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School District Develops Smartphone App to Connect with Parents, Students

The app has several features, including push notifications for school closures, security alerts, and an integrated calendar system to cover all the schools in the district.

The Jamestown Public School District in Jamestown, N.D., is working with a third-party vendor to develop a smartphone app for people seeking information about the school district.

At Monday’s regular school board meeting, Superintendent Rob Lech said the app will be made available for Droid and iPhone on Aug. 1.

“To me connecting our families to school — and that doesn’t just mean mom and dad, but our kids at home who are coming to school, it definitely means community members, brothers and sisters that maybe aren’t in school but may be interested in what’s happening in school – connecting those individuals to our school system and what’s happening, is really critical in having effective communication,” Lech said.

Lech said the app is being developed by ParentLink and will be similar to the Ellendale Public School District app. The app has several features, including push notifications for school closures, security alerts, events and schedule changes. Push notifications are alerts sent directly to the phone. The app will also have an integrated calendar system that will cover all the schools in the district; a phone and email directory of staff and faculty; lunch menus and account payments; sports information; school news; forms; and a tip line to integrate general feedback, anonymous bullying reports, survey requests and other similar items.

Lech said many schools across the country and a few in North Dakota have developed apps similar to what JPS is planning.

“The reality is now our parents are much more likely to use an app on their phone while they’re sitting in the doctor’s office than to read that newsletter that we send home,” he said. “They do that, but it’s the convenience of having it at your fingertips when you have the time.”

Aside from some upfront costs, the annual fee for the school to maintain the app would be $2,200 a year. Currently the paper newsletter costs the district $1,800, which Lech said could eventually be phased out. The app will not replace the school’s call system and be available to download for free.

In other board news, Lech reported that JPS failed to meet adequately yearly progress as determined by the No Child Left Behind Act. Lech said only 7 percent of school districts and 17 percent of schools in North Dakota made the goal this year, which he called evidence of “failed public policy.”

“Talk to your legislators, they know it’s a failed public policy,” he said. “Talk to school officials. Many, many parents are starting to see this is just not an effective measure of school success.”

Lech said the AYP test scores are just a snapshot at that point and time and do not tell the whole story of how the schools are meeting and exceeding the needs of students. He said reports like this are damaging the reputation of schools and causing community support for them to dwindle.

“Our focus is going to continue to be research-based methodologies that we know impact student learning,” Lech said. “We’re not going to be chasing the cut score. I would much rather have support for our teachers in the best practices that we know work in a classroom for kids than chasing a cut score.”

The board also:

*approved an agree ment with Central Valley District for nursing services for the upcoming school year in the amount of $37,000 which includes a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment over the request from last year.

*approved hiring Lucas Potter as the marketing/internet technology teacher for the James Valley Career and Technology Center.

©2014 The Jamestown Sun (Jamestown, N.D.)