The White Salmon Valley School District is preparing to implement a new electronic communications system, the culmination of one of the goals school officials had developed earlier this year as part of an overall update to the district’s mass communication plan.
The school district will sign with Apptegy, an education management company based in Little Rock, Ark. to apply their system to district operations, according to Superintendent Jerry Lewis.
Lewis said Apptegy, an education management company based in Little Rock, Ark. will begin to work on the implementation of their communications system in January. The platform won’t be implemented until the end of the school year, though, due to the intricacies involved in replacing systems.
“If all goes well, I hope to sign contracts [Friday],” said technology director Rhonda Hardisty, who presented the communication tool to the district board of directors on Thursday. She said the company will pay out what the district already pays to its current website this year as the start-up fee, so there will be a minimal cost involved and the district won’t pay for next year’s usage on the website until July.
“[The former contractor’s] bill’s going to be due mid-June so [Apptegy] are going to jump in before that and get everything built because we don’t want to go dark,” said Hardisty.
The prices are comparable but the school district will be replacing the attendance system with the new all-inclusive package so there will be savings involved, said Hardisty.
Perks of this new website system is that integrates with the Skyward system, which will make sending alerts out easier. It will email, text, do social media … it’s all one push, said Hardisty.
The system would also take over attendance. Each building can decide when they want attendance called out or have robocalls. It can also pre-translate generic calls and send messages to people in their natural language.
“The biggest feature that we see in it is that because it does talk to our network, as soon as we enroll a new student … if there is an emergency or snow day or anything like that, automatically that parent is in our system, where now it take about 20 minutes to pull all that out and do a sort,” said Hardistry.
“It does way more than what our current system has,” Hardisty said.
“We can set up as many recurring alerts as we want and we can set things up for coaches so instead of having them text the students it goes right here and it’s all done in house,” Hardisty continued.
Along with the new website management system the school district will begin integrating an app for staff, student and faculty use.
The app, called Thrillshare, features a social media function with a live feed for classes and clubs to share content. Hardisty described it as “sort of like Facebook, but it’s all done in-house and people can’t comment on it.” She also said it would be beneficial so that pictures can be posted without leaving the network. Also, the app does not share user data. Officials can send alerts and update everyone on the mailing list instantly through the phone, a major benefit to officials who had previously only been able to send alerts through the system on office computers.
Hardisty also touted the app as adaptive, saying it was meant to be ran on the phone. She also explained that the app would not share data with third parties.
“We’ve just have been really impressed with what we’ve seen before and we’ve put [Apptegy] through the paces,” Hardisty said.
Parents, students, staff, and faculty alike will be able to use the app to receive alerts.
Hardisty acknowledged that the district had received feedback from other districts and said the only con she heard regarding the system was that the support team was not quick to respond to changes in design.
Responding to a question about the old FlashAlert system, Lewis said there needs to be redundancy in the communications system so the messages will continue to be sent out through FlashAlert along with messages from the new system.
Lewis said the district is in the final stages of creating the updated plan, which includes more than implementing the new system.
“The elements of our draft District Emergency Communication Plan include: Internal communications, communication between the district office and incident locations, external communications, communication with the media, handling rumors, communications with first responders, communication after an incident, communication tools, and district emergency contact information,” Lewis wrote in an email.
The updates come after a scare occurred which left the School District in lockdown in September. District officials had begun updating their communications plan after a special meeting was held, recapping the events of the lockdown. Many of the complaints officials heard during that Sept. 24 meeting centered around how the district had communicated about the lockdown with the wider public. Some parents, it was discovered, had not been signed up to receive alerts, while others claimed they hadn’t received alerts until after their students had begun texting about the lockdown, leading to many parents to show up in front of the school to pick up their students while the district was in lockdown.