Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Backpack Network

As my kid headed back to her Atlanta public school (APS) last week, and after filling out what seemed like the hundredth paper form requesting the same contact information for our family, I put down the pen to rub my cramped, aching fingers.

I hadn’t done that much old-fashioned pen and dead-tree work since I myself was in grade school. As someone who types virtually all communications or phones them in, such tasks were a lot of manual labor, all for the purpose of creating unimaginable amounts of inputting work for whoever on the receiving end must decipher my atrocious, rarely utilized handwriting.

Then I scribbled yet another communication on some random, greasy kitchen notepad to the teacher about my child’s changing afternoon schedule. I placed that bit of scribble alongside the rest in my child’s bulging backpack and sent it off with a wing and a prayer -- through The Backpack Network. I’d have felt better if I could have sent it by Harry Potter owl.

While marginally reliable at best, the APS’s Backpack Network as chief communication device, in this time of email, the instant message, MySpace, Twitter, SMS, the YouTube debates, cell cams, webcams and iPhone, is amusingly antiquated. But it is what we are asked to use to communicate with the people in charge of our children’s school system.

While APS requires countless forms from the parent/kid end to be filled out as how best to find and contact us, they give us nothing back in return about how to contact them, unless of course you count the one email address on the (static) website for the school’s principal, and the one main phone and fax number to the chaotic school office. That’s it. There simply isn’t any more: no list of teacher email addresses; not a single cell phone number listed for a single staff member.

Why APS wants our email addresses at all is a complete mystery, as the few times I’ve tried to communicate with a staff member through email, I’ve been told to email is grossly unreliable and to “call the front office” instead.

The carpool line communication methods have even regressed, going from two-way walkie talkies to move things along last year, to written slips of paper now passed along from outside to inside. They sure could use at least a house elf or two.

So I got out the amusingly titled “Information Handbook” for my kid’s school, where I found over twelve, front and back printed, pages of paper listing schedules and rules and regs and names and places. The only communicating tool listed for APS staff was indeed -- the main phone number. The one electronic notation was for the school’s (static) website, buried way in the middle of the handbook.

I then read over the letter of welcome from the PTA President, who bravely gave out her cell phone number AND her personal email address, alongside a kindly quote that “communication is key, and the PTA offers many ways to be connected with your child’s school experience.”

And indeed, also inside the “Information Handbook” was a full list of PTA committee chairpersons’ email addresses: everything from the Gift Wrap Committee to the Family Spring Picnic! Heck, the PTA is so efficient it will include their family’s blogs and Facebook sites before long.

But parents’ regular communications needs are directly with APS school staff: the children’s teachers and the administrators, not with the 2008 Fun Run committee co-chair.

Until we need to know more about our “child’s school experience” than what time to show-up to put cones out on Field Day, we are left to the dubious efficiency of -- The Backpack Network.


turdpolisher said...

Whoa, a blog make-over. Looks like Ty Pennington and crew have put in some overtime.

Sandi K. Solow said...

Good point about the one-way flow of information.

I usually read your blog in an RSS, so not sure how long it's been since the makeover, but it looks nice! I miss the pretty graphic at the top.

Grayson: Atlanta, GA said...

Yeah, I'm gonna try putting the graphic back, but it was causing some loading issues Ithink. Was having to load the site, then go back and load that one graphic from somewhere else, and the process was crashing browsers for Mac users. So while I too miss the customized graphic, I may have to live without it until I can get off and move to a REAL blog/site.

EHT said...

I hate this kind of inane crap in education. It makes me sad to be an educator. This sort of thing is such an easy problem to fix. It boggles the mind.

My email address is plastered on everything. I have parents that email me, students, and former students.

Does the school even have a website?

Regarding that paperwork fiasco we go through every year I received the same form from my daughter for each class she attends. My team sends one home and then we copy them for the teachers so each room has one. Why hassle the parents?

Kathy said...

amen, sister! I agree with you whole-heartedly!