There are so many voices in a school system, the average school leader struggles to hear them all.
There are plenty of frequent flyers–those parents and community members who you’re going to hear from, no matter what.
But engaging other voices in your school system, especially those who face language barriers, or who can’t attend school events or functions, can sometimes feels like a superhuman feat.
In the latest installment of our series on school customer experience superheroes, we highlight the Fontana Unified School District in California for its ability to listen to and engage parents and other members of the school community.
At Fontana USD, about 83 percent of students are socio-economically disadvantaged. Many students are English Language Learners.
Given the sheer number of students and families with different needs, school leaders had a hard time ensuring people felt empowered to shared their feedback and speak up about the schools.
“There was a lack of communication between our stakeholders and our schools,” explains Dr. Shannon Miller, director of special projects for the district. “We found that many of our parents didn’t necessarily work during the day, or that there was a language barrier that kept them from being able to fully engage with us. Others didn’t feel comfortable speaking up.”
Another challenge—and one that is often taken for granted: internet access.
“Only about 30 percent of our students have internet access at home, so their internet access is actually mobile devices,” Miller says. “We needed something parents and families could easily use on their phones to connect with the district and schools.”
Making the right connections
The district turned to Let’s Talk!, from K12 Insight, to open new lines of communication between its schools and homes.
The cloud-based communications solution, lets parents, students, teachers, and others contact school district leaders through a special button on the district website, or via an app on their smartphones. Unlike email, every message filters into a universal inbox, where they’re immediately directed to the right person, or team of people, to collaborate on a timely response.
“We’re in a mobile world, and lots of times that means being on the phone or having that access,” Miller explains. “The Let’s Talk! app helps our parents get our immediate attention and helps us address their concerns in a timely manner.”
On the backend, a real-time data dashboard provides district and school leaders with key insights about the quality of their engagements, such as average response time, customer service rating, and critical issues or themes—information that can be used to drive change across the district, while ensuring exceptional customer service.
Rolling it out right
Fontana USD piloted Let’s Talk! at the district level before rolling the technology out to leaders at its individual school sites. Administrators say the gradual rollout helped engage families, while ensuring that building administrators had time to build familiarity and comfort with the platform.
“It was critical for us to have Let’s Talk! as a means for families to communicate not just with the district but with their children’s schools,” says Miller. “And it was important for us to be able to see those interactions so that we can better understand our community, our strengths, and our opportunities for improvement.”
The district created a calendar for phasing Let’s Talk! into schools based on feeder patterns and for supporting families and staff with trainings and resources. Administrators used free resources from the Let’s Talk! Learning Center, an online training hub offered by K12 Insight, to create an interactive training manual for team members.
“One of the biggest concerns school leaders had was that this was going to be one more thing that would take time away from them. I wanted to make sure they had the training, resources, and tips they needed to feel comfortable and to use the platform in a way that worked for their community and school culture.”
Since introducing Let’s Talk! into its schools, the district has seen an increase in engagement from all stakeholders, including parents. A fourth of all the district’s Let’s Talk! dialogues are now sent directly to school sites where families and others typically get a reply within hours.
“Let’s Talk! doesn’t replace our face-to-face communication with families, but it helps us amplify their voices,” Miller says. “Not all of our parents have availability to reach out during the school day, or they feel like they can’t because of a language barrier or other concern. Let’s Talk! gives them a safe and easy way to engage with us on their schedule.”
Looking forward, the district would like to get more students using Let’s Talk! “Now that we have more parents using the platform, I want to get more students using Let’s Talk! in a positive way,” says Miller. “Student voices are key in understanding our schools’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as providing every child with a high-quality educational experience.”
Want to hear more about how Let’s Talk! can help your district make lasting connections with students and families?