Re-2’s new auto dialer gets the word out faster |

Re-2’s new auto dialer gets the word out faster

John GardnerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The Garfield County School District Re-2 is working on its communication skills.When Colorado State Trooper Brian Koch was shot by Steven Appl on Oct. 24, 2006, Re-2 schools went on lockdown. To inform district parents of the status of the school and their students, district administrators utilized the auto-dialer messaging system that places phone calls to the homes of students automatically, to spread the message that the schools were on lockdown and what parents should do.”In a crisis situation like that we want to be able to contact parents as soon as possible to let them know what is going on,” said Theresa Hamilton, director of districtwide services for Re-2.However, the auto dialer that the district usually uses to inform parents that their student has missed a class during the school day, was too slow to get the message out to all 2,623 households districtwide. Hamilton estimated that during the lockdown in October, it took almost three hours to call a little more than 600 households.But that was the old days.The district now lets the Web-based School Messenger system handle all phone calls to parents, and it’s a whole new story.”This system is really cool,” Hamilton said. “Now we can get a message out in a fraction of the time that the old system would allow.”The district has been using School Messenger since the last week of December 2006, for various messages. But more recently, with the peanut butter salmonella scare sweeping the nation the second week of February, administrators once again made the decision to contact parents about the situation. Hamilton said there wasn’t a problem with the school’s supply of peanut butter but that they felt that it was still a good idea to get the message out to parents in the district to check the supply at home.This time around, the School Messenger system was able to contact the 2,623 households in 34 minutes. The system also allows individual schools to contact just their students’ households.”That is huge,” Hamilton said. “The ability to get a mass message out to the whole district in a half hour is invaluable in a crisis situation.”Not that the peanut butter scare was exactly a crisis, but it was a good example of how the system would work in similar situations like the Koch shooting.School Messenger Services is based in Joplin, Mo., but all the work is still done within the district. It’s so versatile compared to the old system that it can be done from an administrator’s cell phone, Hamilton said.”I can access the account from my cell phone wherever I am, record the message I want to get out and send it,” Hamilton said. “I don’t have to be in the office to do it.”Hamilton said that it also gives them the ability to have the message translated into Spanish for those specific households, saving time so recipients won’t have to listen to both versions of the same message. “I don’t have to have a translator here,” Hamilton said. “The system can contact the translator wherever they’re at by cell phone, they can record the message and it will be uploaded as a digital file and be sent out.”School messenger also sends a report to the district recording the number of disconnected numbers, unsuccessful calls as well as successful attempts, how long it took to reach a number and how many attempts were made. School Messenger works directly with the Power School software that contains contact information of the students.”The system is only useful if we have accurate data in Power School,” Hamilton said. “But since we’ve been able to see the records of what numbers are bad, we’ve been able to keep our records better updated as well.”The first attempt yielded about 150 bad phone numbers on record, but after the peanut butter incident the school only had 36 phone numbers districtwide that were disconnected or no longer in service.”That means that our secretaries are doing a great job of updating the contact info,” Hamilton said.Other options that School Messenger offers are direct e-mail and cell phone text-messaging capabilities if the district has the correct contact information. “The new system is all dependent on the information that we have,” Hamilton said.School Messenger costs the district $13,000 per year for the service, but no additional hardware was required for the system. Administrators can do everything from their computers at any school in the district or as stated before, from a cell phone if need be.”In times of a major crisis this system is going to be invaluable,” Hamilton said.Contact John Gardner: 945-8515, ext. 16604jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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