With 3,300 students across three different schools, our district was using a variety of diverse applications for school-to-home communications. They all handled separate aspects of our teacher-parent communications, but they weren’t cohesive.
We started looking for a new solution in 2019 that would consolidate the multiple, disparate tools into one platform and then quickly kicked that effort into high gear at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
After speaking with other districts about their experiences using school-home communication platforms, and taking our own technology director’s recommendation to heart, we decided to implement ParentSquare. We put together a core group of people that would be using the new communications technology we adopted in order to assess how well it would work for their teams and respective buildings.
By April, we were trained on and using our new platform for all our school-home communications needs. The timing was ideal. We completely ignored the advice that says, “don’t change how you communicate in the midst of a crisis” and instead focused on grouping all of our communications activity into a single, safe and secure location.
Equity and Integration Made Simple
From our new communications system, we wanted an application that was both visually appealing and user-friendly. We didn’t want users to have to go through a lot of cumbersome clicks or steps, and we needed a platform that could handle translation for students whose first language wasn’t English.
The new platform also had to integrate with our student information system, and be able to message, post and manage automated calls from one place.
Zooming and Training
During the first week of April, we used Zoom to connect with every instructional staff member for training sessions, each of which only took about 30 minutes. After that, everyone was up and running on the new platform, which effectively replaced the multiple, disconnected communication applications we previously used.
We set up templates for Monday-through-Friday messages, or posts, that instructors use at the primary and elementary school levels. Because we have different cohorts of students at the secondary level, we also set the system up to be easily accessible for the middle and high school teachers and staff while also displaying the same simple features like duplicating and/or reformatting previously-used posts in order to save time.
Working with our superintendent Jamie Farr, I used the platform’s post feature to schedule his regular newsletters and updates to the school community. As a member of the ParentSquare Advisory Council, Farr understood and appreciated the idea of consolidating our school-home communications on one platform and realized that this was a critical tool for our district to have.
Saving Time & Money
We also use the communication platform to field state-required digital equity surveys. A PDF with a custom survey link is generated for each student in the district, and that document with the survey link then gets automatically delivered to the parents who complete the survey.
We can easily monitor parent survey responses as they come in, process the feedback, and then adjust accordingly. We used a similar approach with a 2021 learning choice survey, where we used the feedback to adjust schedules even before the survey closed out. This helped us stay on top of the results as they came in.
With a unified school-home communication platform in place, we’re not only saving time, but we’re also saving a lot of money on office supplies, paper, and postage. Just 15 weeks into the 2021-22 school year, for example, we had already used the platform to distribute over 15,000 different pieces of communication.
When you factor in that volume of messages, the time savings, the postage saved and the fact that we don’t need a dedicated team of people to handle this automated system, the cost savings associated with our platform are significant. Our next step is to use it to send out census verification to all district families — a task that would normally require the physical mailing of about 3,000 envelopes.
Instead, we’ll just use PDFs with the Secure Documents feature right through our communications platform. In a world where we’re all busy, this is one tool that helps everyone in our school community— from our superintendent to staff to teachers to parents — come together and collaborate in a very simple app or web-based format. It helps us manage everything without becoming too overwhelmed by the process.
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