Upon return, a 25k-student Texas school system shares how they lean on a technology solution for a more streamlined approach.
GUEST COLUMN | by John Karstetter
Like most districts, our whole world changed overnight in March 2020. We all left for Spring Break, thinking that we’d be back in class the following Monday. A few days later, we received a shocking message: not only would we not be returning to campus as planned, but we had no idea how long the hiatus from in-classroom learning would last.
At that point, we knew that we needed a different communication approach. One of the best things our district leadership did almost from day one was streamline communication so that parents didn’t get messages from multiple departments.
‘If there’s one thing we learned over the last 16 months or so, it’s that school-home communication is a mission-critical part of what we do here as a district.’
Instead, everything flowed right to our communications department, where our communication team sent out information on the district’s behalf. This not only assured parents that the information was coming from the district, but it also helped us ensure accuracy in those communications, which effectively became the bloodline for our entire school district.
Four Unexpected Successes
With our safe and secure school-home communication platform in place since 2018, we’ve enjoyed a strong return on our investment over the last several years. Here are four unexpected benefits that we’ve seen from adopting a districtwide communication platform:
1. Up-to-date contact information. You can send all the messages you want, but if you’re sending them to the wrong phone numbers or emails, it’s just a waste of time. The system also isn’t equitable if it’s completely missing some parents. Our solution’s built-in contact data management system complements our student information system (SIS), where all of our student records and parent details are housed. Within the communications platform, we have an interface that allows parents to verify their information securely and without touching the database of records (which remains under the school’s control).
2. Language translation. We speak 55 different languages in our district. Our communication platform translates messages in all of those languages for us has been a lifesaver. I haven’t heard of anyone not being able to get the correct translations. So, that in itself has just been a real positive because if you can’t read the information, there’s no point in sending it. Again, this creates a more equitable environment because we can reach every family across 55+ languages.
3. It’s not just for parents. We launched a safe and secure app for two-way communication between teachers and students, for our high schools and middle schools in early 2021. We piloted it at one high school, and it was amazing. A principal or a teacher can send out a post and get 93% interactive ‘Appreciates,’ which is equivalent to a ‘Like’ on social media. This is how we know that they’re reading the posts. When we rolled it out two weeks later to all of our high schools, again the average ‘Appreciations’ and interactions were well above 90% virtually all of the time. One month later, we rolled it out in our middle schools. This has been a game-changer for our students, who will use it even more when they come back to school and start attending football games, band practice, and other school events.
4. Easy appointment-setting. Our communication platform includes a feature that allows teachers to create meeting time slots based on their availability, so parents can easily self-schedule a convenient time. Many of our teachers are using this feature, which provides a simple way to schedule conferences and send reminders to parents. The possibilities will be endless for the 2021-22 school year when we’re back on campus and using it for in-person appointment-setting.
If there’s one thing we learned over the last 16 months or so, it’s that school-home communication is a mission-critical part of what we do here as a district. We can’t effectively do our jobs, send mass communications to parents, or interact with our families without a unified, secure communication platform in place.
As the school environment continues to normalize, there could be even more unexpected benefits waiting for us around the next corner.
John Karstetter is a communications specialist at Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD in Texas. Connect with him via Twitter @JohnKarstetter.