By Todd Smith
Southwest Suburban Journal
Tuesday, January 16, 2007 5:34 PM CST
Contacting the parents of Lindbergh School District student in an emergency will soon be made easier by a new call system to be provided by SchoolReach.
The Lindbergh School District has approved SchoolReach, a division of St. Louis-based GroupCast Messaging Systems LLC, to provide a call system in which parents can be alerted quickly about a district emergency or an incident at a single building.
The program is for three years at a cost of $1,635. The emergency contact system does not require the district to purchase any hardware and provides various levels of support.
Paul Langhorst, GroupCast vice president of operations, and partner Joseph Palacios founded GroupCast in 2002.
Langhorst, a telecommunications management professional, came up with the phone messaging service concept for schools after he and his wife both missed a critical dismissal message and his daughter was the last one picked up at school.
Charles Triplett, director of curriculum and student programs, said, "We can contact parents in a matter of 10-15 minutes using information in the student data base."
Triplett said the district has been lucky in the last 16 years not to have had an event in which it would have to suddenly close a school and quickly inform parents. With the new system, they would be prepared for such an event.
For example, if there was an electrical power outage before the start of school, officials could quickly call before parents brought children to school or to the bus stop.
SchoolReach has a working agreement with the School Information System(SIS) company, which is currently used by the district to maintain student and parent information. Because it is directly synchronized with SIS, all appropriate parent contact data is easily transferable to the emergency call system, and will be easily updated when contact data is changed.
He said a school official can put out a 30-second message just by hitting "send" and it goes out automatically. The system would make three attempts in a 30-minute period to make contact with a parent based on the cell phone, work or home number listed for each child. For a single building, phone calls to each parent can be completed in 10 to 15 minutes.
"A contacted parent would be provided basic facts of a situation and directed to the school Web site or to call the school for more information," Triplett said.
He said the system stops trying to reach a parent after a connection is made and added the school district is only charged for connections and not attempts.
The package includes a base of 18,000 calls with the option to purchase more calls for an additional price.
The system could be used for anything from a power outage at a single building to alerting parents of a bus breakdown or an act of violence at one of the schools, he said.
Triplett warned that the system probably would not be used to notify parents of a snow day. Television and radio stations now run lists of schools closed because of bad weather.
Although some school districts have let organizations use the system to remind parents of school family nights and school fund-raisers, Lindbergh will restrict its use to emergencies, he said.
Triplett said SchoolReach's call system is being used in St. Louis area school districts, including Kirkwood, Clayton and individual schools in the Rockwood and Parkway School Districts.