Alert systems let districts deliver targeted messages
"Your child's school is in lockdown. We believe everyone is safe. Police request that you stay away until you receive a follow-up message."
That's the kind of recorded message you could receive on your telephone this year as more and more school districts adopt parent-alert systems.
The same systems can be programmed to say: "This is Principal Ed Ucashun reminding you that parent-teacher conferences begin on Wednesday."
Or: "This is Coach Block calling to remind all parents that players need to be on the field early today."
Or: "A dangerous storm is threatening our area, so I have canceled school today. —Superintendent Justin Case."
Message-alert systems are computer-based, so messages can be programmed to be delivered at specific times. Specific audiences can be targeted, such as custodians, teachers, parents of choir members or only third-graders, or parents of students whose cafeteria accounts have run dry.
"It's a very fast and efficient way of connecting with the parents," said Janesville Craig High School Principal Mike Kuehne, who used the system for the first time last week to remind parents about registration day.
Kuehne said the information went out in the school's newsletter earlier, but it's common for parents to forget or lose paper notices, so the automated messages can remind them of an event they don't want to miss.
"In this day and age, it seems to be difficult to send home newsletters and that sort of thing. "Parents are so busy they don't have time to read them," said Edgerton Superintendent Norm Fjelstad in Edgerton.
"We've used it for swine flu updates. It was invaluable when we closed school for that," said Superintendent Bernie Nikolay in Milton, which used the SchoolMessenger system. "We had a bomb threat it was used for, and we've had police alerts when we've been asked to get a message out."
"It's amazing how fast those lines are hit and parents know what's going on, and you have very few questions about what's going on for that student," said Beloit Turner Superintendent Dennis McCarthy.
The AlertNow system makes 6,000 calls a minute. Janesville, Beloit-Turner, Edgerton and Delavan-Darien all use it.
If the line is busy, the system will call back, four times. If it still can't get through, it will wait and record a message on voice mail.
The system also can send the message via e-mail.
Delavan-Darien, Edgerton and Janesville public schools are primed to begin sending computer-generated messages to their parents and staffs as the school year begins.
Beloit-Turner, Milton and other districts around the state have been robo-calling their parents and staffs for some time, and administrators say it's quickly become a very useful communications tool.