Let’s get digital
Peñasco schools look to app to continue tech evolution
The Peñasco Valley may not have access to natural gas infrastructure or the convenience of a large grocery store, but its schools are in the midst of a digital evolution to bring its students, parents, administrators and — in the logic of rural places — the whole community closer together.
As with a lot of issues in modern life, there’s an app for that.
During a Tuesday (Dec. 18) meeting of the Peñasco Independent School District’s Board of Education, the elected officials discussed the possibility of integrating most of the schools’ communications into a platform that entices parents to participate even more in their kids’ education.
“This could give us the communication we’ve been wanting,” said Darren Griego, information technology director for the district.
Specifically, the schools are toying with the idea of developing an app for smartphones and tablets that would be a one-stop-shop for news briefs, athletic schedules, game scores, lunch menus and contact information for staff.
The app, which would be developed by an Arkansasbased company called Apptegy, could also send out emergency notifications; parents would not need a smartphone or tablet to get those messages.
It’s likely that parents and guardians would use the app, according to superintendent Marvin MacAuley.
About 70 percent of parents already use another app that’s integrated with student’s academics, he said, so it’s not a leap to simply download another easy-touse application. That app, called PowerSchool, lets parents keep track of their children’s assignments, grades and attendance.
As a couple of the board members said, the app could be a venue to communicate “the good things going on” in the district, such as Wednesday’s (Dec. 19) winter festival or regular “student of the month” pep rallies.
The company pitched the app as a time-saver for administrators who are already overstretched and wearing too many hats. The interface would let registered administrators like MacAuley create a single message that could be pushed to all platforms (Facebook, Twitter, email and text, for example) instead of needing to repost the same message multiple times.
The proposal also includes a new website. According to the superintendent, the cost of doing both the website and app would still be cheaper than what the district currently pays for website hosting.
The proposal would need to be approved by the board at a future meeting to go forward.
However, the mobile strategy is only one element of digital upgrades to the district.
A new phone system, which will optimize a limited amount of bandwidth for the district, is being installed. Meanwhile, all laptops are being retrofitted as Google Chromebooks, which should make it easier for students to do things, such as download and turn in their homework, said Griego.
And students are using the technology they already have. Griego said the Peñasco school complex usually has 800 devices (including student laptops and cell phones) connected to the wifi each day. It’s a remarkable number of connected devices, given that the district has about 375 students.
Peñasco school leaders are considering hiring a company to build an app for the district that would be a one-stop-shop for most of the district’s communications: event announcements, lunch menus and sports games and scores. The app, if approved in 2019, would be part of the district’s “digital evolution,” said information technology director Darren Griego.