District 205 touts new messaging system, superintendent draws fire for late cancellation
From press release, online reports
Editor’s note: Rockford Public School District 205 cancelled school at about 6:20 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 9, after about 70 school bus drivers were absent for work because of a winter storm warning. Nearly a foot of snow fell across the area over a two-day period.
District 205 Superintendent LaVonne Sheffield said the roads were fine and wanted school to remain in session. Many area schools had already closed for the day at least one hour before District 205 announced its closure.
Sheffield has stood by her original decision to keep District 205 schools open. However, as reported by 13 WREX TV, Catherine Ainley, president of the AFSCME Local 1275, the school bus drivers’ union, said she was worried “about kids running out in front of buses—and her not being able to stop in time. ‘I’m in a big bus,’ she said. ‘I’m not in a snowmobile.’”
Rockford Public Schools used a new electronic notification system with a significantly wider reach to alert parents to the canceling of classes Wednesday, Dec. 9, because of a shortage of bus drivers.
The new system, known as School Messenger, placed 17,401 automated telephone calls to the households of 32,153 students and employees. A majority of the automated calls occurred within 30 minutes of the 6:20 a.m. system activation.
School Messenger replaces the former Emergency Electronic Notification System, a subscriber-based program that required parents and employees to sign up to receive school bulletins. School Messenger draws contact information from existing electronic records, increasing fourfold the number of message recipients over the old subscriber base of 8,226.
Wednesday marked the first use of the enhanced system. Superintendent LaVonne M. Sheffield made the call prior to 5 a.m. to keep schools open, based on conversations with other local superintendents and field reports from staff members who conducted road checks. The decision to close schools came later than usual, and only after more than 70 bus drivers failed to report to work, leaving an insufficient number of substitute drivers to cover routes.
Using the new system, the change of circumstances was quickly communicated to families. Almost 80 percent of parents and employees were reached; most of the unsuccessful calls were to disconnected telephone lines.
Parents or students who wish to update their contact information should call their school. Employees who wish to do the same must submit a signed form to the Human Resources Department. The form is available at: http://webs.rps205.com/departments/HR/DocumentsandForms.html.
School Messenger was already being used to make targeted calls to notify parents of unexcused student absences and delinquent lunch accounts.
Beginning in January, individual schools may start using the system for reminders to parents and other non-emergency communications.
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