VanDella Menifee, a busy mom and tireless volunteer in the Mansfield school district, was hurrying to a school recently when she took a wrong turn, ending up on an unpaved road and heading deeper into farming country.
She was lost. But she whipped out her smart phone – it’s her first, which she’s had for barely a year -- and went straight to the district’s software application, or app, which has all sorts of information on district schools, including their locations.
“It pulled up the address of the school and gave me directions,” Menifee said, and much quicker than dialing up the internet. “It told me ‘You need to turn around.’”
Not brain surgery, but taken with all the other services and conveniences organized into one digital spot, the school district app is a must-have for Menifee and, apparently, many others.
Since it was launched in mid-August, replacing first district app after three years, it has been downloaded more than 4,000 times, said Abby Cloud, the district’s new director of communications and marketing.
“We’ve already had more downloads in the first two months than the previous app had in its first year,” Cloud said.
The goal is to reach 8,000 downloads by June, she said, approaching the 8,500 the previous app took three years to accrue.
One reason for its popularity, of course, is that it came with a built-in fan base, veteran users who are excited by the new upgrade. And unlike its predecessor, which only works with the iPhone and other Apple devices, the new one also works with Android devices. (The apps are available at the Apple Store and the Android Market; just search for “Mansfield schools.”)
Also, the communications department hit promotion a little harder for the new app, including a video that was shown at a teacher convocation and on the big screen at Vernon Newsom Stadium during football games.
That gets the attention, but what holds it are the features, Cloud said. Tapping the app – named simply “MISD” – displays 12 icons representing school news, events calendar, photos, school menus, maps and Twitter. Tap on the football icon for athletics and find lists of sporting events by school.
“The newest thing we added, by popular demand, was a directory,” Cloud said. “People wanted easier access to contact information for teachers and staff members. They don’t have to remember phone numbers for staff, they can search. It’s a powerful tool.”
SchoolMessenger – the notification and alert program – designed the app and will maintain it under an annual contract with the district for $18,900, based on a student enrollment of 33,000.
“I use the one with all the staff contacts daily,” said Menifee, president of the Coble Middle School PTA and a board member of the Mansfield ISD Education Foundation. Plus she has two sons, one at Coble and one attending Icenhower Intermediate School.
Menifee calls the new app another technological advancement for the district.
“I think we’re leaders in technology,” she said, noting that high school classrooms have the Promethean digital blackboards, and that all high school students and teachers have iPads.
There’s also a direct link to Skyward Family Access, a program that allows parents to log into their students’ accounts in the classroom and check for assignments, grades, attendance, tardiness, even fines from overdue books.
She said the app was designed for its programs to stay inside the “native environment” as much as possible, meaning the user rarely has to go to the Internet, via a web browser, to complete something that began in the app.
“That’s the goal,” Cloud said. “Whenever people use a mobile app, they want to stay inside the app to do all the tasks.”