South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education members heard a 30-minute presentation last night by Suhail Farooqui, Founder and CEO of K12 Insight, about the new Let’s Talk communications software being piloted in the district this fall.
At its August meeting, the Board of Education agreed to a free 90-day trial for Let’s Talk but amended a resolution allocating $11,000 to pay for Let’s Talk for the remainder of school year after the trial expired. New Superintendent of School Dr. John Ramos, who has championed the system, assured the Board that the district would have the option at the end of the trial to discontinue or to proceed.
Let’s Talk is proposing a three-year contract that is renewable at the end of each school year.
In a slide presentation (see below), Farooqui explained how Let’s Talk breaks down the “silos” of communication and gathers questions, concerns and comments in one place where district staff can analyze the questions and staff response time (Let’s Talk districts guarantee parents and guardians responses within 48 hours). Invoking Uber, the new app-driven car service, Farooqui noted that expectations around service delivery and communications have been revolutionized in the modern era, and that educators must now be expert communicators.
“A district that wants to go from good to great is the district for this tool,” said Farooqui.
During his Superintendent’s Report, Ramos noted that 70 dialogues had already begun on Let’s Talk since the district introduced the software last week.
Board member and First Vice President Madhu Pai was enthusiastic: “This is great and it’s making me happy that I supported it,” said Pai, who noted that she was particularly excited about the analytics. She asked Ramos how the Board would be updated on the 90-day trial “so we can determine whether to continue or not.”
Ramos told the Board, “We’re going to share with you that dashboard that you just saw and give you some qualitative feedback on what people are actually saying.” Pointing to the public speaks microphone, Ramos added, “Hopefully it will come from that mic with people coming to public speaks saying they tried it and they liked it.” Ramos said that he would have a report on the trial for the November Board of Education meeting.
Board member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad worried that principals and teachers could be hit with “a deluge of communications and a 2-day response time. Is there a tool to help them?”
Ramos and Farooqui responded that, indeed, there was — although during the trial period questions and comments are going to central administration. Farooqui said that a principal could respond with one message to 100 parents who had similar concerns in a one-day period. Ramos stressed that, even if the response is not complete or popular, “We respond and tell them that it’s complicated and we’re working on it. So at least they know that we heard them and we’re working on it and we haven’t ignored it and when we actually get the answer we can send it and close it.”
“I think most parents will say thank you, thank you, thank you with respect to the 2-day response,” said Board member Elizabeth Baker, who referred to Let’s Talk as “an end to the black hole” of district communications.
“I have my own stories of months going by and never getting a response,” said Baker, who added, “If we have 500 emails in May and June on math placement, we can track that and see if people are getting an answer.”
Board Second Vice President Johanna Wright wanted to know how many districts were currently using Let’s Talk. Farooqui responded that about 160 districts were using the software.
“Can we get info on how they like it?” asked Wright. “I would like to know who those 160 school districts are!”