By Clarence Plank: PNT staff writer
For area schools, new ways of communicating now mean just a few keystrokes can open the door to reaching the community.
Floyd Municipal Schools is one example of schools changing the way they inform faculty, staff, parents and students when school is closed or delayed, as was the case last week with a major winter storm.
“When I first got here the system we had was to notify parents through a letter and if we had a snow day, if we had something of that magnitude then we would let the radio and TV stations know,” said Floyd Superintendent Paul Benoit.
In addition to notifying traditional media outlets by telephone, Floyd Schools now use text messaging and posting on the school Web site.
“It’s not really a system… (but) a service provided through Yucca Telecom,” Benoit said. “You can send text messages through e-mails and they are very short messages.”
Benoit said any parent with a cell phone can be reached.
At Portales Municipal Schools, Director of Technology Mike Rackler said the school uses an automated phone service that records a message and then sends it out to parents.
“For the past two years we have used the calling system called School Messenger,” Rackler said. “We were able to call 3,200 people the other day in less than 28 minutes. It is a lot different than the old days.”
Gone is the old staff phone tree that made the calls from the department heads all the way down, said Rackler.
“A lot had to do with necessity of more and more things we needed to get out to the public,” Rackler said. “It is used very regularly by all the schools. If there is an event going on in school they call the parents. They use it if the lunch balance is overdue. It makes lots and lots of calls.”
Rackler said the system also tells parents if a child is absent from classes from all the different schools.
At the height of the winter storm last week, the system reached about 88 percent of Portales residents on Thursday and Friday mornings, said Rackler.
Eastern New Mexico University’s system uses their Web site, automated phone, text and e-mail to alert students.
“I get on and send the message via text to cell phones as well as an e-mail address,” Betsy Chavez, executive of university relations, said. “The second thing I do is go online and send out a broadcast message e-mail to all faculty and staff.”
The e-mail also includes Roswell and Ruidoso faculty and staff.
Chavez said before the service, she and ENMU Communication Services Director Wendel Sloan had to come into the office. Now the alerts can be done from home.
“I would man the phones and Wendel would start faxing all that information,” Chavez said. “Then we would stay on campus until the calls diminished once the message got out.”