Not many entrepreneurs can say that a call from their child’s principal resulted in a prosperous business opportunity. But that was the case for Robin Richards and the newly renamed NTI Group, an application service provider for school districts now branching out to capture the municipal and federal agency markets with its mass notification services. “We’re taking a look at the old ways of doing things and applying new technology to create quantum leaps in efficiency,” Richards said. Located on the top floor of the Sherman Oaks Galleria, the NTI Group started out as PACE, or Partnership for Academic and Community Excellence, in 2001. Richards entered the picture three years later, at a time when he was retired after having sold music content provider mp3.com to Vivendi Universal. At his Calabasas home one night, Richards received an automated phone call from his youngest daughter’s school with a reminder to attend Back to School Night. When he attended that meeting he found “standing room only,” Richards recalled. Asking the school’s principal how he managed to get so many parents to attend, Richards was told it was due to the automated phone message. Richards bought PACE, brought in the team from his mp3.com days and set about concentrating on primary and secondary school districts. “Robin is good at recognizing something new where they had been relying on flyers and phone trees from the PTA,” said Natasha Rabe, chief marketing officer for the NTI Group. “Here was something that had a dramatic change at his daughter’s school.” Connect-ED is used by 6,000 school districts in about 70 percent of the country, handling 10 million calls a month. As an Internet-based system, there isn’t any hardware, software or additional phone lines for school districts to purchase. Training takes from 10 to 15 minutes. The service gives the capability and security of organizations 100 times their size, Richards said. “This is the greatest communication in history between schools and parents,” Richards said. Palmdale School District Superintendent Jack Gyves said that when he heard about Connect-ED through a flier he thought it was too good to be true but has found the service to be indispensable. Messages go out to parents and guardians in both English and Spanish and increases the communication with the local schools, Gyves said. “It saved our bacon during last year’s rainy season when we had closures and cautions to announce,” Gyves said. “When we’ve had lockdowns due to a crime in the area or an intruder on a campus it allows us to get our message out instantaneous with minute to minute updates.” Joseph Condon, superintendent of the Lawndale Elementary School District near Torrance, said the district was an early adopter of the system nearly five years ago. During an incident 18 months ago in which a school was evacuated when a suspicious suitcase was found in the parking lot, the district was able to communicate with parents about the situation and where their children were taken, Condon said. “When a group of parents came in for feedback one thing they brought up was how they appreciated the communication from the school,” Condon said. “Individual teachers use it as well as the schools.” Taking NTI’s services beyond the schoolyard came at the suggestion of municipalities and one federal agency, Richards said. Connect-CTY was launched in January and has about a dozen small cities on board as a way for city leaders, or police and fire officials to contact residents. In April, the company began to promote its Connect-GOV service to bring federal agencies on board for the service. “Communication can be difficult when you are a government entity,” Rabe said. The technology upgrades put in place by NTI ensure that calls will continue to go out even if there is a power outage; put computers in place in different geographical areas that are doing the same task; and allows for calls to be made without overloading the phone system.
Notification System Gives Schools Easy Link to Parents