City schools make technology advances with new app, more

Nathan Baker • Aug 6, 2013 at 9:14 AM

Johnson City parents and students on the go can now receive information from their schools on their mobile devices via a new app that debuted this school year.

City schools Technology Coordinator Melony Surrett told the Johnson City Board of Education on Monday evening that the School Connect application is ready for subscribers seeking up-to-the-minute access of scheduling, athletic events, lunch menus and other pertinent information about the school district.

“It’s an extension of the way we communicate with parents, students or the community,” Surrett said. “Most of the links on the app link back to our Web page. Teachers can use it to send information out to parents and students, and the schools can send out information for specific groups of students.”

By downloading the app and subscribing to notifications from specific schools, users can find course information, grades, important phone numbers, bus weather updates and GPS locations of sporting events.

The free app, found as schConnect in the respective stores for Android and Apple devices, is used by more than 150 school districts nationwide, including four others in Tennessee.

The schools subscribers choose to follow will send out push notifications including information pertinent to those schools.

Surrett said parents and students who already receive text message notifications on their cell phones using the School Messenger program may see some duplicated information, but the difference is that subscribers can choose which schools send them information.

The app does prompt new users to sign in or register, but Surrett said subscribers can use the trial version of the program indefinitely without having to create a user ID.

She also outlined the district’s online student registration program, now in its third year, which allows parents to send demographic information about their children to the schools through the Internet, avoiding duplicate paperwork and time spent entering the data into the school’s internal system.

“That allows parents to log in and update or enter that data, which keeps them from having to fill out one of those enrollment cards for every student in the system,” Surrett said. “They can enter that information one time and copy it to their other students, and then we can automatically copy that into our student databases.”

She said out of 4,500 emails sent to parents last week, 1,494 responded by entering information about their children online.

“That is information that doesn’t have to be manually entered now, so we’re thrilled with that,” Surrett said.

On top of those technological undertakings, Science Hill High School also held a “bring your own device day,” allowing students to authenticate their wireless devices on the school’s WiFi network.

Surrett said each student received a unique user name and password to be able to use their devices and can access Microsoft Office 365, a cloud-based group of programs offering word processing, spread sheets, presentations and online storage.

“We’ve been very busy this summer,” she said. “It’s taken a lot to pull all of it together.”

School board member Richard Manahan commended Surrett and her staff for the advances this year despite budget cuts related to technology.

“It just amazes me what you’ve accomplished over the years here,” he said. “It’s unbelievable, and I wanted to thank you. You’ve done an outstanding job.”

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