Park City School District dials in on power of the text message
Official says opt-in communication system could be a ‘game changer’
April 11, 2017
The Park City School District's promise to put another bond on the ballot this fall has generated buzz in the community.
It may soon start causing a buzz in your pocket as well.
The district recently began using a technology that enables it to send text messages to residents to inform them about the upcoming bond measure and related projects. The system, which operates on an opt-in basis, also allows residents to respond and even have full conversations with district personnel.
Molly Miller, the district's community relations specialist, said the technology represents a drastic reimagining of how school officials communicate with residents after breakdowns in outreach during a similar bond campaign in 2015 helped doom that effort. Miller is hopeful the system will break through the roadblocks that in the past have made it difficult to effectively distribute large-scale messaging.
"As far as educating people and informing people, and especially getting feedback, this is a complete game changer for the Park City community and for the school district as a whole," she said. "I really encourage people to sign up and opt in.
"It's been a really cool challenge to think about where people are spending their time," she added. "And it's on their phones. You're searching the internet on your phone, you're texting your friends. You're doing everything on your phone, so it's just a matter of going to people where they are."
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Officials tested the technology in a pilot program at Ecker Hill Middle School with about 300 parents before recently rolling out the system throughout the rest of the district. Miller said the level of engagement during the pilot exceeded expectations.
In one case, she used the system to ask participants to rate their satisfaction with certain district projects on a scale of one through five. For parents who messaged back with a one or a two, she was able to follow up to learn more about why they were displeased.
"We've already seen the effectiveness of this tool, using it the unique way that we're using it," she said. "Even people who would respond to our surveys with pretty stingy scores, I would respond and they'd be like, 'What?' They were really pleased to get that personal contact. It was like, 'Oh my gosh, you really care about what I think.'"
A Park City startup, AtlasRTX, partnered with the district to provide the technology. The company's software was designed for businesses to reach their customers — such as a hotel offering concierge services via text message — and it wasn't until CEO Bassam Salem had a conversation with former Park City Board of Education member Moe Hickey that he saw an opportunity to use the product in a different way.
He said the partnership with the school district has made him reevaluate the types of organizations that could leverage the software.
"To be completely frank, we never really envisioned using this with school district," he said. "But now that we have, we're talking about maybe we should consider that. We've used this as a great partnership in our local community, and we'll see where it goes."
An important feature of the technology is its ability to bridge the language divide between the district and its Spanish-speaking families. It translates the text messages in real time, allowing Miller, who doesn't speak Spanish, to speak directly with a segment of the Park City population that has been difficult for the district to reach over the years.
Miller said reaching Latino residents is nothing short of critical.
"That was a piece that has been missing for a while," she said. "Having the ability to speak in people's native languages is so crucial for them to understand projects and to get involved when they want to get involved. I'm so proud of the progress the district has made in that direction."
Residents can opt-in to the text message system online by visiting the district's website, pcschools.us, or by texting their first and last name to 435-602-4444.