With more than 15,000 students across 25 different schools in central Washington state, one of our biggest goals coming into this past school year was to develop a feature-rich communications system that was the same for teachers, schools, and the district. We looked at the options on the market, talked to other districts about what they are using, and then put in a new school-home communications platform in place for the 2021-22 school year.
One of our concerns when adopting a new platform was whether it could handle multilingual communications for the district, where our students speak eight different languages–mainly English and Spanish, so that was our previous sole focus.
If you take Spanish and English out of the mix, we’ve never communicated using the six other languages before, unless it was an Individual Education Plan or something else that had to be translated. We’ve never communicated our normal messaging out in ALL languages that impact our families.
We’re now able to communicate with those families using our communications platform in their authentic language. This happens at the teacher level and then also at the department, school, and district level. Teacher and parent feedback on the platform’s translation capabilities has been extremely positive.
For Spanish, for example, I hear from teachers that it’s a breeze to use. They like being able to communicate back and forth with translation that works in a two-way environment. One of our goals was to increase two-way communication between two different language speakers. And at least digitally, we’ve certainly accomplished that.
Not Just for Teachers
Since 2021, our contactability rate for families has increased from 60 percent to a current 97 percent by using the ParentSquare platform. We’re now starting to use StudentSquare, which teachers and school staff use to communicate directly with students in high school and middle school (and that students use to communicate directly with their instructors). We have several early adopters—namely coaches and activity sponsors—using the platform as a secure communication and workflow center between educators and students.
Other district departments are also using the platform. For example, our district’s transportation office sends out timely targeted messages to families regarding a specific route or bus. Previously, this was handled on a schoolwide basis (e.g., “Martin Luther King Bus number 15 is running 15 minutes late”) and distributed to a large audience. It now just goes to the 30 riders on the bus; that has been huge for us.
We also send out student attendance notifications, so parents are alerted to any issue. They can then write in their own comments and/or get the attendance excused right in our school-home communications platform.
Thanks to our comprehensive communications platform, our phones don’t ring off the hook anymore and we know that nearly all of the messages we send out are received by families (and we’re working on that final 3 percent). Parents know they’re going to get their messages, or they at least know where to find them. Whatever the news is, they trust its authenticity and they appreciate receiving it in a timely manner. Our two-way communications platform makes it hassle-free for our families to respond to it.
That’s what our community is expecting, and now they can count on it.
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