You’re a parent of an Atlanta student with a question about school safety or a bus stop.
Where do you go?
Your child’s teacher? The principal? Do you call the district’s central office or email a school board member?
Atlanta Public Schools this month launched an online communications tool that officials hope will improve customer service, provide faster answers and keep track of lingering questions and complaints that haven’t been addressed.
Parents, students, employees and others can access the new tool — called “Let’s Talk” — using the APS app for smartphones and tablets or from the district’s website.
The system allows parents to pose questions electronically, and the queries are routed to the appropriate department for an answer.
On the back end, APS officials can monitor which questions, complaints, suggestions and compliments haven’t received a reply and nudge the right person to respond in a timely way.
The district will spend $115,000 to implement the system this year, and the annual cost to maintain it is projected to be about $112,000.
In the first few days of using the system, the district received more than 400 comments or questions. About two thirds of the users were parents or guardians, who asked back-to-school questions about uniforms, school supplies and bus transportation.
Prior to “Let’s Talk,” every department handled questions differently, said Angela King Smith, APS chief engagement officer. Some used spreadsheets or manually tracked incoming questions. The result was that “parents got lost,” she said.
Now, parents can select from a menu of topics they want to discuss — from the school board to summer school, student records, special education, technology and food service.
The transportation category has numerous options — from reporting a lost or found item to posing questions about bus maintenance, safety, and bus stop locations.
Questions and comments are sent to the department or team in charge of that area.
The district aims to respond within a day or two and can contact a parent via email or phone, depending on the situation.
The system is intended to make the district more accountable by tracking questions that haven’t been answered and giving users the ability to score how satisfied they are with the district’s response.
People can pose questions or relay concerns anonymously, though the system does not replace the district’s existing ethics and compliance hotline. That hotline is a way for anyone to report unethical or fraudulent behavior anonymously. During the last school year, it received more than 100 reports, mostly connected to employee issues.
School board member Leslie Grant has high hopes for “Let’s Talk.” If the system is properly implemented, she thinks it will transform how the district communicates.
She calls it “a giant set of ears” that allows APS “to really listen to our families.”
“It allows direct access for all of our constituents to get things directly to where they need to go to get their questions answered,” she said.
Reporter Vanessa McCray covers Atlanta Public Schools. If you have a news story you’d like to share with her, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.