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SchoolMessenger System Delivers Convenience

December 2, 2010

JOHNSON CITY, TN -- School Messenger, the automated notification system for Worcester County Public Schools, debuted in October. The calling system was added to increase communication with school system stakeholders regarding important messages, such as school delays, closings, and early dismissals. The feedback from stakeholders -- parents, administrators, teachers, and students -- has been positive about the system.

Last school year, inclement weather not only wreaked havoc on our community, it also overwhelmed many communication systems. Think about the parents of 6,693 students who had to access information for our school system's 10 school closings, four two-hour delays and one early dismissal during the 2009-2010 school year. Although our emergency hotline is able to handle 16 calls at one time, the hotline registered a busy signal many times. I imagine that our local television stations felt the crunch as well. With so many closings from area schools, the list on the bottom of the screen or "ticker" took a very long time to go from "A to W!"

Thankfully, the new notification system has had a great deal of success. On Nov. 15, our school system had a one-hour delay due to fog. School Messenger made 4,926 calls to students and staff, of which 94.8 percent were successfully completed, meaning they were answered by a person or an answering machine. (The system eliminates duplicate calls to the same family, and does not call families who have not enrolled.) Foggy conditions also required a one-hour delay on Nov. 22. School Messenger called 5,002 telephone numbers, with a 94.5 percent delivery rate.

When a job has been completed, the system provides an extensive report, letting us inform principals of the calls that were not successfully delivered, such as disconnected or unknown numbers. In turn, principals can inform parents. As corrections are made, the delivery rate should increase.

Many parents have commented on the convenience of the system. Catherine Mongelli, parent of a Showell Elementary School kindergartener, approaches mornings with a regular routine and appreciates being contacted if her son's school is going to be delayed or closed. "I don't always watch television in the morning. I start getting my son ready for school and sometimes I don't look outside. I absolutely think the system is convenient," she said. "Getting a call means that I have one less thing to do in the morning."

Principals also appreciate School Messenger. "It is important for our parents to be informed in a timely manner when there has been a change in the regular school schedule," said Pocomoke Middle School Principal Caroline Bloxom. "With School Messenger, parents have the time and information they need to make adjustments or arrangements for their children. In the past, it could be very frustrating for a parent to follow a regular schedule, such as waiting at the bus stop, only to learn that schools have been delayed. The new system helps prevent this from happening."

Teachers and staff also get a call in the morning when there is a delay or closing. 2010 Worcester County Teacher of the Year Angela Landreth, an algebra teacher at Snow Hill Middle School, appreciates the initiation of communication by the school system. "The ability for the school district to proactively communicate important messages to all stakeholders makes it an invaluable resource," said Landreth.

Students have also weighed in about the new system. Jonathan Rothermel, a Stephen Decatur High School senior and student representative for the Board of Education, appreciates the convenience the system provides parents. Although the system is capable of generating phone calls, text messages, and e-mails, only the calling delivery method is currently being used. Message delivery methods will most likely be expanded in the future.

In March 2011, parents will be asked to complete a communications survey, and School Messenger will be added as a survey item. Parents will be able to indicate their satisfaction with the notification system, providing the school system with valuable information about School Messenger's effectiveness.

If you have additional questions about the School Messenger system, you may call me at 410-632-5087. Parents who wish to change a phone number, or who wish to enroll or opt-out, should contact their child's school.

Beety is student information technology instructor and School Messenger liaison for Worcester County Public Schools.