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Meriden schools to test emergency notification program

Meriden schools to test emergency notification program

MERIDEN — The city schools will soon begin a trial run of emergency notification software that will give administrators the ability to quickly account for students during an emergency. It can also be used to notify central office staff and city emergency departments of safety issues at individual schools.

The program, an application called Countability, was developed by a company that goes by the same name. Board of Education member Scott Hozebin sits on that company’s management team. As such, school administrators took steps to ensure there would be no conflict of interest and to make board members aware of his involvement.

Hozebin said the team’s lead, John Bishop, sent out a bulk email to school superintendents to gauge interest in the program. Meriden was one of the school systems included on that email list, and responded quickly that it was interested, Hozebin said. He added that there hadn’t been any prior communication among Bishop, school administrators, or himself that would have led school administrators to know that he was on the application’s management team.

“It was ironic that they responded so quickly,” Hozebin said of Meriden’s leadership team, “but this district is technology-first; they’re always looking for what’s next.”

Associate Schools Superintendent Michael S. Grove said that the school system’s central administration was looking for a program that would pair with its existing information storage platform, PowerSchool, to provide immediate and broad-reaching emergency alert notifications.

“Scott Hozebin knew we were looking for this system, so he had his team come in and show us about the product, and it met all our needs,” Grove told members of the Board Finance Committee Tuesday. Hozebin is a member of the committee, but did not participate in the meeting. Grove said he also will not participate in future votes or discussion on the topic to avoid a conflict of interest.

The program allows administrators to send alerts to “every screen in our district” onto which the application is downloaded regarding emergency situations such as school lockdowns, Grove said. It also will allow teachers to quickly account for their students in a lockdown or other emergency situation, and then relay that information to school administrators.

The software will also allow teachers to access student emergency contact information remotely from the application on their phone or other mobile device.

“For example, if you have a football player who gets hurt, you’re with them in the ambulance and right now you have to call someone with access to a desktop computer to get that student’s emergency contact info,” Hozebin said. “With this, you can just look it up from the ambulance.”

Hozebin said the program “fills a lot of gaps” for the schools that would use it. Currently the software is in beta testing, and Hozebin said there are five school districts in various states that have signed up to test it, including Meriden.

There is no cost to test the software. Meriden schools will be testing it through August. Once the testing phase is finished, Meriden has the option to purchase the software for “under $8,000,” Grove said.

Expenses that are less than $10,000 don’t need to go before the Finance Committee for approval. Grove said this software — though it’s free to test and less than $10,000 to buy — was brought before the committee “to make sure everyone is aware Scott (Hozebin) is involved.” The presentation Tuesday was informational, so the committee took no action. Grove said he’s looked into a few similar programs, but they either didn’t pair with the school system’s existing information storage platform, or “were 3-4 times more expensive.”

Student information is hosted securely by Amazon, Hozebin said. Grove told finance committee members during the meeting that only those with password-protected access to the application would be able to access the information.
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