SFUSD pushes online communication with parents

Capitalizing on a finding that nearly all San Francisco households have access to the Internet, The City's school district will look to begin communicating with parents via email and cellphones for the first time next school year.

Results of the first-of-its-kind survey, which examined technology use among families in the San Francisco Unified School District, were presented to the Board of Education on Tuesday, indicating that 94 percent of the households that responded have Internet.

That's more than the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported that as of 2012, 74.8 percent of households had Internet access at home.

The school district's survey — conducted last fall in English, Spanish and Chinese at 94 of the district's 103 K-12 schools — also determined that 84 percent of children have access to a computer with Internet while 60 percent of children have access to an Internet-connected mobile device.

The majority of households identified by ethnic group have Internet at home as well. According to the survey, households that identify as black, Latino, or Pacific Islander/Samoan use mobile devices more than computers to get online, while those that identify as white or Asian access the Internet primarily on computers.

The survey also found that parents want to be notified of emergencies via text messages, which with the current system would cost the district more than $1 per text. Such a mass emergency alert, which has previously not occurred, could cost upwards of $50,000 to notify all parents, SFUSD spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

Investing in a less expensive text messaging system for emergencies is one of the district's three main goals established in response to the survey, according to Blythe.

The district also wants to create a mobile version of SFUSD.edu and use emails to communicate with parents, Blythe said.

Miranda Martin, chairwoman of the San Francisco Parent Advisory Council, said the elementary school her daughters attend already uses email to communicate with parents, and she would like to see that happen throughout the district.

“Having a more interactive relationship between parents and the school district is exciting,” Martin said. “Parents always are interested in having more information about what's happening with their children in school, and what's happening at the district level.”

The data are encouraging for the district's technological development, Blythe said; this week the SFUSD also announced the expansion of a pilot program that gives middle school teachers tablets for their classrooms.

Eventually the district wants to see all students using mobile devices — mainly laptops or tablets, according to Blythe.

“The vision is students have a device they can carry with them at all times, so the learning never stops,” Blythe said.

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