5 District Communications Platform Rollout Tips
Up until last year, our district relied on a system of parent “email groups” for school-to-home communications. Each grade level and school used a separate group, with all email address updates inputted manually into the district’s Central Access student information system (SIS).
Because our teachers and administrators ran their own email groups, the manual changes weren’t always obvious to everyone in the district. A principal would get notified of a parent who wasn’t receiving the emails, for example, and then someone would go in and manually update the system.
Needless to say, handling everything manually was taking up a great deal of our time. We also used our SIS to manage phone calls and send papers home, knowing that a lot of parents probably weren’t even receiving that correspondence.
When our SIS provider introduced us to the secure platform for school communications and communications-based services, we were sold on it pretty quickly. We sat in on a session about the platform and the vendor was recruiting schools across the state to pilot the program. We all looked at each other and said, “We have to do this.”
5 Success Tips for Districts
Here are five steps that we took to ensure a smooth transition away from email, phone calls, and paper and over to a single, unified school-home communications platform:
Make it the end-all. We knew that we didn’t want teachers, administrators, and coaches using all different types of communications, and we wanted everyone to start using the platform. We hit some resistance early on, and particularly from coaches who had been using one particular app for years; they didn’t want to change. Fortunately, our technology partner had a good answer to every one of their objections.
Recruit champions for your team. We started our pilot in January 2022 by asking for volunteers to test out the platform. Those early users soon became “champions” for the new platform as it was rolled out across the district. We went into the 2022–2023 school year saying that the platform was going to be the only form of communication we’d be using, (both for student and data privacy issues) and that no one would be allowed to use the other apps they’d used for years. So, the fact that people had already fallen in love with using the platform was a big help in getting everyone else onboard.
Reach someone for every single child. In the past, our district would email registration codes to parents — a process that could easily take a full day to complete. To get parents enrolled with our communications platform, we just used its Secure Documents feature and asked them to sign in, verify all of their information, and obtain a code. By midway through the 2022–2023 school year, our district contactability rate reached 100%. In the past it was amazing how many students said, “well, I didn't get this” or “my phone number and my email are wrong.” Now we know that we're reaching somebody for every single child.
The more the merrier. Our food services department uses the platform to send out lunch money balance due alerts. Teachers use it to manage field trip permission slips and to send out information and reminders about those events. And our school nurses built a customized form in the platform for incoming students, reminding parents to submit the required health and immunization data.
Meet parents where they are. I personally have three children attending three different schools in the district, so I saw the immediate benefits of consolidating all communications onto a single, safe, secure platform. Before, I was getting emails and reminders about band practice, class schedules and parent participation. One day I was standing in the store, knowing I needed to bring something for the kindergarten classroom and not remembering what it was. The paper was sitting on my counter at home. If only I’d had this communications platform, then, I would have had that information right on my cell phone.
Bracing for Change
The educational environment is always changing, but school-home communications is definitely one of those things that we didn’t hesitate to change. We saw the potential rewards and we didn't hold back anything; we were full-on and ready to embrace the new platform. We did encounter a few hurdles along the way, but the support that we received from our technology partner went a long way in helping us through the transition.
Tara White is the Director of Testing and Technology at Pearl River County School District in Carriere, MS. They use ParentSquare as their school-home communications platform.