Santa Barbara engineer’s platform has helped parents with school communications
Ten years ago, Santa Barbara-based computer engineer and parent Anupama “Anu” Vaid developed a vision.
A vision for a platform where school communications would be centralized — where parents could receive all school correspondence in one place and have the option to communicate with teachers and administrators in a simplified way.
That vision became a reality 10 years ago when Ms. Vaid created ParentSquare, a unified platform that provides all school-based communications in a single, digital location.
With ParentSquare, parents receive all school messages in a centralized location and can access their online portal through text, email, voice or through the mobile app.
Parents have access to messages and notifications in their ParentSquare online account, which provides student information such as absences, tardies, progress reports and lunch account balances.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the platform expanded to include a Health Screening Form on its app and website in August 2020. This has given parents and administrators easy access to daily student screenings and a way to track symptoms among the student body.
Since launching at Peabody Charter School a decade ago, the Santa Barbara-based company has expanded nationwide and is currently being utilized in half of California’s schools and in 44 states.
Reflecting on the company’s founding 10 years ago, Ms. Vaid recalled how transitioning from a working mom to a stay-at-home mom changed her connection to her children’s schooling, particularly when it came to school communication.
She first saw the need for a centralized communication platform when her daughter began kindergarten more than a decade ago. As a working mother, Ms. Vaid saw how hard it could be to keep up with school communications, especially when it was coming through various communication channels (printed papers, phone calls, emails).
When she quit her job and became a stay-at-home mom a few years later, Ms. Vaid realized that being involved in her child’s schooling was like a full-time job in itself, and she felt a much different level of connection than when she was a working parent.
“I realized there’s such a big difference between being a stay-at-home mom where I can go pick up my child and have that connection with the teacher,” Ms. Vaid said. “And that was the time when Facebook was very, very prevalent and you could pay your bills online, you could read the newspaper online, just everything was online. And I was like, ‘Why can’t we do this school connection online?’ ”
This revelation is what ultimately propelled her vision of creating a platform for school-home engagement in a way that was simple for parents and administrators to utilize.
Using her background in computer science, Ms. Vaid and her husband, Sohit Wadhwa, developed the software and launched Parent Square in January 2011.
Reflecting on the launch, Ms. Vaid recalled that former Peabody principal Kate Ford was “absolutely instrumental” to the start of ParentSquare. She recalled Ms. Ford showing great support for the project when it was in its early stages of development.
After the program was up and running at Peabody, the Santa Barbara-based company saw slow growth in its first three years of operations but has experienced steady expansion since 2014. The platform is now utilized in all Santa Barbara County school districts and about half of all California schools.
The company witnessed more rapid growth in the last five years in particular, reporting 100% year-over-year revenue growth from 2016 to 2020. Officials say they hope to continue advancing the platform and eventually expand to schools in all 50 states.
Since starting this venture, Ms. Vaid said the most rewarding part has been helping parents stay involved in their child’s schooling. To her, a child’s education “takes a village,” and ParentSquare gives parents the unique opportunity to learn alongside their children.
“To learn along with my kids and to be able to participate in their education has been very, very rewarding,” Ms. Vaid said. “You know, that’s what a parent hopes for.”
As the company enters its second decade, Ms. Vaid said she hopes to continue expanding the platform for use in more schools nationwide. Her goal is to help thousands more families be “partners in their child’s education” through communication with their school community.
“I almost feel like we are changing America,” Ms. Vaid said. “And the reason I say that is because previously, it was just that one-way communication going out, and now we’re bringing parents in the fold.”
“Anybody can tell you, if you look at the research, (it shows) how important parents are to a child’s education,” she continued. “Kids are only spending about 26% of the time at school … The rest of the time is at home. And if the schools can communicate with parents during that time, then parents can show to their child that school is important.”