By ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times
In the past, it was quite a task for USD 480 to get out messages to parents and students regarding school closings due to inclement weather or other school-related messages – there were calling trees and Liberal’s media outlets were involved in getting the word out.
That changed for the 2011-2012 school year, when the district adopted the AlertNow system, later called Blackboard Connect. The system is used to communicate with patrons, staff members and students quickly and is a way for the district office to send out a mass message to a lot of people.
“When people become employed with us or enroll, they fill out a piece of paper asking how they want to be contacted through Blackboard Connect and it explains what it is and what it’s for and then they give us phone numbers and e-mail address and say ‘I want you to call me’ or ‘I want you to text me’ or ‘I want you to e-mail me’ or any combination of those,” Jason McAfee, director of Human Resources for USD 480, explained. “We put all of that into a spreadsheet which gets uploaded to the Blackboard Connect website and when we need to employ those numbers, we can do that really quickly.”
The system has been in place for the district for the last three years and the school board voted in its most recent meeting Monday night to renew the contract with the company. McAfee said the program has been incredibly useful and successful for the district – in the most recent school year alone the system was used eight times.
“The system’s worked well for us, and we’ve used it a number of times in those three years,” McAfee said. “And we’re using it increasingly as time goes by – we’re using it more and more for different things.”
McAfee referenced a particular instance when Blackboard Connect proved itself, which was back during the wild winter weather in early February that closed school early and cancelled the next day as well. The district was also able to use Blackboard Connect to help with enrollment this year due to the new InfoSnap process.
“Since that was new, we wanted to make sure everyone was aware it was a new process so we mailed stuff to them, had stuff they could pick up at school,” McAfee said. “But different people learn different ways to get these messages so we sent out a message to remind people of some parts of the process of enrollment. We also sent one out just last week reminding people of LHS open house.”
With the renewal of the contract, the district will be using the system for another three years, after which McAfee said there is a good chance the district will renew again, should the program still be successful after re-evaluations. McAfee also emphasized how important it is for people to have their contact information updated and make sure to let the district office know if people want to be added or deleted from the system.
“We’ll continue to use it and if the public has questions about it, just get ahold of the office here at 604-1010,” McAfee said.