We’ll call you

If you are a parent of a child in Washoe County School District, and you own a telephone, you’ve become familiar with the stentorian tones of Superintendent Paul Dugan. Probably.

Sometimes, and dare we say, more and more frequently, parents get little messages from the school district offering a heads up about everything from emergencies to endorsing certain television shows.

It’s a little hard to tell, from the outside looking in, just how successful the District’s new automatic phone message system is. However, after contemplating the future of the system for a while, we’d like to offer a gentle caution, a suggestion and a little thank you.

First, the ability to talk directly to people is a heady and corruptive power. It’s got great potential for abuse and mismanagement. The most important thing to recognize is that, from the homes being dialed, familiarity breeds contempt. When the information being read by Paul Dugan and left on the answering machine is of vital importance and the messages are few and far between, they will get listened to. For example, last week’s late start because of the snowstorm would have been a great time for ConnectEd to spring into action, mechanically calling all the homes of students in Washoe County to inform parents to keep the little darlings inside and off the road.

Calling every home back in January to recommend the families watch Crystal Darkness: Meth’s Deadly Assault on Nevada’s Youth on TV to learn about methamphetamine, well, not so much.

Just be careful, that’s all we’re saying. We want to hear messages about our children, not about other people’s children in other schools in town. Too many messages will make the individual messages easy to miss.

Now, here’s where we’d offer a bit of our patented contradiction: There needs to be redundancy on these calls. For example, a cell phone text message or voice message could be the best way to contact some people. Not everyone waits to take their child to school to begin their day. For example, some children wait at their parents’ work until it’s time to go to school. Those parents should be able to sign up somewhere—perhaps a database maintained by the Washoe County School District—to receive calls on multiple cell phones, e-mails, landline telephones, smoke signals, whatever. If it’s truly about communication, make it two-way, and don’t just factor in the ancient technologies of single-phone families.

Now, while we’re talking about how technology can work to improve students’ and parents’ lives: Edline has been a boon to just about everyone who uses it. It has enabled parents to stay on top of their children’s school performance in ways that were never before possible. Edline, www.edline.net, allows parents to access individual student’s current grades, assignments and other information. All a parent needs to do is to activate the account and get a password.

With this tool in hand, parents can no longer be surprised when the failure notices come out or that easy A becomes a C. In fact, Edline is such an important tool, it might be the kind of thing that’s worth a phone call from Paul Dugan’s ConnectEd.