NORTH TONAWANDA – Students can forget about trying to hide their report cards from their parents. And their parents won’t have to worry about the latest school bulletin being lost in their child’s backpack.
The North Tonawanda School District has gone digital, beyond a website, to offer an interactive Facebook page and a school app that is available to provide instant notifications to all students, parents and interested community members.
Coming soon will be Twitter notifications and paperless report cards, as well as virtual meetings.
“Lots of things change last minute, so we try to encourage people to check the website and have been using that for about a year now in addition to our regular paper schedule, but for September we hope to have a Twitter account, which is even more instant,” said Superintendant Gregory J. Woytila. “It’s trying to move paperless, because we still do spend a lot of money printing a paper school calendar.
He said that starting in the 2013-2014 school year, they will no longer be sending paper report cards home but will be using the Global Call System to inform parents and students that the report cards are available online.
“It saves on postage, saves on paper, the printing,” he said.
Woytila said other schools have turned to Twitter, but the North Tonawanda district may be the first in Niagara County.
He said the electronic calendar app has really taken off with the secondary school, because kids have their own devices, which they use to update their parents’ devices.
“Coaches will tell kids to put this link on their phone, because when they call in a change it goes through the system quickly, and during the school day you can see if a practice is canceled – in addition to the phone calls home. Kids will text their parents to say, ‘Coach canceled practice,’ ” Woytila said of the calendar app. “A lot of parents have it, but the kids are driving it.”
He said instant updates are key to the school’s Facebook page, with staff dedicated to updating the page and a chain of command that streams information to the page.
“When I became superintendent four years ago, the web page was just there. It was not interactive and wasn’t up-to-date,” he said. “We redesigned it. I wanted it to be more interactive, and we added Facebook two to three years ago.”
He said he can update immediately from home when there is a storm and can link the calendar, which then sends them an alert.
Woytila said social media keeps parents more aware of what is going on at the school.
“Parents’ time is precious,” Woytila said. “But as far as involvement in secondary events, we do tend to lose them. If they have time, they are at kids’ practices, not necessarily a home school meeting.”
Woytila said they are trying to establish virtual home/school meetings, but that plan is still in its early stages.
“They are always looking for a physical presence, but at least if there is a comment or suggestion, those messages can get through to the people in charge,” Woytila said.
He said that at Parent Partnership meetings, comparable to PTA and PTO groups, sometimes only two parents are in attendance. The district has more than 1,200 high school students.
He said one mom is trying to find a way to have a virtual meeting where people can log in and see the discussion. The principal would run the meeting from his office computer, but people would be able to comment.
“If you are at a swim meet, but you have your cellphone with you, you could still participate and basically be in two places at once,” Woytila said. “That’s what we are going to try to set up this fall at the high school.”
“If you think about the way the future is moving, with Skype and all that stuff, this might be the way you get people in – not a body in the building, but at a virtual site. We would still like parents to come in, but it’s hard. It’s not that they are not interested, but their time is precious,” Woytila said.
Information on the district calendar app is available on the district’s website, www.ntschools.org.