District moving to ParentSquare communication system for safety, easier accessibility

Junior+L+Lamar+opens+up+StudentSquare+on+a+computer.+ParentSquare+will+be+utilized+by+teachers+and+parents+in+the+2022-23+school+year%2C+while+StudentSquare+will+be+utilized+by+students+through+either+an+app+or+online+website.

Juli Mejia

Junior L Lamar opens up StudentSquare on a computer. ParentSquare will be utilized by teachers and parents in the 2022-23 school year, while StudentSquare will be utilized by students through either an app or online website.

Samantha Haney, Asst. Opinions Editor

For the 2022-2023 school year, the Rockwood School District will be switching over to a new communication service. The contract with SchoolMessenger, the current service that the district uses, originally expired in 2020, which is when the district planned to move to a new service. Before a recommendation could be presented to the Board of Education in May 2020, the district went virtual and the contract was extended for another year.

Then, when SchoolMessenger was expiring again, the ransomware attack shifted the district’s focus to finding a new website provider leading to the contract being expanded for another year. This year, the district committed to finding a new service. 

“We brought together a committee of parents, teachers, coaches and principals to look at a variety of services to serve the district’s communication needs,” Director of Communications Mary LaPak said.

The district sent out a request through the business office to get bids and received responses from OnSolve, Blackboard, Intrado (the company that provides SchoolMessenger) and ParentSquare.

After looking at cost, company experience, customer service, quality, effectiveness, different features and how easy each service is to use, the committee recommended ParentSquare to the Board, and it was approved. ParentSquare will cost $81,144 for a five-year contract with an on-boarding fee of $3,000.

LaPak said the district believes moving to this service will fix several issues with communication that the district now faces.

“Our parents are having to access multiple tools and apps to communicate with their schools,” LaPak said.

She said moving to one service, ParentSquare, will help parents receive information in one place instead of on a number of different services, which will increase protection.

“We worked closely with our Information Services Department following the ransomware incident and we understand how important it is that data is protected. When staff members are using apps and programs to communicate, they are uploading data to sites owned by vendors, which makes it impossible for us to protect that information,” LaPak said.

By moving to one main communication service, the number of places that data is communicated and housed is consolidated which makes the data more secure. Gmail, Canvas and Infinite Campus will still be used for communication since those are district-approved tools.

However, services such as GroupMe, Remind, Blackboard, SchoolMessenger and Class DoJo will no longer be able to be used by district groups.

“What the district is trying to discourage is forms of communication between staff and students, or coaches and students, that wouldn’t be visible forms of communication,” librarian Nichole Ballard-Long said.

Clubs that previously communicated through the services that will be blocked must switch to using ParentSquare and StudentSquare.

“Club sponsors will have accounts in ParentSquare to send messages and posts to the group that students can reply to or comment on. The sponsor will also have the ability to allow students to create posts in the group that others can comment on,” LaPak said. 

ParentSquare will be similar to a current service that won’t be blocked, Google Classroom, where teachers can create the classroom and then set it up for students to be allowed to make posts. While staff members will be able to communicate directly with students and parents and students will be able to communicate directly with staff members, student-to-student communication will not be set up through StudentSquare. 

“It will be challenging to change the way that coaches and club sponsors have communicated in the past, but I can see the reason in it,” Ballard-Long said.

While Ballard-Long understands the switch, sophomore Hayden McConnell is confused why the district is switching, since he likes using GroupMe.

“Robotics uses [GroupMe] for communication. I guess it’s good that we’re switching but it’s ridiculous that we won’t be able to use GroupMe. I think it’s going to make things more complicated for club communications,” McConnell said.

Junior Layne Witherspoon, who uses GroupMe for club volleyball, doesn’t mind the switch.

“[I like GroupMe], it’s pretty simple and not all of us have iPhones so that’s the easiest way to talk. I think [switching] will be pretty easy though since I’m sure most of us on the team only use GroupMe for club and nothing else really,” Witherspoon said.

Accounts for ParentSquare and StudentSquare will be automatically generated for parents and students using a preferred email address and phone number. To access their account, parents will either sign up using an activation link or directly through the ParentSquare website or app. Students will receive invitations to StudentSquare in August, while parents will start receiving communications from Rockwood beginning either May 16, 2022 for Rockwood Summer Academy families or July 1, 2022 for the rest of the district not participating in the Rockwood Summer Academy.

Rockwood posted information on their website for parents and students to inform them about the service and offer support.