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City adds new corps of “education experts” to 311 call service

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein today announced an addition to New York City’s phone assistance service designed specifically to answer parents’ questions about the city schools.

The city is adding about 40 operators to the city’s 311 call centers specially trained to answer questions on issues like school enrollment, admissions and transportation, said DOE spokesman Andrew Jacob. They will also be able to look up some information on specific students and schools, which general 311 operators were unable to do before.

The enhanced service will cost about $3 million per year, Jacob said, with about half of those funds diverted from other services. Some of the operators come to the 311 service after working on other DOE information hotlines, while others are new hires, he said.

The service has been in a pilot stage since June, and the call service has been gradually increasing the number of operators trained in education issues since then, Jacob said. The city says that the majority of school-related questions are now answered in one call lasting, on average, four and a half minutes.

Which begs a question for our readers: have any of you called 311 with an education question lately? What was the experience like?

The full press release is below.


Initiative Fulfills Mayor’s 2009 State of the City Promise to Make It Easier for Parents to Get Information and Answers on Public Schools

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development Dennis M. Walcott, and Chancellor Joel I. Klein today launched an enhanced 311 service for public school families which provides an easy-to-use resource for parents and guardians seeking answers about their children’s education. Parent coordinators at each school will continue to be the first point of contact, but families can now select a new option on 311’s main menu to reach an expert trained in responding to education-related issues, including questions pertaining to enrollment, transportation, and admissions. In the past, families seeking information had to know which of several Department of Education hotlines or offices could answer their particular question—there were distinct numbers for elementary school, middle school, and high school enrollment, for example, and a transportation hotline. All of these questions can now be addressed by specially-trained experts at 311. The Mayor, Deputy Mayor Walcott, and Chancellor Klein made the announcement at a new 311 call center in Brooklyn set up specifically to answer parents’ calls, and were joined by the Department of Education’s Chief Family Engagement Officer Martine Guerrier, and Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) Commissioner Paul J. Cosgrave, Council Member David S. Yassky, State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

“The City’s 311 service has been a tremendous success, and now we’re extending its reach to our public school families to make it easier for them to get answers about enrollment, busing, and other issues that affect their children,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Since 2002, we’ve focused on providing families with the information they need to be full partners in their child’s education—from placing a parent coordinator in every school to giving families online access to their child’s attendance, grades, and test scores. Adding this new service to 311 further ensures our families can stay well-informed and engaged in their children’s education.”

This enhanced 311 service fulfills the Mayor’s promise in the 2009 State of the City address earlier this year to make it easier for parents and guardians to get information and find answers. Education experts dispensing information at the enhanced 311 have already handled nearly 60,000 calls during a four-month pilot of the new service, during which calls to Department of Education offices were routed to 311. In the past, many calls would have required families to leave messages and wait for return calls; some issues were not resolved for days or longer. Today, more than 80 percent of questions are answered in one call averaging four and a half minutes. The MetLife Foundation donated some of the initial private funding to the The Fund for Public Schools for this initiative.

“The enhanced service at 311 is one more way the City is being responsive to public school families’ desire to be informed and engaged about what matters to them most – the education and success of their children,” said Deputy Mayor Walcott.

“Thanks to the enhanced service at 311, public school families will no longer have to wonder which number to call or worry about getting passed from one office to another,” said Chancellor Klein. “The 311 representatives can help address many more issues related to our public schools, from high school admissions to school bus pickup times.”

“Families want to be able to get answers to their questions quickly,” said Department of Education Chief Family Engagement Officer Martine Guerrier. “And with the enhanced 311 service, they can. It is just one more way that we are improving communication and engagement with our parents to make them true partners in their children’s education.”

“Whatever the hour, whatever the language, 311 is at the service of New Yorkers,” said DoITT Commissioner Cosgrave. “We are proud to have worked closely with the Mayor’s Office and Department of Education in delivering this important enhancement for the City’s public school families.

In addition to the hundreds of 311 representatives trained to handle basic education inquiries, 311 and the Department of Education have trained specialists to handle a wider range of questions from families who are inquiring about public school. Calls to existing Department of Education hotlines will now be routed to the new experts at 311.

Common questions that 311 can now answer include:

  • How do I register my child for school?
  • Is my child eligible for the school bus?
  • What time will the school bus pick up and drop off my child?
  • How does the admissions process work for high school/middle school/pre-kindergarten/gifted and talented programs?
  • How do I access my child’s data online?

This enhanced 311 service builds on the progress the City has made since 2002 in engaging public school families and making it easier for them to navigate the nation’s largest school system, which serves 1.1 million students. Every school now has a parent coordinator, who should continue to be a family’s first stop for education information, particularly school-specific questions about classroom assignments, parent-teacher conferences, the school calendar, and class schedules. Parents can also turn to other newly-created resources, including District Family Advocates and the Office for Family Engagement and Advocacy which holds events, workshops and training sessions to help educate parents about how to become involved in their schools and taking an active role in their children’s education. Additionally, an online student data system which was launched last spring is an innovative tool that for the first time gives families online access to their child’s school attendance, test scores, grades, and other important information in one place.

About the 311 Customer Service Center

The 311 Customer Service Center was established in 2003 to give the public quick and easy access to all non-emergency City government information and services. Calls are answered by operators, 24 hours a day, seven days a week in an average of 15 seconds, with 85 percent of all calls answered in 30 seconds or less. Approximately 50,000 calls come in to 311 daily, and translation service is provided in nearly 180 languages.

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