When I joined our district in 2021, I was asked to review its overall communications and ensure that we were communicating effectively both with our families and with the surrounding community. Across our 13 schools, it was immediately apparent that our current platform wasn’t meeting expectations.
That platform didn’t have the features and resources we needed to be able to reach our communication goals. We started looking for a better option by researching online and speaking with other districts about what they were using.
Through that exercise, we learned about ParentSquare and decided to implement it. Here are six ways that our new approach to communications has transformed our district:
1. Multilingual translation capabilities. Our primary languages are Spanish and English, so having a platform that offered translation was important for us. Our new platform comes with built-in language translation capabilities in over 100 languages and lets us deliver consistent messaging to parents and community stakeholders.
2. Makes people want to use it. I put myself in the teacher’s, principal’s and parent’s shoes when reviewing the various options on the market. We wanted something that would be easy to use—both for ourselves and for the school leaders, teachers, and parents. Through our engagement platform, we can also reach the greater Elmhurst community, if they choose to receive communications from us.
3. Handling emergencies with greater ease. We were still using our previous communications approach when we had to send out an emergency communication about a tornado siren alert. By the time I’d gathered the information, created the messaging, and assembled the groups that it was going to be sent to, the situation was already over and done with. The tornado had moved on and was already gone; we weren’t able to get the message out fast enough to any students who would have been in danger. Today, we’re well equipped to handle any emergency situations, should they arise.
4. Minimize uncertainty in emergencies. We recently used our platform’s urgent alerts communications feature to keep everyone informed about a situation at the district’s high school. Because we got out in front of the situation and kept everyone up to date on it, the high school principal received zero text messages or phone calls from concerned families during the incident. This is just one example of how we know that we need to be on our toes and keep everyone informed. A lack of information breeds uncertainty, which in turn breeds nervousness. We are now building trust.
5. Brand your schools for success. We’ve also been able to establish a district brand that supports the individuality of its schools and their respective branding. In fact, we’ve rebranded all our schools, as well as the district as a whole. As part of that rebranding effort, the communications department created custom headers for all newsletters, ensuring that the colors coincided with each school’s own color palettes, branding, and messaging. Our communication platform has helped elevate our brand while also letting us include photos and videos in our newsletters and social media posts that showcase the personalities and our brand in the way that we want to.
6. No more paper handbooks. Our school-home communication platform has also helped us cut down on the amount of paper we generate and distribute during the school year. Our student handbooks are a great example of this. In the past, they were printed and handed out. Students read them, signed the back page, and then returned that page to us for our files. Today, that entire process is handled digitally in our communications platform. That’s not only reduced our paper usage, but it has also simplified the process and eliminated the chances of the guidebook getting lost, damaged and/or never read.
As a big proponent of data-driven decision making, our district now has a communications tool that aligns well with that goal. Our school-home communications platform provides data on which schools and teachers are communicating and the frequency of those communications. Administrative staff can also review receipt and open rates, and we use all of that data to make even better communications decisions in the future.