Quite a few districts have rolled out automated call notification systems in the last few years. As we become increasingly mobile, it can be harder to reach parents and students, especially post-Columbine, when time and communication are not only vitally important, but politically expedient.
We're rolling ours out next week; I'm choosing to believe that we'll only need it for snow days and reminders about fundraising activities rather than anything really disastrous. However, as it turns out, it was really more cost-effective than we ever expected.
The best-known of these systems is probably Connect Ed, run by the same folks who give us the Blackboard classroom management system. We went with One Call Now (similar features, lower price, and very competitive for a smaller district like ours). For a fairly low yearly price per student, I can contact up to 4 numbers per student, 4 numbers per staff member (staff are free, by the way), and create up to 50 subgroups (1 for every school, for example, plus one for every sports team).
I can even regularly update contact information with a straight-forward upload of an Excel spreadsheet.
So far, parents have been thrilled that we'll be able to contact them quickly and easily in an emergency (or even to tell them that school is being dismissed for inclement weather) and administrators are thrilled that we can dump our phone tree and that we proactively contact parents before news stories break (5 students were sent to the hospital from a neighboring district recently with drug overdoses; the principal was able to call parents before the news crews started broadcasting).
This seems like one of those things we should have done a long time ago...How about you? Do you have one? Any experiences to share?