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IC schools make changes after snow day frustration

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | FEBRUARY 04, 2011 7:10 AM

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Officials with the Iowa City School District are tweaking their school-cancellation alert system after they experienced delays that frustrated many students and parents during the recent snow storm.

Superintendent Steve Murley said he was “less than satisfied” with the time it took for the system to send alerts to 58,000 phone numbers in the district. The notification, intended to inform parents and guardians school was going to be released at 1 p.m., still hadn’t reached roughly 2,000 families by 2 p.m.

To combat the problem, the district is now on Twitter, has a new phone number parents can to find out about cancellations, and officials are looking at creating a Facebook account, Murley said.

“This is just an opportunity to connect differently with our folks,” said Murley, who credited the district’s new director of information services, David Dude, for the innovations.

Thursday evening, the “ICCSDNotify” Twitter page had more than 60 followers.

Murley attributed the issues to the district’s switching phone vendors as a cost-saving method before he took over as superintendent last July.

“Perhaps the extra money that we were spending on [the old system] would have been worth that investment,” Murley said.

Though several districts around Iowa altered their schedules this week due to the weather, none said they had any communication issues, though many said they were also considering incorporating other social media into their systems.

Cedar Rapids School District communication-relations supervisor Marsha Hughes said her district uses a wide variety of technology to communicate cancellations, including a schoolwide calling system, a web page, the local media, and her Twitter account.

“You can’t have one way,” Hughes said. “A lot of the people I work with and in my generation don’t have a [Twitter] and don’t know, ‘It’s a Tweet? It’s a what? It’s a who?’ — but for some people it is a go-to and we try to come up with as many ways [to communicate] as we can.”

Williamsburg School District Superintendent Carol Montz said her district has discussed creating a Twitter account and plans to set one up within the next two years. She said the district did not have trouble communicating with parents and staff this week, relying on a phone tree and an automated phone message.

“I think we really go out of our way to make sure we have parents notified,” Montz said. “We do all the announcements on the local TV stations and we have our tech person put it on our website as well.”

And while local parents said they understood 58,000 phone calls were a lot to make, they said they were frustrated with how late they were informed.

“We were miffed, but it sounds like they were doing their best,” said Mike Fallon, a parent of three students in the district. He said he and his wife received the call just nine minutes before school let out. “I’m sure there are so many techno-crazed people out there these days with Twitter, and I think any interactive communication could work well.”


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