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Technology bridging parent-teacher gap

Your child missed a day of school, or has a big play coming up. Maybe the PTA is having a major fundraiser, or your child’s school was locked down because of safety concerns.

Information like that, up until now, had to be communicated by a member of the school’s staff through a phone call to one of hundreds of parents who might be affected by the information.

Not anymore.

When school begins again in September, the South Kitsap School District will become one of only three in the United States participating in a new pilot program that uses computer technology to communicate vital information to parents.

Simply put, SchoolMessenger, from Cisco Systems, uses the Internet to record and transmit data that a school uses to track student attendance, as well as other information teachers can use to keep parents informed of activities and events.

South Kitsap joins a school system in Utah and one outside Chicago in testing the program.

“We’re excited because this allows us to be more efficient and increase our parental connection,” said Derry Lyons, the district’s Information Services director.

The school district already tapped into Cisco System’s technology four years ago when it installed telephones in every classroom and began to use a computer database that allows teachers to input student attendance.

Now, with the new system, known as a Voiceover Internet Protocol, or IP, the computer will use existing phone lines to contact parents from that database to inform parents when a student is absent.

Teachers and school staff also will be able to record messages that will then be communicated to parents through late afternoon phone calls that originate from phone lists catalogued inside the database.

Instead of tying up phone systems and staff calling parents, the computers make the calls, Lyons said.

The system, on an enterprise level, is similar to the Skype system that allows people to talk back and forth via computer — only the message travels one way.

“The SchoolMessenger solution provides a more cost-effective and efficient communication system for schools as opposed to traditional autodialer systems,” said Charles Fadel, global lead of education for Cisco.

“The cost savings allow school districts to gain additional revenue that can be put back into the curriculum for the students,” he said. “And effective communication with parents has shown to help improve attendance rates and increase student performance.”

The notification system is set up for us at the high school, but will also be used at about three elementary schools when the school year begins, Lyons said. It eventually will serve 14 schools.

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