With 22 schools and 8,000 students—nearly all of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch—we have to cover a lot of area in our district. We’d been using a number of applications to maintain open lines of communications with our parents and guardians. We knew that some were working, and others weren’t, and we wanted to create a more unified school-home communications approach.
In 2020, our new superintendent brought a robust communications platform with him when he joined our district. As soon as we saw the platform’s various functionalities and how it eliminated the need for all of those disconnected communications strategies, we were hooked.
Here are four reasons why we decided to consolidate all of our district communications on a single platform:
1. Get everything in one place. With our one new platform, ParentSquare, we were able to eliminate numerous systems and apps. We also eliminated our appointment signup tools and, other than one newsletter, we no longer use Smore. We’ve been able to eliminate all those individual applications and programs. We did receive some pushback from our elementary schools related to one app we phased out, but we were able to address that by showing them just how much more they’d be able to do in the new platform. Once we piloted our communications platform and showed them firsthand, the elementary teachers realized it was true.
2. Speak their language. We have a large population of English language learners in our district. With our school-home communications platform I can write in English and then have the parents read it in their preferred language, such as Spanish. It’s automatically translated for them and then the reverse process happens when any responses are sent back to me that were initially written in Spanish. This has eliminated the need for a translator for basic conversation and it was a real “a-ha moment” for many people in our district.
3. Keep student data private. When I took over the aspect of district communications, I didn’t fully understand the importance of student privacy. From a technology director’s perspective, privacy is about not giving out passwords. But from my vantage point, it’s also about who does or doesn’t have the right to access a student’s information. When you use some apps, those permissions happen at the building level (e.g., I’ll just add a grandma or grandpa for this student) without really understanding whether that person should have access or not. Today, our communications platform is integrated with our student information system (SIS). That helps us better understand who should or shouldn’t have access to the student communications and do a much better job of keeping student data private.
4. See who is (and isn’t) communicating. Our platform generates reports that show me who’s communicating the most and who needs to be communicating more. For example, we’re using newsletter templates and eye-catching graphics on the admin page to show teachers how many posts they’ve sent, identify anyone who is “over-sending” messages and determine who their biggest communicators are. We’ve been using this method more and have also worked the data into our principal’s meetings.
Making Changes on the Fly
When we looked at our audience and how we were communicating with them, we knew we needed a robust app that teachers, administrators, and parents could use on their mobile phones. We also needed something that was easy for teachers to use on their laptops, versus on their iPads or phones.
We piloted the program first and used that time to gather feedback and determine what specific district settings would be best. This was a good approach for us because we were able to make changes on the fly and pivot as we learned what was and wasn’t working for our stakeholders. And it ultimately led to a successful implementation, rollout, and use of our new unified school-home communications platform.
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