Hello, Mrs. Jones? This Is Your Son's, Ah, Principal

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Need to call 350 parents to let them know Johnnie or Susie cut classes yesterday, or, alternatively, that they made the Dean's list? Or that there is a pta meeting next Wednesday night? Yes, you say, but one can't possibly make that many calls in a day. Well, Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, Fla., may have the answer.

Last month, the 1,600-student school put Telsol to work. Half computer, half truant officer, the machine automatically calls and leaves a pre-recorded 20-second message with as many telephone numbers as school officials give it.

"It has real potential," Jean S. Johnson, Boca Ciega's dean of students, said of the electronic tattletale. "I couldn't begin to contact the number of parents with personal calls that I have in past couple of weeks with this thing."

"I type the phone numbers in off the school's master list--yesterday it took a couple of hours because I had 330 absent students and another message that report cards were being handed out--and then I start the robot at 5:30 P.M. and let it run to 9:30 P.M.," Ms. Johnson explained. "It makes 50 calls an hour."

"Some kids intercept the calls," Ms. Johnson continued, "but they have to think pretty fast if they are going to lie to their parents about who the caller was. And, of course, some parents have complained about being called by a computer. I understand that, but I tell them this is the quickest, most accurate way of communicating with them."

The machine calls each number up to three times if there is no answer.

Boca Ciega is using its Telsol on a free, 30-day trial; their Pennsylvania manufacturer usually sells them for $9,000. Ms. Johnson said that if the experiments at Boca Ciega and at another Pinellas County school are successful, the county may purchase one for each of its 14 high schools.

"That would be fine with me," Ms. Johnson said. "I can see only one problem with the robot--it has my voice on it. A lot of kids are starting to come in and complain that I'm calling their parents on them when they skip classes. I don't like always being the bad guy."

Vol. 02, Issue 20

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