Down East 2013 ©
Portland may not be Beverly Hills, but the 1,200 students at Portland High School are as wired as any Valley Girl, with pagers and beepers on belts and even the occasional cellphone in a backpack. Now their teachers are getting connected, too, with the distribution of twenty-five wireless digital telephones that take parent-teacher communication in the Forest City to a whole new level.
Not only can instructors make calls — and receive them — without standing in line for telephone access in the office, but students also know that failing to hand in homework at the beginning of class may mean an on-the-spot call to their parents.
In the old days, making or receiving a phone call at the high school meant competing with eighty-four other teachers, plus administrators and office staff, for one of five available phone lines. Teachers commonly spend hours each week talking with parents by phone, all too often from their own homes because they have neither the time nor the opportunity to call from school. “I love not using my personal phone for business,” English teacher Priscilla Doucette says. “This is one more step in treating us as the professionals that we are.”
The phones come with voice-mail capacity, which allows parents to call teachers even during class time and leave a recorded message. “Parents feel far more at ease calling us at work, as it were, rather than at home,” Doucette says.
Sprint PCS donated the wireless phones along with two years of free air time as part of its introduction of digital wireless phone service in the Portland area, according to Glenn Cummings, executive director of Portland Partnership, a nonprofit organization attached to the city whose sole purpose is to increase public and business involvement with the schools. Among its responsibilities, it places volunteer coordinators in each school and looks for grants and donations to help school activities.
Cummings says teachers have told him the phones have resulted in a five-to tenfold increase in parent contacts. “Some are going from three calls a week to twenty or more,” he says. “One teacher uses his new phone to make calls during his forty-five-minute commute home each night.”
The phones have quickly become indispensable. When the two-year phone loan is over, “I don’t know how we’re going to part with them,” Doucette says.
Several teachers have used their phones to call parents from the classroom to deal with student problems on the spot, although Doucette plays down that aspect of the phones’ presence. “I have called about attendance and missing homework,” she says. With their newly wired teachers, students are thinking twice about skipping homework or acting out when they know that Mom is only a phone call away.
(Published May 1998)