School Districts Ramping Up Apps to Keep Parents Informed

School districts around the country are launching new apps in an effort to stay better connected with parents and become more efficient.

Brevard Public Schools in Florida launched its app, which offers parents a look into what is happening in the school system. It currently offers information concerning the middle and high schools, such as dismissal delays and attendance alerts. "All of a sudden, a mom can see a message has dropped (in the app) that John isn't in school today," district spokeswoman Michelle Irwin told Florida Today. Those parents who do not have the app can still receive the messages through the website or via landline.

Also available are the school's calendar of events, student grades, and transportation schedules.

An update will offer users information regarding the elementary schools. The app is free to download.

The district decided to redesign its website and include a mobile feature after learning that around 45% of people access websites using a smartphone.

"The intention was to create a gateway in a sense, to student data and information from the district and the schools," Irwin says. While the website redesign was $26,000, the addition of the app was free.

A similar app was launched in Des Moines, Iowa, costing the district $18,500. The app offers parents the ability to download activity schedules, lunch menus, announcements, updates, and quickly find out about snow days.

"A lot of people just can't afford to necessarily have a computer at home or to have Internet connection; well that's changed in the past few years in terms of the accessibility of smartphones being really close to universal. And this is the way to access people, the computer that we carry around in our pocket," says spokesman Phil Roeder.

Chappaqua, New York, launched its Chapp App, allowing the community up-to-the-minute information pertaining to the school district and features a parent portal for quick updates about individual students.

And while interning at the Dallas School District, Zach Berger created an app for itsschool system that not only shows parents what is going on in the individual schools, but also marks users' calendars for them, alerts them prior to the start time for any events, and even offers a map and directions.

"He comes into my office and says ‘How about a mobile app?' " Business Manager Grant Palfey said. A company called SchoolMessenger could create and maintain the app at an annual cost of $3,000 a year, and Palfey said he told Berger "well, come back tomorrow and tell me how you're going to pay for it."

Berger is paying for the app, which is free to download, through business sponsorship. Businesses who donate to the cause will receive banner ads at the top of the screen while the app is running.

Businesses were so willing to donate, Berger even had money left over to pay his own $8 per hour salary.

Tabs allow users to find out school board information, athletic schedules, and individual school information. The app also send alerts to users by flashing a Dallas "D" logo that users push to receive important information, such as school closings and delays.

"It's pretty much a tool for the district," he said, "All the news you see on the website is on this app. We have a calendar which has all the events for all the schools for the entire year, every sort of thing, day and night, going on. We have a staff directory so you can email staff right from the app."

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