Robo call misfire: Fairmount Park parents get message meant for Azalea
Chris Cervellera, a parent at Fairmount Park Elementary, has a goal: To get his kid out of Fairmount Park Elementary.
He's applied to the Pinellas County School District's lottery for special programs without luck. He's on the waiting list for a transfer to Azalea Elementary, a nearby A-rated school in St. Petersburg. On Monday, he got a glimmer of hope. The family received a robo call welcoming them to Azalea Elementary and informing them about an upcoming parent night.
Confused and hopeful, he called the school district to find out if his child got a seat in the school. The answer was no. The call was made in error.
Cervellera said he was devastated. The family has tried to make it work at F-rated Fairmount Park - one of five schools profiled in the Times investigation, "Failure Factories" - but ultimately he wants to find a new school. He said activities at Fairmount Park, such as open house, were disorganized. He couldn't get information about his child's daily schedule or what was going on in school. He couldn't even find out how to check out library books. He said it was more like a "daycare" than a school.
"We're listening to this voicemail and thinking, 'This is our ticket out of hell, pretty much,'" he said.
A district spokeswoman said Tuesday that more than 600 phone numbers for Fairmount Park parents were called with the Azalea message. Azalea's new principal, Michael Rebman, still was programmed in the district's automated phone system as an assistant principal at Fairmount Park, a job he left in 2014. Because assistant principals don't typically make robo calls, the problem wasn't discovered until this week when he tried to send out a welcome message as the new principal of Azalea Elementary. The call went to Fairmount Park parents and not Azalea parents.
A new message will go out tonight to parents at Fairmount Park to alert them about the mistake. Another welcome message will go out to Azalea parents later this summer.
Cervellera said that he understood it was a simple mistake. But for some families waiting for word about waiting lists, it was a painful one.
"You can't pull on the heartstrings of parents who are desperately trying to get their kids into a better situation," he said.