My district, Levy County School District, doesn’t have a huge student population, but it is quite spread out, encompassing five rural communities. We serve approximately 5,500 students at nine traditional schools and two charter schools. Unfortunately, our communication was as widely distributed as our district. Our students’ families were getting overwhelmed by the number of apps they needed to download for communication from their students’ teachers, schools, the district, extracurricular leaders such as coaches, and more — all of whom were using whatever communication tools they preferred. It was clear we needed to consolidate communications throughout the distrit.
Here’s how we ensured our messages were received by as many families as possible with the help of a single platform.
Aiming to increase family engagement
In addition to a variety of apps, much of our communication with student families was carried out on paper. Sometimes it felt like we were constantly making copies so we could send out these notes, and the worst part was that we had no way to know if anyone was reading them. From the lack of responses we would get, it certainly seemed as if people were less likely to see paper notes than text messages. We wanted to move the whole district onto some kind of texting app to increase family engagement.
Several teachers at one of our schools were using an app called Remind, so that school started a free trial. Soon, teachers at other schools were using it. So when we decided to consolidate communications on a single app, that one was a natural choice. We adopted the districtwide version before the 2021-22 school year.
Our primary goal has been getting all school-to-family communications on the same app. After a year and a half, we’ve been able to achieve this for all of our teachers’, schools’ and district-level communications. Some coaches, band leaders and other activity leaders are still using a few other apps to communicate with families, so our current push is to bring communications about extracurricular activities onto the same app too
PD and rollout to consolidate communications
The implementation was simple in terms of professional development. Some of our teachers were already well-informed on the app, and others had been using the app occasionally, but the initial all-staff training put everyone on the same page to kick off formal adoption.
In the second year, I put together some blurbs from the training and the company’s help center, such as important how-to information, and sent that out to all the teachers as a refresher.
We don’t direct teacher communications aside from reminding them that over-messaging can lead to lower engagement from families. At the school level, there have been a couple of flukes where a message went out a little later at night or earlier in the morning than we’d like. Otherwise, everyone seems to be using it without issue, despite the minimal training.
Earlier this year, we set up the ability for messages to be automatically translated into the language families prefer. It’s a nice feature for our district because, although we were accustomed to translating everything into Spanish, not all of our families prefer English or Spanish. It’s great to be able to communicate with every family without a lot of extra work to identify their preferred language and find a way to translate it ourselves.
Our app pulls family information from our student information system, Skyward, to determine who to send messages to. We started by setting up messages to be sent to just one family member for each student. We have recently increased this to include every family member registered in the SIS to receive messages.
Multiple uses for a single app
Did we achieve our ultimate goal of improving family engagement by consolidating communications on one app? We can’t measure where engagement was prior to consolidating because there’s no way to track how many family members saw paper messages. But it certainly seems as if more family members are seeing communications, especially among secondary students, whose families are less likely to check their backpacks for information than elementary students’ families.
I regularly review reports on usage and gain insights into issues such as which teachers are using the app well and who might need a little more support. For example, every nine weeks when more information is going out about the end of the term, there is a spike in communication — but I’ve also seen a bit of activity even at Thanksgiving, which suggests that families are actually using the app.
Beyond teachers, the app seems to be providing plenty of useful information. Four of our nine schools send out a daily message, while the others push them out a little less frequently.
We also send out updates about individual bus route schedules that are working well. We give families their students’ bus code so they can opt in to receive information if a bus is running late or if a different bus is on the route that day.
We have also had a few occasions to use the urgent messaging feature, which allows us to send messages to every family member in the system, even if they have opted out of regular communications. They may not want to hear from us regularly, but it’s still important that we be able to reach them with information about things like school lockdowns.
Working to consolidate school communications has been straightforward in our district, and the results have been great. Part of that was the ground-up nature of our adoption, starting with teachers who already had bought into our new tool. But without an advocate at the district level and in buildings throughout the district, I don’t think we’d have the buy-in and results we do across the district.
Melissa Lewis is the director of accountability and assessment and Title IX coordinator for the Levy County, Fla., School District, which uses Remind Hub for school-to-home communication. Reach out to Lewis at [email protected].
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