District-created app improves the home-school connection

The eBackpack was developed using Microsoft SharePoint as the content management system.

Missouri’s Rockwood School District (RSD) aims to have all district parents as involved in their children’s education as possible. Toward that end, the district has developed a unique communications application that gives parents up-to-the-minute information about school events, as well as important district news, resources, and principal blogs.

For creating this innovative application, we’ve chosen the Rockwood School District as our “eSchool of the Month” for November/December. Here, Karl Weinrich, the district’s senior webmaster, describes the project and its results.

(Editor’s note: To nominate your school or district for our “eSchool of the Month” feature, and to read about past winners, go to: http://www.eschoolnews.com/eschool-of-the-month.)

How did Rockwood’s eBackpack initiative come about?

In an effort to centralize the location of important information on school websites, as well as shift away from printed fliers in students’ backpacks, the district began researching alternative methods to share this information with families. Because 92.3 percent of Rockwood families have access to the internet (according to a 2010 survey), RSD’s communications department decided to develop a web-based solution to keep parents in the communication loop.

Parents frequently commented that they appreciated the breadth of information found on school websites, but they had difficulty navigating the websites to find what they were looking for. The eBackpack, a one-stop-shop for school news and information, was created in response to this need.

RSD uses the eBackpack as a comprehensive approach to communications and parent involvement, which promotes student learning. The eBackpack was developed using Microsoft SharePoint as the content management system. The Rockwood mobile app, a feature of the eBackpack, connects parents to school and classroom news and information. The app is available to parents through the iTunes App Store, Google’s Android Market, and BlackBerry’s App World.

Prior to implementing the eBackpack, RSD sent information through a once-a-month newsletter eMailed to parents or sent home with students. With the implementation of the eBackpack, schools can send up-to-date news, which includes principals’ blogs, a “Friday Folder” system, a community resource center, announcements, a calendar, a photo gallery, and an AlertNow phone/eMail retrieval system. The Rockwood App offers immediate access for parents to view all of the above items on their smart phones.

How were you able to accomplish the project?

RSD’s communications department developed a plan to meet with the building principals and administrative staff at each of the district’s 29 elementary, middle, and high schools. From October 2010 to January 2011, our communications team met with representatives at the district’s 19 elementary schools and followed up with the appropriate training for individuals responsible for managing the eBackpack at each school.

From February to the June, the communications department met with all six middle schools and four high schools to discuss how the eBackpack format could best benefit them. Training was scheduled for each school and continued throughout the summer months.

The project was completed in-house using existing school district staff within the budget of the Rockwood Communications Department.

What effect has the project had on your community?

The eBackpack makes it easy for parents and students to stay informed about events and activities happening in the district and at their specific schools, and they can also find and access information much easier.

After initial meetings to collaborate with the building principals about which components they wanted included in their school-specific eBackpack, the communications department followed up with training sessions at each school. Administrative staff members were trained to create website announcements, manage the online calendar effectively, and add pictures and PDF files to the eBackpack for parents to find at their convenience.

Principals also were trained on how to best use their new blogs, a communication tool chosen by principals to be their online platform for communicating to parents. Principal blogs are user-friendly and collaborative, and they lend themselves to two-way communication, because parents can comment and receive feedback from the principal on topics of interest.

Anecdotal feedback regarding the eBackpack has been extremely positive. Parents have commented that they prefer the timely information provided by the eBackpack, as opposed to the monthly information presented to them through school newsletters. As we move forward with the eBackpack in the middle and high schools, the expectation is that this new layer of parent communication will provide additional hits to school websites and minimize calls to the school office requesting information about upcoming events, because that information will be readily available in the eBackpack.

What have you learned from the project, and what advice do you have for your colleagues in other districts?

Take the time to lay out a comprehensive plan that includes research, analysis, communication, implementation, and evaluation. Find a system that is easy to use for staff and parents. This has been an intensive project that required a significant commitment. We would encourage our colleagues to look into the future of school communication through technological advances.

Parents place great value on honest, direct communication from their child’s school. We can’t underestimate the power of the home-school connection to engage parents in their children’s education.

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

eSchool News Staff

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at submissions@eschoolmedia.com.

INNOVATIONS in K-12 Education


Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.