Technology connects schools with students, parents and patrons

Idaho schools are promoting new and varied ways to communicate with parents, students and patrons as the new school year begins.

Cellular technology and wireless network connections have opened the lines of communication and promoted transparency. Districts are providing app-based broadcasts, podcasts, videos, bus-tracking apps and digital permission slips, among other things.

The State Department of Education backs efforts from local districts and charters to employ new technologies to assist and improve patron access and safety expectations.

“We’re aware of a number of districts that use some of these platforms and are very pleased with how well they work,” SDE communications director Scott Graf stated in an email to EdNews.

West Ada: podcasts and Idaho’s only school bus tracking app

West Ada, Idaho’s largest school district with nearly 40,000 students, introduced two new digital access points at the beginning of the school year: the “West Ada School District Podcast” and Transversa 360, the state’s first app-based, bus-tracking technology.

Produced and hosted by West Ada communications specialist Ken Hyde along with co-host community liaison (and former television host) Katie Rhodenbaugh, the podcast is a way for parents to engage in a “transparent forum” with participants that they wouldn’t normally hear from, according to West Ada’s chief of staff Niki Scheppers.

“They hear from our superintendent a lot. They hear from our trustees a lot. But who are those other valued stakeholders in our community that we want to provide a voice: other parents, association members, teachers…?” Schepper said.

The first episode of the West Ada podcast featured Natalie Plummer of the “Hello Meridian” blog and the “Boise Bubble Podcast” for a chat about how parents can support their children, especially on the first day of school.

The “West Ada School District Podcast” is available to stream on multiple channels including the district’s website, Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Viewers can even watch Hyde and Rhodenbaugh with guests on YouTube. New episodes will roll out twice a month in conjunction with West Ada board meetings.

The podcast isn’t the only new tool for West Ada parents. In partnership with Tyler Technologies to integrate Powerschool software, the Transversa 360 app now allows parents to track the specific movement of their children’s departure, route and arrival on one of more than 175 buses that travel to over 58 West Ada schools. The new tool with its features, including 225 tablets for turn-by-turn navigation on every bus, cost West Ada about $806,000.

“We’ve heard really good things from bus drivers about it, and parents, so far, are very pleased with it,” said West Ada’s chief financial officer Jonathan Gillen.

Pocatello-Chubbuck: The power of YouTube

In Pocatello-Chubbuck, harnessing the power of YouTube’s video-based multimedia platform is old hat. This is the third school year that communications officials drop monthly videos that highlight efforts from the state’s fifth-largest district.

“With 23 schools serving approximately 12,500 learners and employing nearly 1700 staff members, there are hundreds of positive stories happening across our district daily,” Pocatello-Chubbuck communications coordinator Courtney Fisher said in an email.

These videos complement district communications like media releases, social media posts and website news. The latest video highlights this year’s educational focus: “Rejuvenating Classrooms and Cultivating Joy,” a mission driven by 25 teachers working through the summer to enrich the classroom experience.

A screenshot of Pocatello-Chubbuck's newest video communication.
A screenshot of Pocatello-Chubbuck’s newest video communication.

This positive message is a theme in Pocatello-Chubbuck’s outreach. The district’s tagline is:  “Think More, Do More, Be MORE TOGETHER.”

“Our impact is much greater when we do more together, and we have seen the fruits of those efforts blossom through challenging times like the pandemic and Highland fire, as well as more promising times like our welcome back to school activities, and even in the simple, day-to-day activities of teaching and learning,” Fisher said.


Nampa: The second year for Parent Square

The Nampa School District will be entering its second year to better connect teachers and parents through the Parent Square app.

The $57,000 app intends to elevate and extend teacher and parent communication, according to tech director Cody Kreps.

Parent Square allows teachers to send class messages and newsletters to parents who can then reply via a private channel. Parent Square also provides a platform for digital scheduling and forms — scheduling parent-teacher conference times and digital permission slips that can be filled out on mobile devices.

In its second year, Nampa has extended the app’s use to all the district buildings and classrooms, dubbing it the district’s “official communication tool,” per digital communications specialist Tyler Keefe. They’ll use Parent Square to securely send report cards, which, Keefe said, saves resources, time, and money.

“The response from staff and the public has been incredible,” Keefe told Ed News via email. “Parents love that they can access all the information they need for multiple students in one spot, eliminating the need to switch between different platforms for students at various schools.”

T district has around 18,000 connected parents with 31% using the ParentSquare phone app with 82% of them signed up to receive email notifications, 17% to receive text notifications, and 98% registered to receive “Urgent” or “Emergency” text messages or calls on the ParentSquare platform.

Matt Denis

Matt Denis

Reporter Matt Denis is based in the Treasure Valley and has served as an educator and a journalist. Prior to national digital reporting and founding an arts and culture section in Eugene, Oregon, Matt worked as an English and history teacher in Detroit, San Diego, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can send news tips to [email protected].

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday