Electronic messaging system is ‘getting a workout,’ Bates says

    When the Crookston School District switched from the Instant Alert electronic communications system to SchoolReach, the thinking was that the district would get a little more bang for its buck.   

    As any parent or staff member in the system can attest, the instant message system that automatically makes phone calls and sends text messages when school is cancelled, is starting late or letting out early has gotten quite a workout over the past couple of winters. And that's likely to continue, considering the blizzard that's expected to roll into the region late Wednesday night and continue to rage until Thursday evening.   

    At this week's Crookston School Board meeting, Superintendent Chris Bates expressed amazement over SchoolReach, and wondered how everyone got by before technology made it all possible. "I often wonder how we did this before we had that program," he said. Now, the superintendent explained, if there's an important event to announce or a storm is impacting the school schedule, he simply calls a number, records a message and "literally within three minutes it's making 4,500 calls."   

    Bates said people have expressed similar satisfaction with SchoolReach, especially parents, who say they appreciate as much lead time as possible when a storm means they have to alter their schedules.

Teachers on Call   

    The praise wasn't quite as high at the board meeting for Teachers on Call, the vendor the district converted to that coordinates substitute teacher scheduling, staffing and pay, but those who did speak on the matter said things are better now than they were at the start.   

    Board member Dave Davidson, who's also subbing after retiring last year, said Teachers on Call was "pretty messed up" at the beginning, but that he hasn't had any issues with it for some time. "It's vastly improved, but the bar was set pretty low at the beginning," he added.   

    The district pays Teachers on Call twice per month. Teachers on Call, in turn, pays the substitute teachers' salaries and benefits. Prior to going with the vendor, Business Manager Laura Lyczewski explained, the district paid a stipend to four staff members to find substitute teachers every day. Although she didn't have detailed numbers at her disposal, she figured the district is probably paying Teachers on Call about the same as it paid for substitute teacher-related costs prior to contracting with the vendor, without the daily hassle. "Now the four staff are freed up to do other things," Lyczewski said, adding that nine teachers were out sick on Monday and Teachers on Call found substitutes for eight of the spots.   

    She said most of the problems early on had to do with teachers being able to accurately enter in information when they were going to be absent.   

    "It was pretty tough at first because (Teachers on Call) doesn't have as much saturation here as it does in other areas," Bates said. "But it has gotten better."