Canceling school mid-day is one of the worst headaches a school administrator can face. Most schools rely on a phone tree which can take so much time to complete that many parents don't receive a message with enough time to make arrangements. This often results in some students and staff waiting hours for a ride home.
Does that sound familiar? That scenario was not the experience of Villa Duchesne/Oak Hill
School (Pre-K thru 12th ) as an early morning rain in December rapidly turned into a vicious ice storm.
Faced with worsening weather conditions, Villa's mid-morning dismissal went smoothly as parents were contacted through SchoolReach, a web-based service that sends a personal message to all parents almost simultaneously.
The ice storm eventually would be one of the worst to hit St. Louis in twenty years, but Villa's preparation made the dismissal a swift, easy, and safe affair.
"In the past for an early dismissal we would use phone chains, manned by staff to reach parents," lamented Dr. Patty Fagin, Principal of Villa Duchesne. "It would take hours, and some parents would get skipped due to confusion. We had activated SchoolReach just a week before the storm and the mid-day dismissal was our first use. After we made the broadcast, we didn't know what to expect.
"Within minutes, cars started rolling into the lot. First a few, but then a surge as parents reached the school. In just 30 minutes after making the broadcast there was only one Oak Hill student remaining and his parent had called to explain that he would be late. My administrators and I were in disbelief."
Since the December ice storm, Villa Duchesne/Oak Hill has used SchoolReach several more times.
One time the school reminded parents about holiday gift basket donations, resulting in record donations for the program. Another use was a second school closing caused by a power outage on the grade school campus.
"SchoolReach allowed us to send a targeted message just to the parents of the elementary school which included revised drop off directions due to a downed power line near the campus," said Principal Fagin. "I can set up lists with just a couple mouse clicks, so reaching targeted groups of parents is fast and easy."
Busy parents benefit from the use of SchoolReach, which can contact any phone, including mobile and work numbers.
"Many of our parents have stopped me after school to ask about the system and have raved about the impact it has made," claimed Dr. Fagin. "It's the biggest public relations hit I've ever had!"