New CCSS app puts school info at parents', teachers' fingertips

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Parents and teachers in the Cartersville City School System have all the information and resources they need about their students literally at their fingertips. 

On Sept. 4, the school district released a new application to students, parents, teachers and community members that provides important information in one easy-to-access place on their mobile devices.

“In today’s world, it is important to offer our stakeholders an avenue to easily stay connected to the school system," Superintendent Dr. Marc Feuerbach said. "We believe the features of the app will help busy families to be informed of important school events and news while putting beneficial resources in one place.” 

The app gives parents and students access to many important school-related items and information like school calendars, class schedules, lunch menus, social media posts, email, news and notifications such as school closings, according to spokeswoman Cheree Dye.

Parents also can access their students' grades, attendance and cafeteria balance and set thresholds for cafeteria balances and grades, she said. 

"If the cafeteria balance or grade drops below the established threshold, parents will receive a notification through the app," she said, noting money can be added to cafeteria accounts through the app. 

Staff members also will find the app useful, as they can access the absence-management system, PowerSchool, the teacher-messaging system and payroll documents, Dye said. 

Users will have customization options that allow them to select the schools and information they would like to receive and whether they want to be notified by text messages, phone calls, push notifications to the app or emails. 

"We have received incredibly positive feedback from the majority of those who have downloaded the app," Dye said, noting 1,525 people downloaded it within the first seven days of its release. "The most frequent comment people share is that being able to access so much information in one place is convenient and helpful in supporting their student. Since apps have become increasingly popular, some people find it cumbersome to visit a website."

Staff members have found it to be "particularly beneficial" in accessing the absence-management system, PowerSchool, the parent/student communication platform and payroll documents, she added. 

Robin Harkins is using the app both as a second-grade teacher at the primary school and as the parent of a sophomore at the high school.

"I think it is an excellent tool for parents and teachers to use," she said, noting she's "still learning about all the great features it offers" because it's so new. "There is a wealth of information that can be accessed all through this one app."

As a parent, Harkins said she can "highly recommend this app to other parents."

"It gives you the ability to check your child’s grades, missing assignments and attendance," she said.  "This app allows you to check your child’s cafeteria balance and even put money into their account. School announcements, calendars, lunch menus and upcoming assignments are easily accessed. The app can also be used to contact your child’s teachers through email."

The feature Harkins said she likes most is "all the different notifications that can be set up."

"There are alerts for attendance, graded assignments, missing assignments and cafeteria balances dropping below a specified amount," she said. "This feature can be very helpful for busy parents."

In her role as an educator, Harkins said the app gives her the ability to "access staff resources in one easy location." 

"I can send a message using our teacher-messaging program, take attendance in PowerSchool and look for books in our school library all through the resources linked to our staff resources section," she said. "The news section of the app helps me stay current to what events and resources are available on our school’s website."

The "ease of having so many resources in one app" makes her job much easier than before, Harkins said. 

"I can access these resources from home, school or anywhere I have my phone," she said. 

As with any new piece of technology, the school system has "experienced a few areas that needed to be addressed," Dye said.

"The most common issue we have encountered is with parents who have more than one child being able to access all their children's information," she said. "We have found the source of this problem and are addressing it." 

Dye said the seed for the app was planted in January 2017 when system officials met with Blackboard representatives to discuss a new website and parent communication system for the school district. 

"During that meeting, [Blackboard] demonstrated the application," she said. "In January 2018, we purchased the app and began working with Blackboard to customize it to suit our school system's needs. It was released to the public on Tuesday, Sept. 4."

The conversation about creating an app was "prompted by our desire to continually find ways to increase effective communication with our parents, students, staff and community and to make information as easily accessible as possible," Dye said.

"Overall, we believe the app will support and encourage growth in the most important partnership that exists in education — the relationship between families and schools," she said.   

The free app can be downloaded in the Google Play Store for Android users and in the App Store for Apple users by searching Cartersville City Schools.

A complete guide to customizing the app can be found on the Cartersville City Schools website under District Announcements.