Parents: Wireless phones on campuses offer quick access for
by Salatheia Bryant, Houston Chronicle, December 31, 2003
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Dec. 31, 2002, 11:14PM
First-grade teacher Dayna Williams has a new way for parents to
get in touch with her -- a wireless telephone courtesy of the
Klein Independent School District.
In an era in which school officials are stressing greater
parental involvement and both parents work outside the home,
Klein has joined a handful of districts that are equipping
teachers with phones.
"It's more of an instant way of getting back to parents," said
Williams, who teaches at Kuehnle Elementary. "My telephone is
right there in my room."
While teachers there have had access to a campus phone, it was
limited. Whenever Williams needed to call a parent, she said, it
meant using a phone in the front office, usually waiting behind
other teachers and usually calling on her conference period.
On busy days when the line for the phone was longer than she had
time to wait, she'd have to put off making the call until she
went home. Then that cut into her own family time.
With the new system, Williams said, communicating with parents
"It was frustrating in the past when you had a 15-minute block
to get a phone. Now the frustration of finding a telephone is
not there," she said.
Klein spent $3.4 million for the phones and infrastructure to
support the system. In other districts, including Houston,
officials say they recognize the need for having telephones in
the classroom, but can't afford it.
HISD does not provide wireless or cellular phones to its
teaching staff and most of the district's campuses don't have
phones in the classrooms.
"It's a budgetary issue," said Margaret Stroud, Houston
Independent School District deputy superintendent of school
administration. "It would be great if it were something we could
afford, but we can't. Unfortunately, we still have to do the
normal paper-and-pencil route."
Coletta Sayer, HISD teacher and president of the Houston
Classroom Teachers Association, has been lobbying for years for
the district to provide phones.
Even though she has e-mail, she says, very few parents contact
her that way. The times when she has gotten a call, she has had
to trek from her classroom, which is in a temporary building, to
the front office. Sometimes it takes her so long that the caller
"What other professional doesn't have a telephone in their
office or at their disposal?" Sayer said. "We're living in a
time where communication is more important than ever."
HISD parent Becky Udden agrees, saying teachers should be able
to discuss potentially sensitive issues outside the front
office. "Everybody is running in a million directions," Udden
said. "Communication becomes really hard if you don't have
someone sitting at home by the phone when the teacher calls."
At Klein, Williams said a teacher can take the phone outside to
the playground or while on bus duty, allowing them to summon
help quicker in an emergency.
The phone, which is equipped with voice mail, is turned off
during instruction time. And the phone won't work if it is taken
In addition to Klein, the Alief Independent School District has
provided teachers access to a telephone -- a priority to
specifically improve teacher-parent communication, officials
Over the last seven years, Alief has paid $180,000 to retrofit
its older campuses with telephones. The new campuses have phones
in each classroom. Although the phones in the district can't
take incoming calls, the teachers can call out.
The Katy Independent School District will use bond money to
upgrade its telephone system next year, installing phones
equipped with voice mail capability in each classroom. The price
tag is about $3 million.
District spokeswoman Kris Taylor said it is a movement to keep
up with the demands of the time.
"Telephones have been a given in professional offices. We're in
a society that needs information quickly," said Taylor. "Parents
are no longer willing to send a note with students and wait for
teacher to send a note back. There's a lot more dialogue going
on between parents and teachers."