School district’s response to Katrina rewarded

Innovative communication system helps district win $10,000

Nationwide, along with two other school districts, Superintendent Dr. Rodney Lafon and Director of Public Information Rochelle Cancienne were recognized for their performance during Hurricane Katrina. Winners of the Grace Under Fire Award at the American Association of School Administrators’ (AASA) annual conference, the St. Charles Parish School District receives a $10,000 endowment.

Of all challenges, Hurricane Katrina’s effect on area communications proved to be the largest. According to AASA, “Lafon and Cancienne used innovative technology, served on the area-wide emergency operations center, augmented communication through a close relationship with local radio and TV stations and actively cooperated with a variety of local agencies before, during and after Katrina to communicate with staff, parents and other key community stakeholders.”

Vital to that communication was Connect-Ed, a web-based phone system that allows the St. Charles Parish School District to contact all parties connected to the district, enabling LaFon and Cancienne to send regular phone messages in midst of a crisis. Connect-Ed stores up to six phone numbers of staff and students, then system spreads out like a web ensuring a connection.

In 2004, when Cancienne began the search for a communication system, she said that finding one that would handle the daily challenges, such as informing a parent of an absentee student, to a crisis like a hurricane evacuation were all part of what she wanted. Connect-Ed provides that flexibility.

During Katrina, Cancienne said getting the message out was essential. “The key was having one voice, which is what (the school board) prides itself on,” she said, adding that this helps cut down on confusion. Cancienne said that the projection of a unified message also eases anxiety from those displaced.

“The great part about this system is once the calls go out I get a report, Cancienne said, allowing her to know exactly how many people have been reached.

Of the message that went Saturday night from Superintendent Lafon, 86 percent of staff and students heard the message, and Cancienne was informed how many were live connections how many were answering machines.

Costing about $38,000 per year, Cancienne said that the system is worth every cent.


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply