Aug 24, 2017
Originally published on Monterey County Weekly.
Growing up in India, Avneesh Kumar saw firsthand how a lack of parental engagement could affect a student’s success. His father was a teacher and his sister was a principal, and he’d often listen to their workday grievances. He eventually went into IT as a career, but Kumar was reacquainted with the issues when he became a father and his son enrolled in preschool.
He saw teachers scramble to send out parent newsletters and observed how late he’d receive first-day-of-school notifications. With a bit of research, he saw the U.S. Department of Education was mulling over parent engagement as well, ranking it as one of the top three problems schools face. It was a problem he thought was solvable.
The Pacific Grove man created an app called Schoolze (pronounced “school-zee”) in 2015. At first, it was a platform for teachers to disseminate newsletters to parents. It’s evolved and can now help raise money for schools. “Schoolze looks nothing like it did when we launched it,” Kumar says. He spoke with the Weekly about how the app transformed.
Weekly: How does the app raise money for schools?
Kumar: There are multiple ways to raise money. When it comes time to make a yearbook, parents can now upload quality photos for a yearbook. Schools can also use Schoolze to sell yearbooks. This helps to monetize the feature.
[Schoolze] also helps raise funds for [parent teacher associations]. It digitizes traditional ways of fundraising. If you have a donation fundraiser, you can track the progress to the goal like on similar crowd-funding platforms like GoFundMe.
How many schools are using Schoolze?
Eighty-plus schools in 16 states, with usage from Canada and the UK [too]. We’re trying to focus primarily in U.S.
Right now, we’re not focusing on growing the company, but focusing on the product. That means gathering results and data, mapping it and measuring, so that schools can track how successful their school is.
How do schools usually track success?
Most schools can only go off of grades, test scores or graduation rates. But success is so much more than that; you have to contextualize those measurements too. How do you measure the environment a child is in? Or the community they’re embedded in? Those are harder questions and harder to measure.
Nobody has been able to put a number on family engagement, so we’re starting there and we think that’s another way of tracking progress.
It looks like this app can do a lot of good for schools in high-need communities. Have you tried reaching out to any of those schools?
Yes, we’ve worked with some summer schools in Salinas and the East Coast where students come from less affluent neighborhoods. Socio-economic issues are directly correlated with how involved parents are in their students’ lives. For many of these families, they’re just trying to survive.
We also found out that these schools have about 20 percent of positive parent engagement; the rest of the 80 percent are disengaged.
That 20 percent is all that’s needed to start a specific campaign to help the 80 percent. For, example, get an iPad for every family, so that families can have some sort of computer in the household. You only need to mobilize a little to get a big impact. It’s about creating a bridge.
How do you engage parents who don’t speak English? That’s a gap that needs to bridged in Monterey County.
When we make new features, we make them as inclusive as possible. Say a teacher sends out a newsletter in English. There’s a feature that translates it into different languages. Say I have a student that comes up to me and says, “Hey, my mom speaks Spanish but she can’t read.” We created a feature that translates text into audio in different languages. It’s important that everything we add expands on parent involvement.
Are you an involved parent?
In the beginning, I wasn’t too involved. I’d say my wife is still more involved with our son. But the more I develop Schoolze, the more I have a sight of his and the teachers’ worlds. I see his education and growth from all sides, and this project definitely helped with that.