With the start of the school year, the South-Western City Schools district is rolling out a notification system it hopes will strengthen communication between the district and parents.

With the start of the school year, the South-Western City Schools district is rolling out a notification system it hopes will strengthen communication between the district and parents.

SWCS has a one-year contract with Global Connect for its parent notification system for unlimited calling, emailing and text messaging. The contract will end Aug. 1, 2012. The district has a three-year price guarantee on its annual cost of $1.25 per student.

The notification system will be used for emergency alerts and routine notifications, said district executive director of communications Sandra Nekoloff. "This is truly parent-driven," she said.

Global Connect had the lowest cost per pupil when compared to at least a dozen similar services the district examined, Nekoloff said.

Text messaging is reserved for "absolute emergencies," Nekoloff said. Such emergencies could include utility outages, evacuations, weather-related closings or other threats. In an emergency situation, a message could be delivered to parents in about 20 minutes.

Gary Sigrist Jr., district project director for readiness and emergency management, said he wanted to send parents relevant information in the event of an emergency.

"We did not have an emergency notification system at all," he said.

The notification system also will be used for routine messages such as sports cancellations, attendance notifications, classroom reminders, parent-teacher association meetings and general announcements, Nekoloff said. Bilingual assistants employed by the district can read messages in different languages as needed. Global Connect also can help translate general messages.

Messages can be sent by cell phone, land line, text and email, Nekoloff said. About five personnel are able to send districtwide messages at this point. Each school building will identify a team to send information at the individual building level.

Parents already are registered for the service. They can choose not to receive emails, texts and routine phone calls, but they can't opt out of emergency phone calls, Nekoloff said. Parents are allowed up to three email addresses and six phone numbers per student. They can change their emergency information through the Parent Assistant Module under Parent Tools at the SWCS website.

Prior to the parent notification system, the district used an auto-dialer to deliver routine notifications by phone to parents, Nekoloff said. The information took a long time to deliver. The district eventually will phase out this service as the staffers become trained in the parent notification system.