Highland students and their parents will soon have a new tool the district hopes will improve community engagement.
A new app, in development since May, will combine Highland Community School’s many lines of information into two streams available to anyone with an iPhone or Android phone. The website and social media pages, however, will remain.
The app allows teachers and administrators to post information on two feeds that will feature information about upcoming events, important reminders, photos of the going-ons around the school district and more.
Superintendent Mike Sutton said the app was approved after the school board and district administrators discussed improving communication with the community. He said Apptegy, the business developing the app, approached him shortly before, and he brought the idea of an app to the school board.
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“We live in the 21st century and everyone carries a phone. We use text emails and phone calls to communicate with parents, generally,” Sutton said. “With this app, they’re going to get notifications, if they so desire, that’s going to prompt them anytime we send messages out.”
App users will be able to look at two feeds: a live feed featuring updates happening throughout the day and a newsfeed filled with more informative content. Both feeds will include things like sports scores, photos, emergency alerts and more.
Parents will be able to subscribe to push notifications district-wide, or just for specific schools. Content can also be filtered by school as well.
Chief Educational Technology Officer Mark Fredericksen spent a good portion of the summer working with Sutton and Apptegy on the app. He said the district is currently testing the app out and training administrators and other district employees.
He said this sort communication is the best way for the school district to reach its community. Currently, he noted, there are too many avenues of information, making finding information difficult.
“This was kind of a way to get some different avenues of communications with our parents instead of forcing them to go to go get information,” Fredericksen said. “That was kind of the reason for us to do this, to meet people where they are, which is on their phones.”
He said the app also will make posting information much easier for the district’s staff. He said, currently if someone wants to push information out, they have to publish the information on a handful of different outlets.
The app, with a click of a few buttons, posts information to the app, the district’s website, Facebook and Twitter pages. He said it will make it easier to highlight the good things happening in the district.
“That was something Mr. Sutton really wanted us to do to be able to say here are all the great things going on at school,” Fredericksen said.
Apptegy also is a replacement for the school’s current notification system and current website. If there are weather advisories, problems with buses or other school emergencies those notifications will be pushed through the app as well.
It will be rolled out in mid-October and officially pushed out to parents and students at the end of the month and will be available on iPhone and Android app markets. Fredericksen said the district will use parent-teacher conferences to promote the app, as well as printed material, text and email alerts encouraging people to download the app.
Fredericksen said an important part of making sure people use the app is keeping the content fresh. He said training district employees and administrators will be a big part of making sure that happens.
“If we do this it has to be more than just putting one thing on the website and waiting till next Monday to post more,” Fredericksen said. “It has to be an active account. The part we need to do well on our end is making sure contest stays fresh so people come back.”
The school district’s website also will receive a new design as part of the agreement with Apptegy. Fredericksen said the app had a one time startup cost of roughly $18,000. He said part of the cost is offset by discontinuing the district’s old website and notification services.