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Last Updated: 04/12/2018


 Article of Interest - Communication

Calling All Parents: Wireless phones on campuses offer quick access for teachers
by Salatheia Bryant, Houston Chronicle, December 31, 2003
For more articles visit 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 is easier.

"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 hangs up.

"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 off campus.

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 said.

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."

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