Progress reports at $3.25 a student

COSTA MESA — School board member Martha Fluor on Tuesday called it "unconscionable" that more Newport-Mesa schools weren't using TeleParent, the messaging system that lets teachers deliver student progress reports to parents by phone.

Her comments came minutes before the Board of Education approved payment of $14,021 to continue using the system at TeWinkle Middle School, Estancia High, Costa Mesa Middle/High School and Early College High.

At a per-school cost of roughly $3.25 a student, the system provides 80 personalized messages that teachers can leave parents between 6 and 9 p.m. in English or in Spanish. Some messages are merely positive reinforcement; others contain constructive criticism.

After asking that the item be removed from the consent calendar, Fluor talked about the positive aspects of the program, saying that the only time she had ever received a call from a teacher was when her daughter was a junior in high school.

"It was the first time I ever got a call from a teacher," said Fluor, who called it "appalling" that the district wasn't trying to persuade more schools to keep the program.

Teachers, however, may call parents directly whenever they have an issue they want to discuss.

Each school may choose whether it wants to expend resources on "TeleParent: the Parental Involvement Solution," according to an agenda item from the district.

Chuck Hinman, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said he wished the district could afford to offer the service at all district schools. Doing that would cost about $75,000, Fluor said, but it would be $20,000 if only the middle and high schools used it.

Fluor said as many as seven middle and high schools used the program in 2007, and that it was introduced as a pilot program the year before.

Hinman added that there are other ways parents and teachers can communicate. Technology for teacher-parent dialogue changes every week, if not daily, he said.

Four years ago, the district purchased School Messenger, a software program. Since the district owns the software, there is no cost for the schools and many schools have chosen to use it as their outcall system.

But Fluor said the messenger program does not contain the capabilities to reach out to families and that it's reserved only for schoolwide or group-specific messages, such as announcements for back to school nights.

"It cannot be used to as a tool at the middle and high school level," Fluor said.

Hinman said if the cost of the TeleParent program were to "come down," then the district could certainly revisit the issue.

"It would be nice if we could do everything for everybody," Hinman said.

But at $3.25 per student, Fluor said she thought other schools should look into keeping the program, and that the district should do what it could to help the schools out.

"I truly believe it's one of those programs that keeps parents connected to the success of their children," Fluor said.

District Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard said he would try to convene a meeting with all the school principals and see whether the issue was a "cost-prohibitive" one, and that the district would then take the matter from there.

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