Sunday, May 2, 2004

Schools use automated calls


Parents informed about upcoming events

By Karen Gutierrez
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FLORENCE - About to hang up on that telemarketer? Don't be so fast. It could be your son's or daughter's school.

Boone County High School recently began announcing activities by automated phone calls to students' homes.

A computer places the calls over a six- or seven-hour period. The pre-recorded messages tell parents about fund-raisers, meetings and deadlines for student fees.

Charles Scroggin, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association, got the idea for the calls when his teenage daughter came home one day and said, "By the way, dad, there's a seminar on financial aid for college over at NKU tonight."

"That's great, Brittany," he recalls replying. "How long have you known about this?"

Scroggin recorded the school's first message to homes.

At the subsequent fund-raiser, several people said they came because of the call.

"I like it," said Susan Coldiron, who got a call around dinnertime informing her of an upcoming bake sale and grill-out at Wal-Mart.

Actually, Coldiron got two calls - one for each of her sons at the high school. The school is still working out some kinks, but Coldiron said she doesn't mind.

"Anytime you have communication with the schools, to me, that's a plus," she said. "I have three boys, and I say, 'What did you do in school?' and I get the usual, 'Oh, nothing.' You know, the teenage thing."

Schools are increasingly turning to phone messages as a solution.

The technology first emerged in the 1980s when the federal government began requiring schools to inform parents within 24 hours if children were absent.

Automated systems began as a way to make those calls efficient.

Now some schools are expanding into announcements.

They say phone calls are more effective than e-mail or monthly newsletters, because not all families use computers, and newsletters can't accommodate last-minute developments.

For many years, the Oak Hills school district in western Hamilton County has used its phone software to deliver school announcements to homes.

About two years ago, three high schools in Kenton County started doing the same.

Dixie Heights High School Principal Kim Banta recently used a recorded messageto ask parents and students to write nice letters about their favorite teachers, which she would then present to the school board.

"The parents seem to be OK with it. I doubt if it's something they love, but it's a way to get information out," she said.

At Scott High School in Taylor Mill, a recent call reminded students to obey the dress code during state-testing week so administrators wouldn't have to pull them out of class.

"If they did a short, 30-second thing, it wouldn't be so bad, but it's like an infomercial," junior Nathaniel Gravely grumbled.

Plus, the recording makes you feel like an idiot, he said.

"You pick up the phone, and there's just, like, a five-second pause, which makes you go, 'Hello? Hello?' And finally someone says, 'Hello,' and you try to talk back to them and they just keep going."

So far, Boone County High School hasn't heard any complaints.

E-mail kgutierrez@enquirer.com




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