Spanish? Somali? Hmong? No problem. St. Paul public schools have everyone covered with the new Connect-ED system, which can make up to three million calls an hour, in multiple languages. Beginning in June, in the event of an emergency, families of students in the St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) will be contacted within three minutes.
“This mass communication system,” said Valeria Silva, SPPS Chief Academic Officer, “addresses one of our biggest concerns – how do we reach students’ families. It will allow SPPS staff to reach all families much faster than we do now, including the forty-two percent who do not speak English.” Those messages will include emergency situations, school events and information on other student topics.
The Connect-ED system sends messages in multi languages via one of the following methods, or a combination thereof: voice to a home telephone and/or cell phone, via text to e-mail address, or by text message. The system provides a report to the user as to status of messages delivered including notification if the telephone number is inaccurate. Contact information on file in the school office will be updated to the system daily.
“This is a step forward to technology, a step forward to reaching parents, and a step forward to culture,” added Silva. This system provides an opportunity not only for the school to connect to the families, but also for parents to get connected to the school, which she hopes will influence parent involvement.
Patrick Bryan, Principal of Jackson Preparatory Magnet School, remarked, “I would see this as an opportunity for the voice of Jackson to be heard across the telephone lines. Our parents know the voices, particularly of the staff who speak their language.” He believes that Hmong parents will be pleased to hear the friendly voice of Der Thao delivering a message in Hmong over their telephone. (Thao is the school secretary at Jackson.)
Connect-Ed will not replace all forms of communication between schools and families, but it will improve on the unreliable method of sending notes home to families via the student’s backpack. “Letters don’t always get those notes timely,” said one parent, “so it’s nice to have this form of communication.”
The secured system will be available for use by SPPS staff and can be accessed from anywhere with Internet access. In case there is a power failure, the system can be accessed via telephone. This system replaces four systems now in place at SPPS and at a cost of $3 per student per year, it represents a cost savings, said Joe Raasch, Deputy Chief Operations Officer.