One too many banana-covered notices propelled me into a career of education-technology, following my own struggles with school communication as a parent.

I have two children, both now adults but I can clearly recall my own frustrations with the constant stream of lost notices, permission slips and newsletters from my days as a parent with school-aged children. Back in the 2000s when school communication was mostly paper-based, children were relied on to act as messengers between schools and parents, leading to an array of communication mishaps between myself and my school community.

I grew tired of finding out that my son Dylan had left his togs at home again, not alerting me to a swimming day event, or that my daughter Melissa had left her spelling book at home the day it was due. It wasn’t for lack of trying on the school’s, my own, or my kids’ part: the miscommunication was a result of the inefficient means of the time. I kept thinking to myself, there has to be a better way to streamline all of this school admin!

 

Introduction to apps

 

The idea rattled around inside my head for a decade or so, as I searched for a solution to these communication troubles but the tech just wasn’t there yet. That is until my son Dylan in early 2010 showed me an app on his new smartphone. We sat for a while as he explained what an app was, how it worked and what these new little technological boxes on a screen were capable of doing. It instantly clicked for me that this was the technology I had been looking for and thus, Skool Loop was born.

 

Developing an app, with no tech experience

 

Now, I had worked as a self-employed consultant in the advertising space for a while and can confess I wasn’t particularly tech-savvy when Dylan introduced me to apps. I wasn’t in a position to develop the app myself, coding being another language entirely. I drew the idea out trying to put my vision to paper to pitch it around various tech and app developers. This process went on for some time. I shopped it to over a dozen developers, many of whom didn’t believe in my idea, before Activate Design agreed to take on the work – it’s all crazy to look back on now with a $1.4M business that employs 15 people.

 

The investment process

 

I invested $10k of my own savings, had family and friends’ chip in as investors and eventually raised enough money to cover the price-tag of the developers. I ended up listing myself and Skool Loop on an investing website, where I was paired up with two international investors (one from Hong Kong, and one from the US). Between these two investors and myself, we got Skool Loop off the ground and it flew straight to success. From those early days to now, we have close to 800 schools using the app.

 

Working for schools, with schools

 

In the middle of this app-developing, design and investing process, I wanted to ensure that Skool Loop would be a product developed to combat the school communication administrative issues I wanted to help solve. Schools being as under-resourced and time-poor as they are these days, the last thing I wanted to do was add more cost or administrative burden to our educators and school administrators. Subsequently, I offered Skool Loop to schools free of cost and provided a free helpdesk to aid school staff in managing this new tool. We also provide all schools with a Smartphone upon sign up.

 

Tackling the challenge of school communication

 

When fleshing out the idea for Skool Loop, I knew there were a few key tasks I had struggled with as a parent with kids in school, so I made sure these were made into key features of the app:

– Newsletters: my kids hardly ever managed to get these home! Skool Loop offers a function where schools can upload their newsletters to the app for paperless communication of key notices.
– Absentee reporting: when Dylan came down with a nasty bug, running to the doctor was my priority, not calling the school first thing. Absentee reporting is a time-consuming task for schools too. We offer an option to contact the school directly to report absences through the app, a feature that saves schools up to 24 school days of time per year.
– Push notifications: schools can instantly alert parents to emergencies and remind parents of things like swimming days and spelling homework due.
– School calendars: synchronising school calendars with the app is simple and effective at consolidating all school events with parents own busy schedules.
– ePermission slips: this one really helps to ensure that no child misses out on a school activity or event due to a lost permission slip that didn’t get signed.

 

Working for schools, with local communities

 

Skool Loop is still the only school communication app offered to schools for free on the market currently. Often schools are confronted with a hefty $4k price-tag when working to develop a personal app for their school, a cost that many under-resourced schools just simply cannot afford. And of course, I simply could not just operate my business at a loss by offering the tech to schools for free. So instead, I work with local communities and business to provide non-invasive advertising options on the app. If you’re in a rural NSW town where your school uses Skool Loop, you might see an advertisement for John’s veggie shop up the road, or a local after-school care programme. The schools have final sign off on what ads are allowed to be run on the app.

With an average of 11-14 schools per week signing up across New Zealand and Australia, it’s clear that schools need this technology. With the current teacher shortages nationwide, schools are taking all the help they can get and it’s exciting to see parents being a part of this in providing solutions and ideas – all contributing to the smarter education of our children.

Sharlene Barnes

Founder at Skool Loop
Sharlene Barnes is an education technologist based out of Kaikoura, New Zealand. She is the founder of Skool Loop, the free parent-teacher communication app being used by nearly 800 schools in New Zealand and Australia. Sharlene is also the Managing Director of Advert Media, with decades of advertising management experience under her belt. Sharlene studied Business Communication at the University of Canterbury. Sharlene developed Skool Loop in response to her own communication struggles as a parent. The app is now widely used by nearly 800 schools in New Zealand and Australia, with 11 new schools signing up per week on average.
Skool Loop’s vision is to make school and parent communications easier by streamlining administrative school processes into the single app. The Skool Loop App is free for anyone to use, so schools and parents can focus on their child’s education unhindered by a basic communication gap.
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