By Stefanie Jackson – The Northampton school board voted unanimously Dec. 10 to spend nearly $150,000 for bonuses for all employees who have been working through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The last nine months have been very tiring to the staff. They have been trying times,” Superintendent Eddie Lawrence said.
Northampton school employees have been working long hours, launching the virtual and hybrid learning programs, expanding long-distance learning down to third grade, and obtaining learning tablets for grades pre-K to two and Chromebook laptops for grades three to six, he said.
“Our staff – every time the bell has rung – have stepped up and answered the call, and they have exceeded expectations every single time,” Lawrence said.
The school board voted unanimously to approve the bonuses, which will be paid in early January 2021.
Every full-time employee will receive $500, and every part-time employee or substitute who has worked 250 hours or more this school year will receive $300.
Employment with Northampton schools must be maintained through Dec. 31 to receive a bonus.
The bonuses will be paid with vacancy savings.
“We’re really, really impressed with a lot of things we’re seeing in the classrooms,” Lawrence added later.
When schools closed in March, students were mostly reviewing old lessons at home. But now teachers have adapted to the remote learning environment and even take their students on “virtual field trips,” he said.
The number of students who are virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to upgrade the technology used to communicate with parents.
Director of Technology Diane Powers is working to improve those lines of communication.
The effort began after school board member Charlena Jones asked if important messages normally sent to parents by robocalls could also be sent by text messages.
“The majority of our families, their technology is smartphones,” Powers acknowledged. Many homes do not have laptops or tablets.
She is considering the services of Apptegy, a company that provides a “three-tiered approach to public relations” that includes building and updating web pages and managing robocalls and text messages.
Based on her research, Powers recommended Apptegy for its user-friendliness, customer service, and affordability.
A user would be able to write a message and upload a photo, and with “one click,” send the message via the Northampton schools website, social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter, robocall, and text message simultaneously.
This would eliminate the need for multiple departments to coordinate communications every time a message needs to be sent to parents.
The company has an app that parents can download on their phones and use it to read the latest school news, lunch menus, or athletics schedules, or find contact information for teachers and school staff.
The app shows only the most recent, relevant information and no “documents and calendars from six months ago,” Powers remarked.
But if parents want to find additional resources, those items will remain available on the Northampton schools main website, Lawrence noted.
Parents who are at work when a school notification is sent can check the app during a break and find out what’s happening without needing to call the school or search the web, he added.
Apptegy would provide website design and construction, training, and the first year of service for less than $15,000, including a one-time setup fee of less than $7,000. The quoted price would rise nearly 50% after December.
The Northampton school division pays $3,400 a year for its current school website platform, SchoolBlocks, plus $3,200 a year for the robocall system that can’t send text messages. It would cost an extra $2,700 a year to add text messaging to the current system.
The new service would start in July 2021.
The school board voted unanimously to accept the quote from Apptegy.