In Jan. 14 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Reporter
With Russell County Schools closing last Thursday and Friday and the first three days of this week due to the wintry weather, school officials implemented their new automated notification system. This system sent a voice message to parents, students and all school employees telling them of the closures.
"We've been working on and off for six to eight months on this venture," said Supt Scott Pierce. "We've been making test calls for some time."
Pierce said that with the help of the district's IT personnel, Chris Bell, Michael Ford and others, the School Messenger system worked flawlessly in its first few days of use.
Ford and Bell said that within 30 minutes, the emergency package portion of the notification system had called 3,400 people to let them know of the cancellations.
School officials can even watch online and monitor the calls, even seeing when calls go answered, unanswered or voice mails are taken.
The idea of the system is so that parents, students and school personnel be notified of a closure in a timely, courteous and convenient manner, Ford said.
All student contact numbers are automatically included in the system as well as their emergency contacts or pick-up contacts.
These numbers, too, will be called in the event of a closure, Pierce said.
He said that anyone wishing to not receive the automated calls, contact the school or board to have their number removed from the calling list.
"Anyone can opt out," Pierce said. We've had some people do that and that is understandable."
If anyone is not receiving the calls and wants to, they should call their school and let them know so the problem can be corrected.
Bell and Ford also said that if a home phone number or cell phone number changes, to let the schools know and the system can be updated accordingly.
"To me the feedback has been positive," Pierce said. He said numerous people have told him of how useful the automated calling system was the past few days.
Pierce said the school district's policy is to notify folks of a cancellation as soon as the decision is made and sometimes that means waiting until morning to make the calls.
"Our transportation people will look at the situations and when a decision is made, they'll contact us and we'll contact the system," Pierce said.
Usually, several transportation officials get out early in the morning if no decision has been made and drive around to different parts of the county, looking for icy roads or other hazards that would make it unsafe for students to attend school or buses to travel.
Once a decision is made they report the results to the superintendent who then, along with other officials, decides whether to cancel class or not. Now, the automated call system will also be notified and voice messages sent out.
But the system doesn't have to be used just for snow cancellations.
"It can be expanded at some point and time," Pierce said.
The system can also be used when closure due to sickness or other types of cancellation causes.
Individual call lists can also be implemented, school officials said.
"We're just using the emergency package now," Bell said.
He and Ford said student groups such as the band, athletic teams, academic teams, clubs and others can also be contacted by the system with information if the specific group's leadership chooses to go that route.
The system will also e-mail parents and school personnel who have listed their e-mail address with the school's contact information.