Rural School District Ramps Up its School-Home Communications with ParentSquare
Case Study: Brookville Local Schools (OH)
The district was using a multitude of other apps, newsletters, and its website for its district-wide communications efforts and was inundating recipients with too many messages. It also lacked a centralized platform that everyone could use for family, student, and teacher communications.
After learning about the ParentSquare safe and secure school-home communication platform, the district piloted the platform and then implemented it during the spring of 2019. It also began using the StudentSquare student communication companion to ParentSquare.
Instead of blanketing families with countless messages, the district is now prepared to manage its outreach with precise and targeted communications directed to specific audiences with the most pertinent information for each group. They also support student learning and focus on sharing only the most accurate and relevant information.
Managing school-home communications can be especially challenging for rural school districts like Brookville Local Schools in Brookville, OH., despite the fact that all 1,500 students are on a single campus. “We’re all in close proximity, but communication is still challenging,” Director of Curriculum and Instruction Stephanie Hinds said.
Fortunately, the digital era has produced new tools, platforms, and applications that rural school districts can use to get everyone on the same page and working from the same playbook. A couple of years ago, Brookville assessed its current school-home communication tools. Through that exercise, it learned that some parents and guardians felt “bombarded” by the messages that were coming at them while others had no idea where to look for important information.
At the time, the district was using a number of apps that teachers would discover on their own and begin using. It was also using newsletters, its website and One Call Now (for automated messages sent out to the community) to communicate with parents.
“There were a lot of different products that were just all over the place,” Hinds said. Knowing this, the district began looking for a way to streamline its communication strategies while also making those efforts more effective for families, teachers, and students.
An Easy Choice
After learning about ParentSquare through a contact at the Montgomery County Educational Service Center, Hinds began exploring the platform and its capabilities. ParentSquare combines multiple communication streams into one easy-to-use interface for families and staff.
It would help Brookville minimize the “inundation” that parents and guardians were feeling and get all staff members using the same platform for school-home communications. “We knew we had to make a change, so we made the decision to pilot ParentSquare,” Hinds added.
The district began using ParentSquare during the spring of 2019. “For us it was a very easy decision because the platform was safe, secure and highly regulated,” Hinds explained. “It would also help us protect our students’ privacy.”
“For us it was a very easy decision because the platform was safe, secure and highly regulated.
It would also help us protect our students’ privacy.”
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Putting it to the Test
Hinds won’t soon forget the day the superintendent walked in and said, “They’re shutting us down Monday.” The global pandemic had just emerged and schools nationwide were closing and shifting to remote learning. “Things got very complicated, very fast,” she said. Hinds also recalls worrying about how the district would communicate the situation to families and get information out to them during that difficult time.
The ParentSquare platform more than proved its value at that point. “We literally picked up our phones and started crafting information for our families and students,” Hinds said. “We didn’t have to hustle around; we already had ParentSquare in place.” That peace of mind allowed the district communication team to focus more on the messaging versus having to build out a communication infrastructure.
“ParentSquare was a great tool for us as we sent and received over 17,000 direct messages the first month of the pandemic,” Hinds recalled. “Before the pandemic we were sending just under 500 messages and following the pandemic we averaged around 7,000 messages a week. The platform allowed our teachers to continue nurturing those relationships and communicate with their families even though we weren’t on campus together.”
Fast Easy and Seamless Communications
Using its school-home communication platform, Brookville’s teachers and administrators can share information via the district’s website and/or on social media. The latter gives the district yet one more safe and secure method of staying in touch with parents, guardians, and its rural community at large.
Hinds likes ParentSquare’s message archiving feature and how she can quickly and easily toggle between various campus buildings on the platform. This helps a lot when different messaging is being used for each of those buildings. Hinds also uses the platform’s parent and student engagement data analysis to track interactions.
With StudentSquare, a safe and secure platform for all student communication at school, Brookville keeps kids in the know about campus events, class requirements and homework assignments.
“Getting students onboard with StudentSquare was easy,” Hinds said. “Teachers shared the app info with them during their advisory periods and the kids downloaded them right away. They got clued into the system and really liked it.”
As digital natives, the students like getting information right on their phones, where they can go for word about extracurricular activities, athletics, bus schedules and meeting points.
Honoring and Reinforcing the District Mission
ParentSquare has helped Brookville reduce the amount of paper it was sending out to parents and also gives the district a variety of language translation options for those outreaches. From the administrative standpoint, Hinds is pleased with how the platform honors and reinforces the district’s mission statement, which is to challenge, prepare, and support all students to reach their full potential.
“That’s the underlying current that’s always going through my mind,” said Hinds, who sees student-teacher communication playing a key role in helping Brookville achieve its mission. To other administrators in need of a consolidated, seamless school-home communication platform, she suggests finding a solution vendor that puts the time and effort into demonstrating its product, training staff members on how to use it and then supporting it across its full lifespan.
Hinds also advises administrators and teachers to establish protocols before rolling out the platform. For example, you probably don’t want to bombard recipients with messages over the weekend unless it’s an emergency. It’s also probably not a great idea to distribute communications after 8 p.m.
“These are some of the little things that you may not consider at first, but they should be discussed and decided on as a team,” Hinds added. “We try to honor the 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. rule to avoid inundating them
at a time that would be interfering with their family time.”
A Tool for Facilitating District Growth
Brookville’s attendance statistics have been outstanding, according to a recent study of chronic student absenteeism from the year or two leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic until now. There were some slight variations, but the district is very proud that its overall attendance rates remained very good before, during and after this difficult period.
“ParentSquare played a key role in making that happen because when a student is ill, parents use the platform to communicate that information to us,” Hinds said. “Then, we can communicate right back with them and begin that conversation and assess what we need to do for them (e.g., get homework ready, conduct a visit, etc.).”
Three years after piloting and implementing ParentSquare, Hinds said Brookville has seen significant results from the platform. It’s sending out messaging that is better targeted to specific audiences, supporting student learning and communicating more accurate information to stakeholders. Anytime you can check all of these boxes, it benefits the whole learning environment.
“We want our students to truly feel challenged while they’re here and we want them to have the support structure that they need to be successful,” Hinds concluded. “Nothing will ever replace the classroom teacher and the specific, integral feedback that they give every one of our students, but ParentSquare gives those teachers another tool to help facilitate a child’s growth, and that’s what we’re all about.”
“We want our students to truly feel challenged while they’re here and we want them to have the support structure that they need to be successful.”
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
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