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Buzzes and dings from mobile devices fill the air, but the Fairfax County school system’s mobile app is still struggling to make itself heard.

The Fairfax County school system introduced a free mobile app on Sept. 28 to connect the community with school information. The app was downloaded just 9,431 times on Apple and Android devices by the end of the year, according to a report released this week.

With more than 180,000 students in county schools, the app’s limited reach so far met with surprise and disappointment from Superintendent Karen Garza and several School Board members.

At least one School Board member, though, understood the tepid reception.

“I have not downloaded it as an FCPS parent,” said School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District), who has three sons in the school system.

Though app aims to provide parents in particular with an easy access point to school information, McLaughlin’s admission shows that the tool faces an upward climb in competing for attention.

“I try to keep up with work emails, personal emails, three children and their schedules,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t have time to go look at another app to get more information.”

The school system developed the app with vendor ParentLink. The app, which can be downloaded on iPhones, iPads and Android mobile devices, provides school news and weather alerts, cafeteria menus, school contact information, high school sports schedules and more. It also provides an entryway to the FCPS Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts.

With such social media accounts and other means, schools have stepped up their technological presence in an effort to reach parents and students. According to a 2013 report by Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 56 percent of adults in the United States have smartphones, making a mobile app a logical next step.

Garza said she was surprised at the low number of downloads upon seeing the school system’s latest technology report.

“I was surprised there were so few,” Garza said. “After all, it’s free. I use it all the time. I think it comes down to us doing a better job of marketing it.”

FCPS announced the app’s release on its website and social media, and School Board members have pushed the new tool at community meetings. But so far there has not been a concerted effort to attract users.

Tammy Derenak Kaufax, School Board vice chairwoman (Lee District), agreed with Garza that the school system needed to do more to get the word out.

Kaufax noted that students in particular could be an area of growth. Her own use of the app inspired her daughter and several of her daughter’s friends to download it themselves.

Maribeth Luftglass, the school system’s chief information officer, said the app will roll out new features this year, including expanded sports information and nutritional information on lunch menus, which should help get even more users on board.

Already, at least one more parent has joined the ranks. McLaughlin said she would be downloading the app on her phone.

“It’s not that it’s not a great thing, but everybody’s so busy,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just going to take some time to make people aware of it.”



kyanchulis@fairfaxtimes.com