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Up until last year, our school district was using our student information system to manage all of our school-to-home communications. With four school sites and 2,500 students, our district was limited to using plain text for those interactions and was unable to easily customize messaging with eye-catching fonts, graphics or photos. On top of that, the voice feature on our SIS was computerized and often made errors.
As my district’s communications coordinator, I wanted a better solution for our district, which was moving to 1:1 computing and becoming more technologically advanced at the time. I evaluated several communication platforms, selected the ParentSquare consolidated school-home communications platform and started using it in summer 2020.
We learned a great deal as we navigated our transition and believe more districts would benefit from a unified platform designed for efficient, effective, two-way school-home messaging. Here are the top benefits we’ve seen at our district:
- Replaces the need for staff to use personal cell phones and external applications. Prior to using our new platform, staff members were using their own cell phones and applications with little to no administrative oversight to communicate with students. Being able to bring all communications onto a single platform was a big selling point for our district. We can now easily access all of the communication that takes place on the platform.
- Makes parents want to open, read and engage with messages. The platform has pushed more parents to open their emails and texts — namely because those communications are easier to read and engage with. I enjoy sending them more, because I know they look so much better. This, in turn, has definitely improved the way we communicate with parents.
- Allows us to intervene and address issues when needed. I like being able to review private comments on posts — something that wasn’t available with our previous system. If we sent parents a message that they didn’t like, they’d rarely take the time to call the school to ask questions about it. They would just go on social media to vent. With our platform, that venting shifted over to a more private forum that I can monitor and respond to. I can turn on comments on a post and let parents voice their opinion, and I’m the only one who sees them, so I can quickly address things and help.
- Extends the power of communication to other stakeholders. We’re also using the school-home communications platform with our athletic coaches, who weren’t able to use our previous set-up. We’ve been able to engage students via the connected StudentSquare app, which has helped bring our district’s school-home and on-campus communications into the modern era. It allows for safe and secure correspondence between students, their teachers and their coaches.
- Gives parents more choices and self-serve options. We’ve had a lot of parents mention how nice it is to be able to choose their preferences on how they receive their communications and information. For example, many of them have just one notification preference — email or text — turned on. One of our high-school teachers was receiving multiple notifications throughout the day because she has multiple children in different schools. With the platform, she opted to personalize her notification settings to receive all messages in one batch so she could focus on her own classroom during the day. (Emergency alerts for her children will always push through.)
After dealing with a very basic system for years that lacked most of the functionality and features, we began to see the benefits of our new two-way communication solution pretty quickly.
In general, I’d say our new platform has dramatically improved the way we communicate with families, who are now more apt to open and read our messages. And I’m proud to send these communications because they look so much better than what we had before. This change has definitely been a win-win for our entire district.
Ashton Brellenthin is the communications coordinator at Danville Community School Corp. in Danville, Ind. The district has been using the ParentSquare school-home communications platform.
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