Renton adopts new emergency message system

November 6, 2009

By Tim Pfarr

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The Renton School District has begun using SchoolMessenger, an automatic notification system to alert students and staff members when school has been canceled or delayed due to inclement weather. The district also uses the system to alert parents if their student is absent. Messages can be sent as personalized voice messages, text messages or e-mails.If a student is absent, his or her teacher will enter the student’s name into the system’s database, and the system automatically calls the student’s guardian by 5:30 p.m. that day.

The system costs the district $1 per student, per year to operate. With about 14,000 students in the district, the system costs about $14,000 per year. About half the cost is funded by discontinuation of the previous system.

RSD previously used a modem-based system that only notified parents of student absences, and was only used at the high schools. The new system works with all schools, and it is Web-based.

“I think what’s key is this isn’t a standalone system,” said Randy Matheson, executive director of community relations, referring to the switch from a modem-based system to a Web-based system. He said this switch allows the school district to communicate with students and parents through e-mail if inclement weather compromises phone lines.

Other districts, including the Seattle School District, use similar Web-based communications systems.

Matheson said the district will also use the system to notify students and parents of upcoming events, including college fairs and school plays.

“Our SchoolMessenger system has allowed us to quickly call parents when their child has been reported absent,” said Cindy Farnsworth, principal of Hazelwood Elementary School.

“With winter weather on its way, we are looking forward to using the system to notify parents directly and promptly about any changes in the school schedule. It has been a very useful addition to our communication tools.”

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