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SCHOOL PRAISES PARENTLINK FOR BOOSTING INVOLVEMENT

About 35 Utah schools have discovered a communication link between parents and teachers, a link many officials believe is increasing parental involvement in their child's education.

In March 1991, Taylor Elementary launched ParentLink, an audio bulletin board system where teachers record messages that students and parents can access from a touch-tone phone. The system was purchased through a state productivity grant.Taylor principal J. Lynn Jones described the program as a "tremendous success" with 10,000 calls in the first month. Although the initial curiosity has worn down, the system still answers an average of 160 phone calls per night. "That's a lot of calls for a school with about 200 families," Jones said.

Michael J. Nelson, regional sales director for 386 Systems Warehouse that started ParentLink, said parents initially call in because they are curious about the system, but about 30 to 60 percent are regular users.

With ParentLink, teachers record daily homework assignments, class activities and schoolwide announcements which can be accessed anywhere by parents, students or teachers. Parents can call in and find out what their children are doing, and no papers have to be sent out, Jones said. Parents can also leave messages for their child's teacher.

ParentLink is purchased as a complete system and can be installed in individual schools or in a district office and accessed by schools in the district. A one-line system that serves 150 to 200 students costs about $2,000. A four-line system that can handle about 1,000 students costs less than $7,000, Nelson said.

Alpine district established the ParentLink system and has an 80,000 bulletin capacity, but currently only 20,000 bulletins are assigned.

An additional feature some schools have chosen, including Taylor, is Outbound Dialing. Using the feature, ParentLink calls parents to inform them of absences, upcoming events and announcements. And if parents miss messages, a call to ParentLink will retrieve messages from the previous day.

Initially Nelson said some teachers are excited about the system, while others are apprehensive. "But once they realize they don't need to send hand-held reports or progress reports home, they see the advantage," he said.

Taylor has experienced a significant increase in parent involvement. Results of a Taylor survey show 95 percent of the school's parents use the system regularly.