The Ottumwa Courier

October 7, 2013

Attention Please

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Parents received the school letter they’ve been waiting for. It says they can learn what’s happening at school — without waiting for a school letter.

“The new alert is called Power Announcement, and it is part of our student management system, PowerSchool,” said Kim Hellige, community services director for the Ottumwa school district. “One of the reasons we went with this [is] it was already part of the system 'bundle,' so there was no additional charge.”

This system replaces Ed Alert, which the district utilized to let parents know about weather cancellations, delays, even “early outs” due to unforeseen circumstance. It’s not mandatory, however.

“It’s still an opt-in system, so if they want to receive an alert, they need to opt in,” Hellige said.

She explained that middle- and high-school parents sign in to their account, go to the menu and choose “Power Announcement.” They’ll have a choice of receiving a voice, text or email message. And they can supply up to eight ways to contact the family: four phone numbers and four emails. That means they can include the day care provider or Grandma, who sometimes picks the kids up after school, so they know what’s going on, too.

The district says even parents hooked into the old system, Ed Alert, will need to sign into their PowerSchool account and sign up for the announcement service. There is no more Ed Alert.

At the elementary level, PowerSchool doesn’t play a large role. Parents received a letter telling them they’ve been added into the student management program but not the voluntary announcement system. The letters tell them how to sign in and how to sign up.

This means there’s one change from the old system. In the past, anyone who was interested in what was happening in the Ottumwa schools could sign up to receive alerts: restaurants, perhaps, that may get extra business when school lets out early.

But because only students and teachers are managed on this system, the announcement service is only available for Ottumwa school parents and students.

“The community can still be kept current by friending us on Facebook, following us on Twitter and we’ll still contact the media about [scheduling changes], so that traditional [information source] is still available.”

They’ll also keep their district website updated, she said, with any time-sensitive messages.

Of course, all this raises the question: What is a student management system for? Among its many functions, teachers use the system to take attendance, it acts as their grade book or as a schedule of when homework they’ve assigned is due. And all of those things can be viewed by a student’s parent.

“Parents can see grades, they can see homework assigned, they can see whether their high school or middle school student is attending class. They can see assignments not handed in,” Hellige said.

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark