Ed Technology

Ed Technology

Districts using apps to get information to parents, staff
Kentucky School Advocate
April 2017
By Matt McCarty
Staff writer
In early January, as snow covered much of the Bluegrass State, many students, parents and teachers didn’t have to turn on the television or log on to their computers to find out if their school was closed.

There’s an app for that.

More and more districts are using mobile apps that community members can download to keep up with the latest happenings in the schools, including information on snow days.

“One of the big challenges of communication with technology is that people get their information in different ways and so the app is another way that we reach out to people, and the biggest thing that we do with it is we can send push notifications,” said Carl Roberts, public information officer for Carroll County Schools.

“We of course mainly use it for snow day notifications. We can push out a notification and users who have downloaded the app and have selected to receive push notifications, their phone will alert them. And so we get a lot of positive feedback on that during snow days and we do occasionally use it for some other things as well.”

Roberts said the district uses push notifications sparingly because administrators want users to know when they receive one that it’s important.

He said the mobile app is also a portal into the district’s other digital products.

“If you look at the front page of the app, everything there takes you to some other existing resource that we have, whether that’s our list of emails and phone numbers, whether that’s our calendar, whether that’s our lunch menu, whether that’s contact information for the board, all that,” Roberts said. “So the app is just a way to put that in one place in someone’s smartphone. That’s its real purpose. You could go to our district website and get the same experience more or less but the app is reaching out to a different demographic, people who are on their smartphones a lot and the role of websites has changed a lot.”

One of the district’s parent surveys showed 49 percent of parents use the app sometimes or very often, which was similar to the response for using the district’s Facebook page, Roberts said.

“I think a lot of times people want there to be one answer in communications and I think it’s more along the lines of a bunch of small answers, so the app’s another one of those small answers that we use,” he said.

Easy, quick access
Grayson County Schools launched its mobile app in early November last year.

“We got feedback from our parents; they want easy access and they want quick access. They want information, they want news and they want to see a glimpse of what’s going on in our schools. We felt like this would be able to give them that,” said Caryn Lewis, public information officer for Grayson County Schools.

“Two or three years down the road, in my opinion, I think this is the go-to source for news and information,” Lewis said. “This is going to be the first thing I check to see if we’re having a snow day. It’s going to be the first thing I check to see who’s in all-state choir or who won the academic team meet. When does my child take the ACT?”

Grayson County’s mobile app has links to the district’s social media feeds, access to Infinite Campus and a live feed component, which Lewis said is “like a Twitter hybrid.”

“What we would really like is to get our whole school community utilizing this,” Lewis said. “We’re getting good feedback so far. Of course, it’s up to us to keep (the app) populated with these good things.”

Convenience is key
Russell Independent has had an app for several years but just launched a new version of it last fall.

“The app that we have now works with our website, so as we put things onto our website it rolls onto our app,” said Kristina Perry, the district’s public information officer.

“I tried to find something that was very streamlined, made it easy that if you were on the website looking for something, you could find it on the app, (that it) looked the same so people wouldn’t get confused going from one format to another,” she said. “I wanted something that would be easy for everybody, people that worked with technology and people (who didn’t).”

Perry said parents use the district’s mobile app more than students. “I’m trying to get it to where there’s enough information for students to access it, but they just don’t use it as much as parents do.”

She said from feedback she’s heard, parents like “the news articles and the calendar. They like having access to that so they don’t have to pull the website up to look for events, things that are going on.”

The district’s old app could be customized, Perry said, but “it was still limited.” She said it was also “very time-consuming because you had to upload everything to the website and then turn around and upload everything to your app.

“With the new app, being able to customize it to what our staff needs, what our parents need, has been a lot better, and it makes people want to download it.”
Board View: Mobile apps keep you connected
Grayson County school board member Brett Abney was able to use his district’s mobile app to keep up with the school system’s news while in Louisville for KSBA’s annual conference in late February.

“The neat thing is that I can be away … and just check on the school and district, make sure everything is OK,” Abney said.

“Sometimes when you’re away you get a chance more to look at this type of thing, which is nice because then you become sort of the normal parent that’s looking back and seeing what the kids are doing in their district,” he said.

He said he often will see a post on the app about a student who has won an award or had a noteworthy academic or athletic achievement. When he sees that student at an event, he can congratulate them.
Grayson County school board member Brett Abney checks his district’s
mobile app during the KSBA Annual Conference in Louisville.

Abney said it’s “so much easier” to keep up with things through an app. It’s a “one-stop shop. I can get it right here in my pocket,” he said.

He said it’s important for districts to adapt to new technologies so they don’t fall behind. “If you can get an app driving information out, it’s just so much easier to get to. I think it’s just an innovative way to keep the people in the county interested and give them the links that they need, the information they need right there at their fingertips,” he said.
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