard-to-reach members of their communities.

The results come out of a survey sponsored by Blackboard, which sells two alert systems, Blackboard Connect and AlertNow. The company hired Gomez Research to measure usage among its customers in K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and local government agencies. The survey had 1,469 responses among those segments.

Web-based services such as Connect and AlertNow provide the capability to communicate with subscribers automatically by phone, email, text, and other modes.

Federal Way Public Schools in Washington State, which has used Blackboard Connect since 2007, indicated that the use of the mass notification system has made the district more effective in parent communications. The district, which is located outside of Seattle, has about 22,000 students and must deal with 107 different languages among its parent population.

According to Diane Turner, the district's chief communications officer, the switch from "kid mail"--school newsletters and flyers sent home in student knapsacks--to Connect has "immediately expanded our ability to make contact with and engage our parents." At the same time, she said, the language features of Connect allow the district to make calls to parents in 22 different languages.

For example, by implementing daily attendance notification at middle schools and high schools, the district dropped unexcused absences by 70 percent, which, said Turner, has had a beneficial impact on student achievement. "If we can get our students to just come to school, they can pass the state assessments." She added that now parents know when students are skipping class. "As a result, they are having more discussions with their children."

The alerts have also served as documentation during truancy hearings in the district. According to Karen Saunders, a member of the district's community relations staff, "Before a hearing, we're able to pull up the data and demonstrate that parents were notified of absences, as well as what the results of those notifications were. It completely eliminates the 'he said, she said' or 'I didn't get the call' part of the conversation."

The district has been using Connect to contact parents every two weeks when a student's grade is in danger of falling below a C. Saunders said that activity has resulted in more parental involvement as well as more timely responses from teachers, who must enter the grades into the automated gradebook application.

In September 2010 the district began testing Blackboard Connect for Teachers, a version of the program that allows teachers to keep parents up to date on student performance via custom or pre-recorded communications.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.