Schools adopt messaging system

Published 9:40 pm Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A new communication system is changing the way Chilton County school officials notify students and parents both during emergencies and when a timely announcement needs to be made.

The crisis communication system allows the central office and individual schools to store contact numbers in large databases. A recorded message can then be sent out to all the numbers in a database.

“It’s a good tool for us to stay in contact with our parents, especially in emergency type situations, such as when we have to turn out school for bad weather,” Superintendent Keith Moore said.

For instance, to make an announcement, all Moore has to do is record one phone message. Within a matter of minutes, everyone in the database is automatically notified.

The new system, approved by the board of education in August, replaces the “call tree” network formerly used in schools.

But the beauty of the whole thing is that it can be used for any type notification.

“Individual schools can send out reminders about testing dates, picture days or progress reports,” Moore said.

Teachers can even notify a specific group of students about a field trip.

There is one disadvantage, however — if someone’s number is not on the list, they do not get the message. All the phone numbers are securely stored by Georgia-based company NTEC.

“The system we’re using is only as good as the numbers we have,” Moore said. “If [parents’] numbers are out of service, they need to call their school and update their information.”

Verbena School Principal Larry Raines said he wanted to get the system for his school before the board adopted it.

He was one of the first to use NTEC to notify parents about upcoming progress reports.

The program reported a 60-percent success rate, meaning a corresponding number of persons or voice mail accounts were successfully reached. Raines indicated that’s not bad for the first time.

“It will further open the line of communication between parents and schools,” he said. “That keeps them informed of what’s going on and allows us to work together toward that one goal, which is to educate our kids.”

Moore said the plan costs $1.80 per student, and each individual school pays 80 cents per student. The total estimated cost to the board of education is about $7,500 per year.