Helping People Hear – Communication for Schools

Recently, KIPP St. Louis regional staff were presented with a unique opportunity. Growing to 4 campuses over the summer, they had to re-evaluate whether to continue with their license with their existing robocall provider. Instead of simply re-upping with the provider, they took the time to evaluate where they stood in terms of a full communications plan as a community.


What’s on the table?


Native or Non-native?

When an administrator selects a communications medium, she must decide whether to communicate with parent/student/teachers where they natively live online, or push them into a non-native environment.

Native environments are part of the flow of a person’s life, but particular messages might become lost in the barrage of information that flow within them.  Non-native environments, like school information systems and learning management systems, typically have a rich set of features, but are not part of a typical workflow, especially for parents.

“Native” and “Non-native” environments are also heavily influenced by generational differences. Creating a Snapchat geofilter, for example, might meet the “Native” requirements of a student population, while that app might be decidedly in the “Non-native” quadrant of parents or grandparents.


Administrators always retain the right to push from one to the other.  Making information only available in non-native environments may be necessary, especially when that information is confidential.   Native channels can also be quite effective for non-emergency updates, especially if your audiences are anticipating information (school closings, activity and sporting event updates, etc.).

Public or Walled Garden?

Public communication channels allow schools (and teachers) the ability to create and maintain relationships with people outside their school community. Deliberate use of public channels broadens a school’s reach and creates opportunities for students and teachers within it. In order for these channels to promote and grow positive online footprint, policies for the use of these channels are vital.

Walled gardens allow parties exchanging information three important things:

– alerts
– focus
– confidentiality

A phone call is one example of a walled garden: the ring alerts the recipient of the call and every person on the call is alerted if another person is added through a conference call. The nature of a phone call forces both parties to focus on the interaction, and the conversation is perceived as confidential.


Administrators looking to quickly engage parents and students will reach out using technologies that are both Native and within Walled Gardens. Mass messaging tools target these areas, especially through email, texts, and robocalls.

The Solution for KIPP St. Louis

For KIPP, our solution depended on finding a technology fit that fulfilled the specific requirements (robocalls) and addressed any additional gaps in our communication strategy. Our evaluation of solutions yielded the assessment below:

Educational Communication

In KIPP St. Louis’ communication landscape, we were noticeably limited by our website. It was recently redesigned and the selection committee did not ask for the site to have a responsive design. Because of that, we had a hole in our mobile communication with parents. Our ideal strategy would be to find a solution that covered both robocalling as well as establish a mobile presence, preferably with a walled-garden component.

Two solutions met these criteria: the combination of Blackboard’s Parent Link and Connect products and a relatively new tech startup called SchoolRush. After getting bids on each solution, SchoolRush became our application of choice.


Your solution?

Approaching a communication platform decision with the matrix and feature evaluations mentioned above can go a long way towards identifying a way forward.  Have you used other evaluation tools?  What communication strategies or tools are highly engaging your parents and community members?

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