In a certain well-known California valley, a school is utilizing burgeoning technology to keep parents connected to the classroom with the touch of a screen. If you guessed Silicon Valley, you’re just a few hundred miles off.
The San Fernando Valley’s Kadima Day School in West Hills, with a student body of 275, offers a free app for families that includes a faculty directory, a school event calendar and links to information about Kadima’s Parent Teacher Organization. There are lunch-ordering options and even push notifications. For privacy reasons, full access requires login and password information provided by Kadima’s staff.
The app, called “Kadima Day School,” is available for iOS or Android and can be found on iTunes or Google Play. So far, it’s been downloaded more than 275 times.
“We thought this would really help our families and allow them to communicate with teachers and staff more effectively,” said Michelle Starkman, the school’s admissions director. “I don’t think people realized they needed it until they got it.”
Although Kadima always had a website, the staff viewed it as more of a marketing tool than a user tool — its functionality catered more to prospective enrollees and their families rather than current ones. So the school started discussions about developing an app in the spring of 2014. After the decision was made to move forward with the project, it was completed in approximately two months and launched that summer, according to Starkman.
Kadima commissioned BlueTreeApps, a Denver-based company, to design the app and reimagine the school’s website, linking the two access points and making information shareable across both platforms.
“There are a lot of companies out there that do this,” Starkman said. “We thought … how can we do this in a way that allows us to assume some ownership?”
Kadima’s website now is all WordPress based, a format Starkman knew her staff could maintain even without much Web experience. When Kadima updates its site, the new information is automatically transferred to the app as well.
Operating on a “shoestring budget,” Starkman said the design work by BlueTreeApps ran the school just upward of $1,000. Monthly maintenance is about $400.
Evan Dechtman, owner and developer at BlueTreeApps, said Kadima is one of more than 100 schools nationwide the company serves — and that includes two Denver schools attended by his own kids that have apps. That gives him the perspective of a parent and user as well.
“It’s just a great benefit,” Dechtman said of school-focused apps. “Parents are so busy these days. Now they have a condensed version of Kadima Day’s world in their pocket.”
Dechtman believes that the age of parents using school websites and relying solely on their own calendars to keep track of what’s happening at school is going the way of the dodo.
“It sounds funny, but going to a website is going to become passé in the next 10 years,” he said. “I have three kids at three schools. It’s a lot to manage. If I can go to one source for everything, it’s super helpful.”
When asked about his favorite feature, the one he’s most proud of, Dechtman answered without hesitation.
“Push notifications,” he said. “From our perspective, that’s our most killer feature. You can send out push notifications for everything, whether it’s a reminder about picture day, science fair, an emergency or any number of things.”
Starkman isn’t aware of other local Jewish schools doing anything like this, though she admits there may be something in the works unbeknownst to her. Regardless, Dechtman said Kadima is at the forefront of this growing trend.
“They’re definitely on the cutting edge. They’re a leader in that sense,” Dechtman said.
Kadima parents such as Jackie Louk are grateful the school is thinking innovatively to make things easier on time-strapped parents. She has four kids, three of whom attend Kadima, which educates children through eighth grade.
“When it first came out last summer, everyone was encouraged to download it. Now I use it all the time,” Louk said. “As much as I try to remember things, with four kids, working, life and doing everything a parent has to do, things always fall through the cracks.”
She said she especially appreciates the role of push notifications.
“It’s my second reminder — not in an annoying way. It makes sense and they’re not harassing,” Louk said. “This is simple and it’s not over the top.