We ran our first test of our automated calling system, One Call Now, this morning and should be able to use it tomorrow morning for that ice storm the forecasters keep discussing. The system, with either a single phone call or a web-based wizard, allows me to call every teacher in the district, every student, or any of 83 subgroups of these populations.
The calls can be scheduled or immediate, can be a voice recording or text-to-speech generated, and can handle several phones per person. It can also email your users at the same time. Snow day? Fire off a message to students and staff. Progress reports coming home? Leave phone messages for parents. Bomb scare? Contact parents to get the kids and keep them informed.
The web-based interface allows for imports of data from Excel and text formats and makes it simple to update records, add numbers, and view contact information for each user. The calls happen incredibly fast, as well. Within 4 minutes, almost 300 contact numbers were called for our test this morning, with most teachers reporting no problems at all. You can even set the caller ID number that people see.
A couple minor gripes: the computer voice from the text-to-speech message can be a bit hard to understand and a lengthy pause between pickup and the time the message begins playback was confusing to some users. I think that for most announcements, we'll stick with a voice recording.
These gripes really are minor, though; for a system that was remarkably affordable (I can't disclose the price, but suffice to say that most districts could find the funding in their collective couch cushions), it worked really well.
We have a ways to go to fully clean up the student database, but ultimately, this will be a time saver. It might even be a money saver if we fully leverage the system to call parents directly instead of relying on papers and notices to be sent home.