2016-02-12 / Schools
School district goes mobile
“Parents were saying, ‘Why are we open? We’re right next door to L.A.’ or, ‘Should we send our kids to school today, because they’re closed in L.A.,’” Jake Finch, spokesperson for the Simi Valley Unified School District, said.
When it became clear the threat was a hoax, SVUSD immediately notified parents by email and by phone. Finch also sent out “push notifications” to thousands of parents’ smartphones through a new interactive app that officials introduced this school year, she said.
“The app was the most effective (way to send out information), because by the time we had to tell parents what was going on, a lot of people were already gone from home and on their way to work,” Finch said. “They may not look at their email, they might not get the phone call, but they do look at their smartphones. It’s very helpful in that sense.”
The official Simi Valley USD app, developed and hosted by educational technology company Blackboard Inc., cost the district about $18,000 to create. Officials worked on the app for about three months before officially releasing it Jan. 13. The app had been available for download under a “soft launch” since the fall.
The app provides parents with another resource for communication and connection to Simi Valley schools, Finch said.
“We have more families that have access to smartphones than we have families with computers at home. As a society, it seems that smartphones and devices are becoming our primary tool for accessing the Internet because they are alw ays with us,” she said.
Linked to much of the information stored on the district’s main database, the Simi Valley USD app gives parents easy access to their students’ progress and lets them stay up-to-date on district and school news.
Years ago, when parents wanted to check on their kids’ progress at school, they set up a conference with the teacher and brought along pen and notepad to list missing homework assignments.
Now the app gives parents in the 17,320-student district instant access to their children’s homework assignments, test scores and upcoming exams just by picking up their smartphones.
Once registered on the app, a parent can log in and navigate to their kid’s profile, which lists the student’s classes and teachers. From there, parents can tap for information on the student’s individual assignments, test scores, attendance and due dates for library books.
Parents as well as students, who have access to the app through their parents’ accounts, can use it to email teachers about homework and other concerns.
“It’s a living, breathing thing,” Finch said of the new technology.
Parents can use the app to refill their student’s lunch accounts and check their school’s menu for the week. The app also makes it easy for parents to spot truancy, contact school board members and view meeting agendas, she said.
As long as teachers are inputting their information in a timely fashion, the app will provide a parent with a recent snapshot of how their student is doing in school, Finch said.
“Most of them do, although we’ve had a few teachers who have been slow in updating some of their assignments,” she said.
When that happens, Finch said, the teacher often ends up getting an email from an upset parent.
Since its launch, the system has had a few bugs. Recently, parents notified district officials about information on the app that was not being updated in a timely manner by the app developer. The district immediately called the company to resolve the issue, Finch said.
“When we hear of a problem we take care of it right away, because we want this to work,” she said. “This saves parents time because they know who to deal with and it saves us time because they’ve got the information right there. It’s just another way to get parents to be involved in the process and have the information they need to be good parents.”
Parents can download the app through the Apple or Android stores. To register for an account, parents must obtain their log-in information from the school district by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the SVUSD help desk at (805) 306-4500, ext. 4811.