SchoolMessenger will speed notification, next time

Crime waits for no one. Not even the Bremerton School District. With the district in the process of upgrading its parental notification system, the perfect example of why its needed raised its ugly head.

Actually the SchoolMessenger system goes well beyond just increasing efficiency in emergency situations, but Tuesday’s lockdown at Naval Avenue Early Learning Center, Mountain View Middle School and Bremerton High School would have been much less confusing for parents if the technology had been available for use. A shooting incident on Montgomery Avenue prompted a lockdown at the schools although the students and staff were never threatened. It also disrupted bus schedules districtwide.

“We have all the tools in place, it’s just a question of finishing the training,” said Wayne Lindberg, the district’s director of finance and operations. Lindberg is in charge of implementing the new technology because he was the director of technology when the process started. He is in the last stage of the implementation, the training of the districts’ administrators and support staff. “We’ve been working on this since last spring, but we’re probably still a month out on full implementation.”

SchoolMessenger is a national company based in Santa Cruz, Calif. that provides a service that integrates school district data, automating the more routine communications such as daily attendance, and allows emergency information announcements to all the households in the district virtually instantaneously. Each of the nearly 5,000 households of the district’s students can be contacted by phone or e-mail within approximately five minutes, according to Nate Brogan, vice president of sales for SchoolMessenger.

“The system provides emergency assurance,” Brogan said. “Not only is it fast, it’s consistent.”

The massive Internet-based phone system provides clear, accurate information to each home, assisting tremendously in rumor abatement.

In Tuesday’s incident, police responded to the call of shots fired at 1:20 p.m., and Naval Avenue went into precautionary lockdown at 1:25 p.m. after being alerted by the Bremerton Police Department. Subscribers to the Bremerton School District e-news system received a message at 1:42 p.m.. Subsequently, lockdowns were called at the middle school and high school, and bus schedules were adjusted accordingly. The district sent out further updates via the e-news at 2:01 p.m., 2:45 p.m. and 3:07 p.m.

With the SchoolMessenger service all reports could have been received by all parents and more quickly. The district has some control over timing, but the standard would have the system retry any busy phone number every 15 minutes for an hour in an emergency situation.

Additionally, the new protocol will keep parents informed on their students’ attendance, allow administrators to send reminders of appointments and open houses, and has survey capability. “It replaces the note in the backpack,” Brogan said. “It’s much more reliable and it saves paper and printing costs.”

The district also saved money on the system, due to the recent technical updates. “Given that Bremerton is a very technically forward thinking district,” Brogan said, “they were able to get the system installed for a one-time fee of about $15,000.” There is a yearly maintenance fee of approximately $1,800. “They really planned well in their technology. Similarly sized districts are paying $19,000 per year for the same capability. So Bremerton saved about $4,000 in the first year, and then continues to save about $17,000 per year each year thereafter.”

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