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Through a new alert system, a Georgia school district hopes to communicate more effectively with parents.
Traditional email notification systems, websites and paper notes weren't cutting it for DeKalb County School District. They worked for some parents, but not all.
Some working parents are too busy to check their email. Many of them don't have Internet access consistently. And not all of them understand English. The population in the Stone Mountain area speaks more than a dozen languages.
"We did not have the tools in place to reach all of our stakeholders — including parents, citizens — so we saw K12 Alerts as a tool to reach a lot of our parents who don't necessarily have access to a computer or the Internet every day, but they have access to a cellphone," said Walter Woods, executive director of communications for DeKalb County School System.
School employees automatically receive the cellphone alerts. Parents, students, partners and citizens opt-in to the messages. They choose whether to receive them as texts, emails or voicemails on their cellphones. And the messages come in their home language through the alert system's translation feature.
"We have to find the most effective channels to reach our unique parent, teacher and citizen population," Woods said.
Those channels will still include traditional methods. But the new system, which IT and public relations staff collaborated on, provides an additional channel that's much faster. And it replaces old systems that weren't working or were ineffective. For example, the lag time on the the district's "push call system" was a trouble spot.
DeKalb's communication office can send daily bulletins on meetings, weather alerts and news about the school district. It also can send a message quickly in case of an emergency.
If a school goes into lockdown, Woods can notify employees, district senior staff and superintendents immediately through a text message. Before this system, he would have sent multiple texts and emails at a much slower rate.
As of Monday, March 26, about 600 parents signed up to receive alerts. Through an ongoing marketing campaign, Woods hopes to bring more parents on board.
DeKalb County is one of the first school districts in Georgia to start using an alert system like this. And it meets two district objectives: doing a better job of engaging employees, parents and students; and using technology to improve communications.
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