Can We Talk?

Can we Talk about communication?
My three busy kids participate in swimming, baseball, basketball, soccer, football, book clubs, math olympiad, etc….. you get the idea, my kids are healthy, busy kids. I see hundreds of families participating in these events, games, parties, and all of the commmunications relayed to every family right here in Madison is done on the computer, internet or better known as e-mail. If I did not have access to e-mail I would show up at incorrect times, fail to pay fees, miss important meetings, for all these activities my kids participate in and I volunteer to help. What does this have to do with MMSD education? Nothing, and I mean nothing at all because MMSD doesn’t communicate with me via computer. When I moved to Madison, the PR on the Web and lead me to believe this was the future, the end all, the best the US offered. I wish they spent more on PC’s than PR because the technology in our district is archaic.

We used to live in Anchorage, AK and while it might be thousand of miles away from the rest of civilization their school district had joined the 21st century via computers. They sent emails to parents and you could do the same. The amazing thing is, they answered the email! They sent concerns, weekly summaries and PTO newsletters on computers. What a concept, save money on xeroxing, increase parent participation and knowledge, and improve communication.
Can we talk? Not if your kids go to MMSD. Not one teacher has offered me an email address and our elementary school obtained voicemail two years ago and just one of the teachers my 3 children has had is willing to use it. In order to get a message to a teacher I have to call during class time, send a hand written note, or physically go to the school. (In their defense I had one teacher give me her home phone number but I felt too guilty to interupt her home time to ever use that method of communication.)
Verona has had the futuristic vision to place grades, notes, and communication on the computer for parents to review. I realize low income families cannot communicate in this fashion, however, 70% of the families can and 30% could via current paper systems. I would like MMSD to join the rest of the U.S., heck the rest of Madison and adopt this new techonolgy called computers (OK 25 years old).
I propose MMSD purchase a software system, (I have been informed MMSD is in the process of doing this), and parents volunteer to spend a Saturday or two doing an inservice day to educate our educators about e-mail and the internet. I have had this conversation with many parents, and I could get a whole classroom full of parents ready to help increase communication with the teachers and schools. I realize people HATE change. The teachers that have never communicated with parents won’t and those afraid of computers will continue to avoid them. I believe each school has to embrace this and the principals have to reward adoption of computer communication. It would have to be manditory and the union would have to agree or the new system the district is buying will be a waste of money. Just like the voicemail our elementary school acquired has been a waste of money.
I do NOT want daily evaluations. I do NOT want lots of “aren’t we great” communications. I WANT grades available via computer, I WANT monthly “We are covering this in math” and perhaps correspondence saying your child “is struggling to get assignments done, is delinquent in turning in homework, is doing great”. I want PTO letters, school newsletters, and letters concerning the schools and district to come home via internet. I want more information, less paper, and a two way communication option. Would this be more work for teachers? Perhaps if they are disorganized. Perhaps if it creates more conversation with parents. Perhaps not, if parents actually get information that was formally in the bottom of the locker. Perhaps not, if it eliminates miscommunications. We should interview Verona teachers that utilize modern communication systems and see how they feel about time spent communicating via computer.
And lastly, it could possible save lots of money. As a PTO president I spent hours, literally hours, xeroxing and sending home notices about whatever event was upcoming. We also spend money on monthly newsletters at most schools. Think about the paper savings not to mention the manpower time. If all these families participating in extracurricula activities can get to each event by simply reading their computer mail, why can’t the district do the same. Why is this district so slow to a concept so progressive?
Let’s Get Madison to Talk.

4 thoughts on “Can We Talk?”

  1. Great ideas Mary Kay!
    I would encourage something similar to a yahoo group (only since I know they are free) but there may be some restrictions. The calendar feature would send automatic reminders according to how the person set’s up the event, everything can be searched so new parents would be able to look up topics to oriented themselves, database and even some voting to get an idea for a membership consensus can be set up as well (although I think the actual votes have to be made at PTO meetings). Parents can also set up their membership to deliver directly to their mailbox or they can set it up to go to a site and read on a regular basis.
    I would encourage school communication via email, although, I think some email manners may need to be taught or understood. Sometimes, phones are best, but emails are great tools!
    As for grades, I would just encourage a secure site where parents can review.
    I think the MMSD website has a sign up for meeting agendas and items of that nature available?!?! At least I thought I saw something like that once….
    And for those parents able to use community centers or library facilities, I know many willing to show them how to get connected as well.
    I shared the idea with our PTO president and school Principal…let’s see how more minds can come together to make the idea even better

  2. I agree what great advice. In fact the school district is currently working on a system to do many of the things that you are suggesting.
    You can check it out on the mmsd website. Here is the link. It is called the student information system, SIS. I am hoping it will address some of the concerns that you have expressed. I, for one, am looking forward to using it once it has been up and running. If you have a child enrolled, you can check out the demo.
    Troy Dassler

  3. The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) has engaged dozens of staff and parents over the past year in exploring new student information systems (SIS) software. A K-12 SIS involves everything from the very first Kindergarten entry screening through requests for transcripts from 20-year alumni. Attendance, test scores, grades, course schedules, and behavior information along with details about households and much more are contained in these systems. And every school district in the country has a SIS – can’t do school without one. MMSD’s is nearly 20 years old and in many respects is quite dated. Over the past year the folks involved have contacted dozens of other school districts, issued a Request for Proposals from vendors to replace the current SIS, and had vendors in for lengthy presentations of their products. Currently, the MMSD is posting two products on our web site where staff and parents are able to access a demonstration version. The parent components of both products allow you to view attendance, schedules, and grades online, and they have automatic email links to staff mailboxes. The site has an online form for providing your feedback. And we need it! We want to hear from as many staff and parents as possible. Please take the time to take these two SIS products for a “test drive” and tell us what you think about each. You can find the demo instructions along with much more about the process we have used to review SIS products at: .

  4. Kurt,
    Thank you so much for posting the information about the demo versions of a new Student Information System. It’s great to have the MMSD reaching out.
    I wonder whether you have any those of us without kids can try out the demo.
    Ed Blume

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