The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 25, 2014

App a game-changer

By Brenden West Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — Lori Kness is a Clinton Schools parent, and on one evening this week, her son wanted to know what was for lunch the next day. In the past, Kness would have had to log on to her family's desktop and visit the CCSD website.

But now, all Kness needs is to take out her smartphone and open the Clinton Schools app. Since Kness doubles as a mom and the district's administrative assistant to the superintendent, she sees benefits on both sides of this new, free technology.

"A lot of parents will call schools and ask what's happening that day, or when an event is going to be happening," Kness said. "All that information is there to look right there on the app."

Made official this month, people curious about menus, contacting teachers, viewing athletic schedules and other news coming out of the district can now have all of that information at the touch of a screen. Possible through a $1,340 anonymous donation to the district, Clinton contracted the services of QC Mobile Tech, a company that specializes in developing mobile software.

Jennifer Austin, president of the district's Parent Teacher Association, said members of her organization approached the school board in late September with the idea. She never thought the technology would be ready four months later.

"In October we were just tossing around some ideas," said Austin, who has two children at Whittier Elementary and a husband who's a middle school teacher. "In December, we were like 'Yeah, let's get this up and running.' It was that fast."

The PTA was prepared to budget for what it believed would be a two-year process to develop and pay for the technology. Austin said she was emboldened when Clinton Superintendent Deb Olson fully endorsed the PTA's idea and urged the group to continue working toward making the project a reality.

"A bunch of us floated the idea past Deb Olson and she told us to take the idea and run with it," Austin said. "We researched it and talked to a couple of different people about expenses.

"We were thinking this would be great to have a couple of years down the road. We weren't thinking about getting it up and running right away."

Kness, Austin and Tori Wade (the district's printing and graphing coordinator) are all hopeful word will spread for various reasons. Wade and Kness said parents on the run haven't previously had access that was this easy to use.

"The way I pictured it as a parent was I could be out at the grocery store asking myself if I need to buy things for packed lunches," Wade said. "Those are the type of reasons why I think it will be a great community asset."

Meanwhile, the app serves as another platform to deliver information that parents need to know now — such as school cancelations or early dismissals. Wade demonstrated that feature on Wednesday, when Clinton canceled classes due to inclement weather.

"We're trying to put the most pertinent information into the app," she said. "For the information that's getting out there, it's more than worth it."

From a non-district perspective, Austin said the app is relatively simple. She took a call this week from a parent wanting to know how to use the feature, and over the phone, Austin explained the steps.

Anyone interested in using the feature should download a QR scanning app to his or her mobile device. From there, scan the QR code pictured or by visiting Permanently fixating the app to the device varies depending on the brand of smartphone being used.

Once downloaded, anyone with a smartphone can tap into news coming from any of the district's seven facilities. Austin said she likes to see when her husband, who also is a coach, has practices and games so she can plan her own schedule accordingly.

"I find it to be very friendly. It's nice to be able to keep track of my husband's and kids' schedules," she said.

Wade and Kness said they are interested in seeing what feedback they get from the app's use. Since they both manage the software, Wade said there's room to develop other functions.

"We may need to add more icons," she said. "We will edit to the needs that are warranted."

The technology holds significance for Austin not just because it makes her life easier, but because she feels like district administrators took action when it came to an idea generated by parents.

"If we have ideas, the district is more than willing to hear those," Austin said. "When I brought this to the table, I was thinking years down the road. It got done within months."

The anonymous donation covered 100 percent of the costs for the district. The app is available to anyone for free.

Step 1: Make sure you have a QR-capable scanning app on your mobile device Step 2: Scan the QR code pictured or by visiting Step 3: Once the School App is open in the mobile device, permanently fixate the app onto your device by bookmarking the page and following instructions to save on your phone's home screen; clicking the globe symbol and adding to home screen (for Blackberry users); or bookmarking the page and adding a shortcut to your home screen (for Android users) Icons • Clinton High Daily announcements • CHS activities • Lyons Middle School • Washington Middle School • Bluff Elementary • Eagle Heights Elementary • Jefferson Elementary • Whittier Elementary • Staff Directory • CCSD Website • Menus Special announcements and pertinent information, such as school closings, early dismissals and late starts, also will appear atop the app's main page.