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Need to know what's going on in North Hills? There's an app for that

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Samsung Electronics' Galaxy S III, right, and Apple's iPhone 4S are displayed at a mobile phone shop in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. A California jury has ruled for Apple in its huge smartphone patent infringement case involving Samsung and ordered Samsung to pay $1.05 billion. AP photo

More than a decade after most school districts got websites, the North Hills School District is keeping up to date with technology with the mobile phone app it just launched — one of a handful in the state.

“This is the next wave of communication. A lot of people still don't have Internet access. But it's getting harder and harder to find someone without a smartphone,” said Amanda Hartle, the district's communications coordinator, who set up the app and updates information on it.

She said North Hills was the first in Allegheny County to start an app for smartphones and tablets. It is compatible with iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

The app was designed by SchoolInfoApp, based in Ruston, La. The company has done apps for the Conrad Weiser Area School District in Berks County and the Penn-Delco School District in Delaware County.

The district spent $2,000 to have the app designed and will pay an annual operating fee of the same amount each year. Some of the cost is offset by ads on the app, including one from Tom Bianco, an Allstate insurance agent in Ross Township. The North Hills School District covers Ross and West View.

The app features school news, maps and telephone numbers and e-mail addresses for school personnel. It allows parents to check their children's grades.

The app also allows parents to download contacts for teachers, a principal or the school nurse. “That way, parents don't have to look up someone's phone number or email. It's just programmed into their phone,” Hartle said.

There were 550 downloads first week and half since the district launched the app earlier this month.

Another feature includes push notifications that can notify people about district news and include reminders about school events, such as field trips, games or changes to calendars. Eventually, the app will include information about weather-related school closings or delays.

Monica Anderson, a member of West View Elementary's PTA, said the app's best feature is the school calendar.

“It lists events and deadlines, when registration forms are due, book swaps, fundraising events. This all used to be listed on a printed calendar that your kid might never bring home from school. They are kind of keeping up with the times and reaching more people with this app,” she said.

The calendar is available on the school's web site, but only as a PDF, Hartle said. “The calendar is much more user-friendly on the phone,” she said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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