SchoolReach Technology Improves Communication, Alerts Parents to Emergencies

| January 20, 2010

By Caroline K. Reff

This is David Friedlander, principal of Trinity Catholic School. Due to forecasted severe lake effect snow, we will be dismissing students at noon today.

Living in one of the snowiest areas in the nation, parents of Trinity Catholic School students in Oswego hear a similar message several times each winter. But thanks to a technology called SchoolReach, they don’t have to rely on catching the information on the radio or television. The message goes immediately to their home phone, cell phone or e-mail.

SchoolReach is a technology system most of the Catholic schools of the diocese have invested in recently. It allows school officials to send a recorded voice or text message in real time to a predetermined list of parent contacts. Using an access code, school principals can activate the system by phone from any location, a benefit when a decision has to be made in the early hours of the morning or when a school administrator is off site. Regardless of where the message originates from, parents see the name of the school on their caller ID, so they know to pick up the phone.

This came in particularly handy last year when Friedlander was attending a conference in Albany. “The weather was great in Albany, but that wasn’t the case in Oswego,” he said. “After talking to school officials back home, I made the decision to close and was able to send the message right from my hotel room. Even members of my own family thought the call came from the school because some of them called me back to say, ‘I thought you were in Albany?’ I was, of course, but the system works from any location.”

SchoolReach is not only used for emergencies, although policies vary by school. Last year, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham was coming to say Mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Oswego, but Trinity Catholic School wasn’t notified until several days before the event. “I wanted our students and families to have the opportunity to attend and represent Trinity Catholic, so I used SchoolReach to send out the information. People did get the message, and, because of that, we had an excellent turnout for the Bishop’s visit.”

At Holy Cross School in Dewitt, Principal David Wheeler also uses SchoolReach to communicate with parents. “So far, I’ve only used it when Holy Cross had to close, but our public school district did not,” he said. “We had a day off coming up that had not been well-publicized, and I wanted to make sure every parent had the correct information. SchoolReach allowed us to send that message in minutes.”

Wheeler uses parent-teacher conference day in the fall to test the system using the current school year’s most recent contact information. Parents are prepared to receive the “test” call and can let the school know whether or not the message was properly received. All contact information is stored in a database that can be updated quickly by school personnel as often as necessary.

Both principals acknowledge that the use of the technology requires some fine tuning and common sense. “The message you send out is relayed in seconds, so you don’t want to do it at 4 a.m,” said Friedlander. “And, I try not to send non-emergency information during school hours, because parents see ‘Trinity Catholic’ on their caller ID and worry. Timing is everything, but once you figure that out, SchoolReach serves as an excellent communication tool.”

Caroline K. Reff is a free-lance writer and public relations consultant in Syracuse, NY.

Category: Digital, Featured

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