Inver Grove Heights: Phone app connects schools to parents [Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.]
(Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 06--Could the days of notes coming home to parents in students' backpacks be numbered?
Probably not entirely, but school districts across the metro are embracing digital communication more than ever.
Inver Grove Heights schools are the latest to offer digital communication options, launching a smartphone application last month.
The app, available only on Apple devices so far, provides everything from school calendars and lunch menus to access to student grades and a complete phone and email directory of district employees.
"One of the biggest things districts are criticized for is communication," said Superintendent Deirdre Wells. "It just seems to be one of those things you can't get enough of."
Not that they don't try.
Area school districts already provide parents with a wealth of information options, including paper mailers, online newsletters, daily email updates, online assignments and grades -- even automated phone calls. With smartphones proliferating, Wells saw an opportunity to put all that information at parents' fingertips.
"People are mobile," Wells said. "This has an instantaneous feel to it. They are not chained to a computer."
And at $500, the price was right.
Inver Grove Heights received the app at less than half its typical price of $1,295 from K12app Design after winning a drawing at a Technology Information Education Services, or TIES, conference in December. TIES provides technology services and training and is owned by a consortium
of 46 Minnesota school districts.
Bruce DeWitt, whose day job is as a technology integration specialist at Anoka-Hennepin schools, said he founded K12app Design in his basement and works on apps in his spare time.
His programs offer affordable ways to translate district websites and bring them to mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad, DeWitt said.
"Once school districts see it, it's a no-brainer," DeWitt said. "Our websites receive thousands of hits per day. Parents want quick access to relevant information on a mobile site."
DeWitt believes Inver Grove Heights is the first Minnesota district to have an iPhone app. He now is working with eight other area school districts to develop apps.
"I've been pretty busy in my basement," he said.
School officials like that they can "push" information out to parents through text messages and other alerts, DeWitt said.
Doug Tomhave, technology director of South St. Paul schools, said districts use every way they can to connect with parents. "We know connected parents make effective students," Tomhave said.
Earlier this year, South St. Paul had success with automated phone services that contacted parents to let them know when lunch accounts are low or to conduct surveys.
But there can be a fine line between providing information and overwhelming parents and community members, he said.
"It can be overdone," he said. "Too much of it and people can get tired of it."
In Inver Grove Heights, the app adds to the menu of communication options parents can chose from, Wells said. She's hopeful it will improve "two-way communication" between the community and district staff.
"We feel fortunate to be able to do this," she said. "We think it's great."
Christopher Magan can be reached at 651-228-5557. Follow him at twitter.com/cmaganPiPress.
(c)2012 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)
Visit the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) at www.twincities.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
[ Back To Mobile Security Homepage's Homepage ]