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Northbrook School District 27

Strengthening School-to-Home Communications with an Improved Mobile Strategy

The way people communicate has evolved, and Northbrook School District 27 realized their communications strategy needed to do the same. In the affluent community just north of Chicago, the habits of Northbrook families aren’t wildly different from others: parents use their phones as a primary way of gathering information, and the majority of their time is spent in apps.

Northbrook 27 knew it needed to develop a more sophisticated mobile strategy, meeting parents where they are, to improve school-to-home communications. That’s where the Finalsite mobile app came in.

“We realized that communication is way different now than it used to be. Parents have a much greater demand on school communications than ever before,” said Tarah O’Connell, Northbrook 27’s Director of Communications. “I also realize that people are working differently than they did before the pandemic. Many of our parents will never go back to an office space, and they’re receiving our communications on the fly, they are looking things up on the fly. So that’s why a mobile app made sense for us. Getting the parents the information where they want it (on their phones) where they can access it quickly.”

Northbrook School District 27's website homepage and mobile app displayed in laptop and iphone

At a Glance

Northbrook School District 27 is one of five elementary school districts in Northfield Township, with one primary center (K-2), one intermediate center (3-5) and one junior high school (6-8). After 8th grade, students attend Glenbrook North High School. The district has 225 employees, with a 17.5 year average of experience among teachers, and an average class size of 17-23.

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Getting Board and Administrative Buy-In

Although Tarah and her communications team saw the value in a mobile app, she needed to get the board of education and administrative team on board. With so much data supporting the use of mobile apps in a post-pandemic world, it didn’t take a great deal of convincing. 

“I told my team, we are coming out of this pandemic, we are finally coming up for air a little bit, but we aren’t entering the same world that we were in before. I explained how people’s lifestyles have changed, how technology has changed and getting people information has changed,” she said.

While certainly not the first school district with a mobile app in the Chicago area, school apps are still not extremely common. This didn’t stop Northbrook 27 from moving forward with integrating the new communications tool, understanding it is best-practice in today’s world.

“People have an app for everything. They bank with apps, order groceries with apps, purchase clothing on apps,” she said. “Apps have come very far in terms of awareness, and since the pandemic, people have turned to apps even more. We really needed to get parents' information literally at their fingertips.”

Choosing the Finalsite App

Northbrook 27 had options for a mobile app provider, and choosing Finalsite was not a difficult decision. Already a satisfied Finalsite website client, Northbrook 27 knew the service, support and quality of Finalsite’s products were top-notch. However, Tarah and her team still did their homework before selecting Finalsite as their mobile app provider.

screenshot of Northbrook 27's mobile app in the Google Play store

“The last thing I wanted to do was implement an app that was going to frustrate our parents. That would make us look like our communications overall are poor. I wanted to be sure we didn’t buy a glitchy product,” she said. “I downloaded several school district apps developed by Finalsite on my phone. After using them for a while, I found them easy to use, easy to navigate and did not stumble across any technical issues,” she said.

Being a Finalsite website client already, their app content is automatically generated using Finalsite’s Create Once Publish Everywhere (C.O.P.E.) functionality, making editing a breeze.

“It’s helpful because we essentially sign into the website, we write out the content we’re posting, and it automatically goes to the app, all in one click,” Tarah said.

A Thoughtful Roll-Out Plan

Northbrook strategically timed the launch of their new mobile app with the start of the 2021-22 school year, knowing parents were queued in and ready to absorb everything they needed to know to start the year off right.

Tarah and her team developed a litany of marketing materials to get as many parents downloading the app as possible. She created a video tutorial, linked download instructions into e-newsletters and on, shared mobile app information on social media and more.

Check out the district's mobile app tutorial on Youtube

Their efforts paid off, with 950 parents downloading the app after just one month.

With 1,300 students in the district, that’s a 73% adoption rate — after only 30 days!

An Overwhelmingly Positive Community Response

Since releasing the new mobile app, the Northbrook 27 community has been thrilled. Seen as a one-stop-shop for information, parents especially love the ability to easily look up events and news within the app. The most-loved feature? Content filtering.

“If you think about how information gathering works on our website (if you have more than one school affiliation) you first visit the district site, then go to school website #1 and absorb what you can there. Then you have to go back to the district page, and navigate to the second school’s website and gather that information. It’s too much,” Tarah said. “With our mobile app, parents can set filters to see all of the content they want from the schools they are associated with. Now, they can see everything in one place very easily.”

Parents also love the mobile app’s “Posts” section. If a parent changes their email address or phone number or accidentally unsubscribes from Northbrook’s email list, they are left out of important communications that typically are sent via email.

“When these types of situations happen, we have parents asking us how can they catch up on content they’ve missed?” Tarah said. “Instead of scrolling through their emails or on our websites, they can just go to Posts and filter by the schools they want information about.”

Northbrook 27 is also using push notifications to share top-level communications through mobile app alerts, in addition to email and SMS notices parents are already receiving. 

A Complementary Tool for Existing Communications

Overall, the mobile app has been a solid addition to Northbrook 27’s suite of communication tools. With an already high adoption rate only a month into its use, Northbrook 27’s expanded mobile strategy is thoughtfully meeting the unique needs of parents today. 

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