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Monthly Archives: February 2018

Is your school emergency messaging strategy prehistoric?

February, 2018

Is your school emergency messaging strategy prehistoric?

The Jurassic Park movie would have ended a lot differently if the park coordinators had come up with a more robust emergency plan in the event of the power going out.

Although school emergency communication strategies don’t really need to plan for ‘in the event of cloned dinosaurs escaping’, we recommend for New Zealand schools to have reliable communication methods in place for the following situations:

  • Epidemic outbreaks
  • Floods
  • Cyclones
  • Fires
  • Earthquakes
  • Snow storms
  • Lock downs
  • Power outages

A student management system alone is not sufficient for emergencies

During an emergency or other disruptive event, schools are not only responsible for the safety of students, but also for communicating with parents to inform them of the situation and give them peace of mind.

For a few of these situations, (like epidemic outbreaks), it is probable that you would still have easy access to the school building and therefore, the computers. In this case, a messaging system from your SMS would suffice.

However, what if there was a power cut or the WiFi went out? What if there was a fire, earthquake or lockdown and you couldn’t access the school office? Would you still be able to get a message out to all parents quickly and easily using your SMS?

Real emergencies need purpose-built emergency messaging

New Zealand schools are generally confident with their method of communication…until an actual emergency occurs, and they realise there’s serious areas that need improvement.

This is precisely what happened to Wiremu Elliot, Principal of Lytton High School in Gisborne.

“We’ve got this list of every student and their family phone numbers in KAMAR, but that would be a nightmare to call or text everyone individually,” says Wiremu. “We had all these emergency processes but had never actually had to do a real one, it’s always been drills. So when it actually happened, that really highlighted the need to find a better way of getting that more personal contact.”

There was also the concern of trying to communicate to parents without power or access to school computers.

“It’s easy to post a message on Facebook but in an emergency what if we don’t have access to a computer? What if we have to evacuate?” questions Wiremu, “We were looking for smarter ways to do this.”

You can read more about Lytton High School’s emergency communication transformation in their case study.

Wiremu raised some good points.

It is important for your school have an easy strategy to inform parents about a closure or emergency that doesn’t rely on power or onsite computer access. It is much simpler to send out a mass message rather than contact each family individually. You also need visibility of any parents who did not receive your message and try to contact them another way. All these necessities can be accomplished through the right technology and processes being put in place.

How do you know if your communication channels are a bit ‘prehistoric’? Ask yourself the following.

Five questions to ask about your school communication strategy

  1. Do we have access to up-to-date family contact details?
  2. Can we access this information off-site?
  3. Do we have the ability to send emergency messages without access to power or school WiFi?
  4. Does our methodology allow us to send out a message to all parents instantly?
  5. Can we confirm that parents received the message?

If you answer no to any of the above questions, it may be time to evaluate your emergency communication plan.

The School-links Emergency Alert App is a reliable, easy to use and fast way to communicate parents during an emergency from your smart phone. Over 500 New Zealand schools and Early Childhood Centres are able to use School-links Emergency Alert system when they need to get a message through to parents urgently and reliably.

Watch the video below or visit the Emergency Alerts page for more information.

How an attendance management system can help reduce truancy rates

February, 2018

Following on from our last article on how parent engagement can help with reducing truancy rates at your school, having a Ministry of Education approved attendance management or early notification system can aid in this as well.

Early Notification (EN) is the use of text and/or email messages to notify parents that their child is inexplicably absent from school.

Parents have the opportunity to reply and notify the school of the reason for the absence (e.g. sickness) or that they aren’t aware of the absence, which could highlight a safety or truancy issue.

Wanganui City College is one school that has opted to use EN over traditional attendance management methods. Deputy Principal Doug Ewing says,

“The number one benefit to using School-links EN is the immediacy and the convenience of contacting parents for attendance matters. Rather than calling parents when a child is absent, secretarial staff send a text to parents about the situation. Email is a bit beyond where our parents are at as they’re mostly connected to texting on their cell phones – so texting is the most effective way to get a hold of them.”

Here are nine ways EN makes life easier for the school community:

Benefits of Early Notification for parents and caregivers

  • Fast notification of absences (which could potentially be a child safety issue).
  • Parents and caregivers can respond quickly and cost effectively.
  • It’s less embarrassing for parents or caregivers to respond to a text than a phone call if they have forgotten to notify the school of their child’s absence or/if the reason is personal.
  • Texting is more convenient for those who are unavailable to respond to personal calls during work or study hours.
  • Feedback from School-links’ customers, says that texts are the preferred method of school communication for most parents and caregivers.

Benefits of Early Notification for schools

  • Less time spent by the Attendance Officer in contacting caregivers of absent students.
  • Less expensive than calling mobile phones.
  • Responses go directly into the Student Management System and are easily viewed by the Attendance Officer, making them efficient to process (service offered by some EN providers).
  • Responses are saved in the Student Notes (service offered by some Student Management Systems).

To learn more about EN, download our white paper – The Role of Early Notification in Effective Attendance Management.

Having a Ministry of Education approved EN system can also potentially save your school money. Work out your potential savings with our handy calculator.

 

Keeping your School-links database up to date

February, 2018

Why do New Zealand school use Early Notification?

Areas which will require updating now

Students & Caregivers

One of the questions we get asked in the new year is, “what about updating last year’s data?”. If you have been uploading your data file to School-links, then you will continue to do that. The standard data upload CSV files sent into School-links will update existing data with new year levels and rooms, as well as any contact detail changes, and leavers will be identified and deleted. All you do is upload the datafile as per usual. If you entered anyone Manually into School-links, they will remain in the system. They can then be edited or deleted manually, the system will not automatically touch them.

At the start of the New Year, some schools make a change to their Class/Room names ie from Class to Room or Rm etc.  It is good housekeeping to print a list from your student management system with all Classes and/or Rooms to ensure that there are no students left behind in the Class/Room where changes have been made, also Students with no class at all.  Get all data cleaned before roll return.  Also, at this time of year – make sure all students are in the right year level i.e. Do you have Year 0 at this time of the year?  If so, that’s fine, if not then these students need to be moved to Year 1 in your Student Management System. Having all the data in the correct place helps School-links to create your new 2018 Class and Year Level groups when your CSV files come through to us.

Also remember that as far as computers are concerned “Room” is different from “Rm” and “Rm9” is different from “Rm 9”, so look out for those anomalies in your data entry as well.

If you have any support issues or need assistance with any of the above areas, have any questions or would love a chat with Kim or Keith, then contact the support desk Toll Free 0800 333 480 (then option 2), or email: [email protected] They are always eager to assist.

School Staff

Remember to update teachers/staff in School-links – or you can send through a CSV/Excel File with name/mobile phone number and email address. 

This can then be uploaded for you into School-links.

Alternatively, if you would like to add/edit the staff yourself, then you can do this through logging into School-links – choose the menu option Users and Groups, use Teachers – then add a teacher/staff member (any) by pressing the ADD NEW TEACHER.
You can also edit the current staff member by clicking on the EDIT to the right of their name.

All your staff in School-links can be contacted quickly using email or text via Groups, or by using the Emergency APP.

Email addresses

Did you know that School-links shows you which email addresses are “bouncing”?

What is a “bounced” email address? It is one that has been returned as being invalid, usually because the user no longer uses that address, e.g. they have moved to different internet provider or it was a work address and they have changed employer.
It might also be returned because there is a typo in the address and it doesn’t match with any address.

There are a number of common ones but these include “@gmail.co.nz”, it is never “.co.nz” it is always “.com” for gmail, and “@gamil.com”, a simple typo.

So how do we tell you about these bouncing emails? We display an “Email Bouncing” indicator next to the name of the person in your School-links system. Just go into Users & Groups and say, “Caregivers” and scroll down the pages and look for the yellow indicator:

Then it is a case of using Edit to fix the mistake or, if it isn’t a typo, contacting the person to get the correct address.

Remember to update your SMS as well.

Want to learn more? Enquire now.

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