System alerts parents of no school snow day

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer
NAPLES — During the second snowstorm of the winter season, the school day for School Administrative District (SAD) 61 was cancelled.
This is not unusual for Maine.
However, what was a new was how the parents and guardians of area students were notified of the cancellation. On Wednesday morning, a new system called Blackboard Connect was put into action.
“This is the first time that we have used it,” according to Andy Madura, the Director of Transportation, Facilities and Food Services.
Those people who opted to be contacted via phone regarding school cancellations actually received two phone calls. Both calls occurred shortly after 5 a.m.
“I ended up doing it twice this morning,” Madura said.
In the first message, the computerized voice did not make the “no” in “no school” audible. So, Madura created a second message, which said, “There is no school today.”
“We had one call from someone who said, ‘Hey, you have school today?’ So, I felt it was important to (have the system) call people twice,” he said.
“In the normal world, you would only get one” phone call, he said.
Also, the system sends e-mails and texts to people who filled out information forms, saying that was the best means of contacting them on a school morning.
Madura said that getting the most effective use out of Blackboard Connect is a learning process for both the district and the families of students.
“Right now, the system is taking the information from our” parent contact data system, Madura said.
After this first snow day of the school year, parents may have a more convenient number to add to the list or they may want to delete one form of communication that was not helpful or is no longer valid, he said.
People can contact their child’s school; and the secretary can make the changes, he said.
In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, Madura checked with the National Weather Service (NWS) and neighboring school districts before making his recommendation to the SAD 61 Superintendent.
“We had three choices: go to school as scheduled, a two-hour delay, or no school,” he said.
“It was too slippery. With the two-hour delay, we still had potential for freezing rain,” he said.
Once the decision was made, Blackboard Connect sent the message to everyone in one fell swoop.
Also, the school cancellation is posted on the district website, rather than on the web pages of individual schools in the district. Additionally, Madura calls the radio stations so those on-air announcements can be shared with the listening public.
Last month, school children had already begun their Thanksgiving break when the first major snowstorm hit the region, which is why a school cancellation was not necessary.

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