Online tools boost parent-teacher communications

An improved online platform helps with stakeholder communications.
An improved online platform helps with stakeholder communications.

Few will dispute the fact that parental involvement improves a student’s chances for success. And in order to engage parents, first we need to communicate effectively with them.  To increase the participation of parents in our California district, Natomas Unified School District created a Communications Committee in 2007 to research and identify ways that we could improve the district’s communications with our parents and other stakeholders.

The majority of our communications at the time were sent home in students’ backpacks.  And every district knows the obstacles involved in actually getting a piece of paper from a student’s backpack into the hands of parents, who then must manage a growing pile of documents and often miss important information. We also used eMail to communicate with our parents, but our eMail flow was not effective or comprehensive enough. Also, we were struggling with maintaining communications with our growing student population. Within eight years, our enrollment grew from 5,400 students to its current population of 12,175.

Recognizing that our students are digital natives, and that their parents are accessing online applications daily as well, we wanted to leverage the power of online communications.  But our district web site at the time was not user friendly and thus the burden of content creation lay with those of us in IT. Also, our web site lacked applications for two-way engagement of our stakeholders. Rather, it was a static holding ground for the same information we were sending home in paper form.

We decided it was critical to implement a more robust and interactive web site. However, as we began exploring different solutions, we quickly realized that we needed to broaden our thinking beyond “just a web site”. We saw an opportunity to leverage our entire digital environment, to bring in tools for all our teachers, principals, and staff to communicate with all our stakeholders, and to provide a way for our stakeholders to engage in communications with us. We are fortunate enough that we have a superintendent, Dr. Steve M. Farrar, who shares the view that technology can be much more strategic and impactful when viewed as an integrated platform rather than just a collection of disparate functions and gadgets.

However, we also needed to be mindful of the demands that a holistic platform would place on our IT resources. We wanted a robust platform that could support multiple software applications. Although our IT staff is very skilled, we do not have the resources to build and maintain a multitude of interfaces.

After careful research, we chose the Schoolwires strategic web site and community management solution. Their product platform consists of the Schoolwires Centricity, Assist, and Synergy solutions. This integrated solution suite serves all our communication needs, from putting interactive, internet-based teaching tools into the hands of teachers to better engage their students, to informing all our parents and students about an unexpected school closing, to providing information to the community at large. Our staff even uses it for all service requests, from requesting the repair of a broken desk to reserving a bus for a field trip.

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