The Ottumwa Courier

January 7, 2014

District alerts delayed

Courier staff writer

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OTTUMWA — Parents frustrated because they missed the notification of a school delay, early out or cancellation may see a better system in place.

"The earlier you can notify parents in the community, the better," said Davis Eidahl, superintendent of schools in Ottumwa, "because we have so many working parents, and they need time to get things arranged."

To that end, the district has more than one way to get the word out. For example, on Monday, Eidahl made the decision early (around noon) that classes would be delayed two hours Tuesday morning. Within about 10 minutes, he said, a notification to parents was posted on social media sites by one employee, sent to local media by another while a third staff member entered the message into the mass text message service parents like because it can actively signal them with school announcements.

At least, that's how it's supposed to work.

"With the flaw we have now, it took three to four hours by the time everyone was notified," Eidahl said. "Next time, we may not have three to four hours. After yesterday, seeing the delay, we are exploring adding another option for parents in addition to Power Announcement."

Lately, though, when they hit the "enter" key, the message sits and sits and sits. They believe it's because it's being sent to so many people which, admittedly, is a requirement of a mass mailing system. Office staff worked around the problem this time by breaking the addresses up into groups, though that meant families may have received one notification for each child.

A mom who told the Courier she hasn't received this or any other alerts all year may need to check her setup. The district had sent instructions home to parents, and Eidahl said he's found not everyone was successful in signing up correctly.

"We've discovered that several [families] signed up wrong. In that case, we'll go in and work with them," he said. "However, Pearson [the new web company] acknowledges they have some issues on their side, and they are working on it.

So why get a new company when parents said the old company's "Ed Alert" worked fine?

"We have a student management system, which has to align with the state's so the state can pull information from that system. PowerSchool is very popular across the state, and a component of that is Power Announcement," Eidahl said. "Ed Alert was tied to the old web host of our old website. That company was bought out, and we went with a newer, more up-to-date company. In the meantime, we understand the importance of prompt messages, so we are also exploring other options that may include a product [similar to] Ed Alert. "

— To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark