IUSD able to reach thousands of families in record time with new notification system

If you’re an Irvine student, parent or staff member, you probably received a phone message on the evening of Sept. 9 from Superintendent Terry Walker, offering a few welcoming words for the new school year.

That call was made possible by IUSD’s brand new notification system, which allows for near-instantaneous communication with tens of thousands of families via phone calls, emails and text messages.

The system, contracted through a company called SchoolMessenger and set up over the summer, replaces a number of older district tools, including an email management system and an automated phone-dialer. But the upgrade goes way beyond consolidating existing services. In fact, it represents a quantum leap in school-to-home communication.

Take, for example, the superintendent’s pre-recorded phone message. While the previous auto-dialer would have taken most of the day to deliver one districtwide message, the SchoolMessenger version can send out calls to 40,000-plus families in less than 15 minutes. And because the company uses its own data centers, calls won’t be impacted by local power outages or jammed phone lines.

School and district communications can also target specific households, emails can be translated into each parent’s home language and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can be updated automatically. And that’s not to mention the ability to send out text messages, which will be a first for IUSD.

Trainings are now underway to bring district and site-level administrators up to speed on the web-based system, which will ultimately be used to send school newsletters, district announcements, student progress reports and, most notably, emergency communications. In the weeks ahead, parents will even be instructed on how to set their own alert preferences, according to Brianne Ford, IUSD’s chief technology officer.

“Communication has been a priority in this district, and we had reached the threshold where our older system just couldn’t meet our needs,” Ford said. “Our district is growing so fast that we needed to provide a tool that would allow administrators to communicate more effectively without it being really burdensome on their own time.”