Lewis Diuguid

Lewis Diuguid: Hickman Mills joins other area school districts, offering smartphone app to improve communications with patrons

People with smartphones in the Hickman Mills School District now can receive the latest news and information from individual schools.
People with smartphones in the Hickman Mills School District now can receive the latest news and information from individual schools. Bloomberg

Parents in the Hickman Mills School District no longer will have to root and dig through their kids’ backpacks to find letters, memos and other messages from schools that the children somehow neglected to share.

Starting Tuesday, Hickman Mills began offering a mobile app to help parents, students and the surrounding community stay informed about school closings because of bad weather, activities, lunch menus, meetings, news, and upcoming events in individual schools and throughout the district. It’s better than the Hickman Mills website because not everyone living in the district has a computer or Internet access at home.

“But everyone has a smartphone,” said Ruth Terrell, director of public information and partnerships in the Hickman Mills School District. “We’re really excited about it.”

The app can be downloaded via the Apple App Store or Google Play.

The service is provided by SchoolMessenger, a communications company that has been in business since 1999. It began offering the app service in 2013, said Nate Brogan, senior vice president with the company.

He said other districts in the Kansas City area that have smartphone apps include Blue Valley, Shawnee Mission and Basehor-Linwood in Kansas and Ramore-Peculiar, Independence, Park Hill and Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri. SchoolMessenger has built about 400 apps for school systems nationwide.

Improving communications with district patrons through the smartphone app should increase parent participation in school functions — especially parent-teacher conferences. With more parental support, student achievement also should increase.

In addition, it’s a great way around the digital divide for the Hickman Mills district, which has 6,500 students — 100 percent receive free and reduced lunches. At home Internet access is greatest in low-income households. That particularly affects students in schools that provide take-home computers for classroom work.

Hickman Mills is in south Kansas City. The district has eight elementary schools; one middle school, serving seventh- and eighth-graders; a freshman center; and Ruskin High School for 10th- through 12-graders.

People quickly started embracing the new technology.

“Everybody is really liking it,” Terrell said.

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