News Column

Dallas school information? There's an app for that

August 25, 2014

By Mark Guydish, The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.



Aug. 25--DALLAS TWP. -- Zach Berger admits he doesn't do computer programming.

Yet while working as a business office intern in the Dallas School District this summer, Berger helped create a new district "app" for smart phones that doesn't just tell you what's going on, it marks your phone calendar, alerts you when the time is near, and provides a map and directions.

Alumnus Berger, 22, came up with a way to pay for the whole thing: Business sponsorships in exchange for banner ads at the bottom of the app's screen.

Local businesses "were more than willing," Berger said, "they were really eager."

Berger, a senior at Penn State studying business, came on in May as a paid intern, Business Manager Grant Palfey said. The district has been looking for inexpensive ways to develop a stronger presence on mobile electronic devices, exploring the possibility of using Facebook or Twitter. When the topic came up, Berger hit on an idea.

"He comes into my office and says 'how about a mobile app?' " Palfey said. A company called SchoolMessenger could create and maintain the app at an annual cost of $3,000 a year, and Palfey said he told Berger "well, come back tomorrow and tell me how you're going to pay for it."

It didn't take that long.

"He came back in a few minutes and said 'sponsorship'," Palfey recalled.

The district quickly lined up nine companies willing to pay anywhere from $250 to $1,250, and in short order had $5,000 for the project. That meant Berger not only raised enough money to pay for the app, "he raised enough to pay his own salary," Palfey said, noting the district paid the intern $8 an hour.

Berger, who said he had entertained the dream of becoming a pro golfer in his tweens, may not know programming language, but he is a "digital native" who grew up with computer technology from the start. He showed off the app with an easy proficiency that Palfey and Superintendent Frank Galicki couldn't duplicate.

"It's pretty much a tool for the district," he said, "All the news you see on the website is on this app. We have a calendar which has all the events for all the schools for the entire year, every sort of thing, day and night, going on. We have a staff directory so you can email staff right from the app."

The app is available free at https://play.google.com/store.

There are "tabs" in the app that will take you to lunch menus, athletic events, school board information and individual school sites. Events on the app can be added to the phone calendar, and there are links to maps and directions to those events.

"Say I want to go to the middle school," Palfey said, tapping away at his phone to get directions to a building about 100 feet from where he sat. The phone provided a route and travel time to the Middle School. "It's four minutes," he laughed, "I guess that's true, if I take a really slow walk."

The app also notifies users of school alerts, Galicki said, flashing a Dallas "D" logo that the user pushes to find out, say, that school will be closed due to bad weather.

All three believe this makes Dallas the first district in Luzerne County with such a sophisticated app. Galicki said it not only makes the district more accessible in an age when more people use phones to get online than computers, it opens up new ways to raise money through advertising.

Does that mean the district will soon be selling naming rights to, say, the new high school?" Galicki was polite but unequivocal.

"No."

Berger headed back to Penn State Thursday. Asked what he hopes to do upon graduation next spring, he replied. "I'd like to be an entrepreneur of some kind."

As in, come up with an idea that makes him independently wealthy?

"Yeah," he laughs. "Isn't that everybody's dream?"

___

(c)2014 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

Visit The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) at www.timesleader.com

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Source: Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, PA)


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