Earlier this month, North Hanover and Lindenwold opted to use the Honeywell Instant Alert™ system to connect with parents and help improve attendance. The two school districts are the first in southern New Jersey to purchase the service, which broadcasts messages to parents and guardians via e-mail, phone, cell phone, pager, or PDA.
“With the click of the mouse, Instant Alert gives us the ability to communicate with parents at home, at work or on the road,” said Scott Strong, principal of Lindenwold Middle School, which serves 700 students. “This tool will help us bridge the communication gap.”
Since its introduction in 2004, the Web-based service from Honeywell has been selected by more than 530 schools across the country. It can be used to disseminate critical information about everything from weather-related delays and school closures to routine communications about athletic practice cancellations and bus delays.
Although many schools use the service for both types of messages, North Hanover and Lindenwold officials said they plan to use Instant Alert for more urgent situations. Lindenwold currently is using Instant Alert at the middle school while North Hanover is employing the system at five schools — four of which are located on McGuire Air Force Base.
Besides communicating to parents about school emergencies, Lindenwold Middle School will use the tool to address daily student attendance issues. For example, Principal Strong and other administrators plan to use Instant Alert to communicate with parents whose children aren’t in attendance to make sure the parents know that their child is not in school that day. As a side benefit, Strong said the system will help ensure the school has up-to-date contact information for parents.
North Hanover Superintendent Dr. Richard Carson said his district will use the service mainly to communicate urgent messages, such as school cancellations to the parents and guardians of its 1,300 students. In the past, North Hanover relied on television announcements to spread the word of events like weather-related closings.
“Parents don’t always have the time to sit in front of a television set and wait for word on whether their children will go to school that day,” Carson said. “Instant Alert gives us another, direct method of communication. We can reach everyone with one shot.”
To use Instant Alert, a designated representative for the school initiates a message through a secure Web site or by phone. The message is instantly relayed to all contact points provided by parents or guardians. Parents can update their contact information online and specify how they want to be reached — for example, e-mail for a routine message, and e-mail and cell phone for emergency communications.
Instant Alert uses the same Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption protocol that protects financial and banking sites, which ensures that all parent and school data is secure. And because it is Web-based, the district does not have to install any hardware, software or additional phone lines, keeping costs low.
In addition, schools can develop an unlimited number of subgroups — such as sports teams, clubs, committees and parent organizations — and send customized messages.