SchoolLink is a new app developed for the Surrey School District to improve communication between schools and parents.

‘Bottom of the knapsack’ syndrome? Surrey has an app for that

Free SchoolLink app for iPhones and iPads aims to improve communication between the district, schools and parents.

Need to know if your school is closed due to snow or a power outage? Did you miss photo day? Wonder why the local school is locked down? Or if there’s a reunion coming up?

A new free Surrey School District app will allow anyone with a mobile device to keep up-to-date on the latest school news.

Called SchoolLink, the app includes access to general school district announcements and features, but also allows the user to select which individual schools they wish to follow and receive regular and urgent information from.

A parent with children in both elementary and high school, for example, could choose both and receive notifications from each of them in a newsfeed.

The application was proposed in January 2012 and development got underway that spring.

“It’s always been a challenge to try to ensure that communications from the district get to parents,” said Doug Strachan, communications manager for Surrey schools. “Whether it’s the ‘bottom of the knapsack syndrome’ that we need to overcome, or having to pay postage to send personal letters to parents for important information, the use of technology is what needed to be pursued next.”

With an increasing number of parents contacting schools via email or using smartphones, an app was a “natural step,” he said.

SchoolLink is currently available to those with iPhones and iPads only, but an Android version is in the works and will hopefully be available sometime around Christmas.

“We know there are other platforms out there, but we had to start somewhere,” said Strachan.

The app allows users to choose what updates they receive – special announcements, featured stories and news – which reflect what schools have posted on their websites.

During a security lockdown, for example, a school would post a quick, brief alert on their website, which would go directly to parents who have chosen to receive notifications. The district is working with school staff to ensure postings are consistent.

“The company that developed it with us (Habanero Consulting), was sensitive to the fact that we needed it to be very simple and not disruptive, particularly for the schools, and of course simple for parents to sign on with and take advantage of,” Strachan said.

The app’s development cost the district about $120,000. Habanero took on approximately 40 per cent of the cost because the company hadn’t done apps for the web platform (SharePoint) used by the school district and considered the cost a research and development investment.

The district will receive reports on how much SchoolLink is being used and welcome feedback from parents and schools about how its working or if there’s ways it can be improved. A pilot was run at a handful of schools in June and though there wasn’t a lot of feedback, there were also few problems reported.

Paper and email newsletters will still be distributed to varying degrees, depending on the school.

Other future developments of the app may include school calendars, blogs, class schedules, staff contact information and the ability to follow teams and clubs. It’s also hoped the app can foster two-way communication between parents, schools and the district.

To download the app, visit the App Store on your iPad or iPhone and search “SchoolLink.”

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