Greater Seattle Area School Districts Adopt Parent Notification Programs to Better Connect With Families

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Districts place a premium on direct-to-parent communications in advance of winter weather conditions.

As students throughout the greater Seattle area returned to school this month, many families were met with news from district officials that new or expanded parent notification programs have been put in place for the 2007-2008 school year. These systems will enable district and school officials to reach parents quickly in the event of an emergency, and also improve the quality and frequency of communications with families throughout the year.

Districts implementing or expanding parent notification programs include: Bainbridge Island School District, Bethel School District, Bremerton School District, Orting School District, Peninsula School District, Puyallup School District, South Kitsap School District and Tahoma School District. Together they represent more than 100 schools serving approximately 70,000 students.

Reports show that when notification solutions are used in schools, parents' report improved peace of mind and attendance rates increase. In addition, with school closings and delays commonplace in the Northwest due to unpredictable weather conditions, many district officials consider them vital.

In July the Puget Sound Educational Service District (ESD), Washington's largest educational service district, partnered with SchoolMessenger, a leading U.S. parental notification company, to enable its 35 school districts to more easily adopt communications solutions designed to notify large groups of parents in a short amount of time. The service expands the ESD's SchoolReport.org emergency communications system.

After several ice, wind and snowstorms required emergency calls last year, the Tahoma School District placed a priority on getting a rapid communications program in place for the 2007-2008 school year. "At times our region can be a meteorologist's nightmare," said Kevin Patterson, Tahoma School District public information officer. "With microclimates that develop and change very rapidly, parents who commute out of the valley very early in the morning may not be aware of sudden changes in local conditions that could affect bus transportation for their children. Our goal was to put a system in place that could alert families immediately as emergency situations occur, and then keep them updated as changes develop."

Inclement weather conditions are an annual concern for the Orting School District as well. With five schools located near the base of Mount Rainier and surrounded by two river systems, the district also faces flood concerns. "Although sirens are in place to provide an emergency warning system, they often go off by mistake," said Jeff Davis, superintendent of Orting School District. "With SchoolMessenger we can quickly inform families of real threats, but also reduce unnecessary panic in the event of a false alarm."

If an emergency occurs, massive calling capabilities allow thousands of messages to be placed in a matter of minutes. District or school officials simply log-on to access SchoolMessenger's Web-based service, or in the event of a power outage call a toll-free number from a cell phone anywhere, anytime. Each notification is delivered in the family's language of choice using a voice message, email or text message. The system saves administrators countless hours of staff time when sending routine attendance alerts or community announcements, and allows them to deliver a clear, personalized message quickly and reliably.

In addition to weather-related closures, several threats of violence on its campuses last year helped propel Bainbridge Island School District to adopt a parent notification system. "We want to be partners with parents in the education of their children," said Dr. Ken E. Crawford, superintendent of Bainbridge Island School District. "Safety is of primary importance to us, as is opening up the lines of communication. When schools and families are connected, a special trust develops and student achievement benefits."

Several districts have also explored ways to use their investment in notification systems to the community's greater good. South Kitsap School District, which launched a pilot program for 16 learning centers last spring, assisted the County Health Department this summer by calling thousands of K-5 parents to let them know about a low cost immunization clinic.

"We have a responsibility to our students and their families to keep them informed about activities in their schools, but also in the community," said Dr. Beverly J. Cheney, superintendent of South Kitsap School District. "Our new notification system is a tremendous asset within a very comprehensive program we created to keep families informed and involved in their children's education."

About SchoolMessenger
SchoolMessenger, a division of Reliance Communications, Inc., is a leading provider of parent notification solutions for education. Its family of products, which include desktop, server and hosted solutions, are in use in more than 6,000 districts and schools, connecting educators with millions of parents everyday. Founded in 1999, the privately-funded company is headquartered in Santa Cruz, California. For information, visit http://www.schoolmessenger.com.

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Carleen LeVasseur
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