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January 25, 2013
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Re-1 board considering school communication strategies

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Roaring Fork School District Re-1 officials are taking up consideration of a proposed strategic plan to improve district communications with parents, teachers, school administrators, support staff and the broader community.

Some of the recommended strategies in the draft plan presented by communications consultants at the regular Wednesday school board meeting are already in place in one form or another.

"We need to get the message out about what we're already doing, and where people can find information," school board member Daniel Biggs said.

Other strategies to get the word out about what's going on in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt schools would need to be formally adopted by the school board, including funding for any technological upgrades or staffing to carry out the plan.

"This has been an issue for some time, going back to before many of us were on the board," Re-1 board President Matt Hamilton said. "I'm excited about doing this, and I think we all recognize communications as a critical component of our work."

Some of the ideas in the plan could be in place as soon as next school year, he said, while others would likely be implemented over several years.

The action plan is only in draft form at this point and will be further discussed by the school board and district administrators in February and into the spring.

It grew out of a districtwide communications audit, which came at the direction of the school board two years ago.

It wasn't until last spring, though, that the board contracted with the Colorado Association of School Boards and the consulting firm Schoolhouse Communications to conduct the audit.

The audit included surveys, interviews and focus group discussions, and generally found that communication about such things as district policies, programs, academic data, concerns and successes to be lacking.

Among the audit's recommendations were to revamp the district's website, upgrade technological means of communicating both internally and externally, reaching out to civic and business organizations, improving efforts to engage the district's Latino families, and possibly hiring a communications director.

The draft strategic plan, prepared by local communications consultants Jeanne Mackowski and Sheryl Barto, refines those ideas and suggests several ways to accomplish them.

"Some of the feelings in the district are different now than when the audit was conducted," Mackowski said.

Still, she said there are ways the district and individual schools can improve the way they disseminate information, from daily announcements to information about broader policy decisions and program changes.

In addition to being transparent, truthful and forthcoming with information about district policies, one of the important guidelines is to keep the message simple, Mackowski said. That means avoiding education jargon.

"It does create an air of not being transparent when you speak in acronyms," she said. "You need to be sure to be simple in your wording when you talk about these things, and you're doing a disservice to a large segment of the population when you're not translating what's being said."

Some of the communication strategies discussed in the draft plan include:

• Developing a unified vision for the district that can be clearly articulated by administrators, teachers and staff with key talking points.

• Broader publication of school board agendas and webcasts of important meetings.

• Frequent face-to-face conversations between the district superintendent and parent accountability groups.

• "Coffee talks" with board members and administrators.

• Regular presentations to service clubs and business groups.

• Revamping the district and school websites to make them easier to navigate and locate information.

• Working with the Manaus Fund's Valley Settlement Project to include more Latino community organizers in local schools.

• Preparing an annual "State of the Schools" report to be widely disseminated.

The school board expects to take up discussion of the communications plan again at its Feb. 6 meeting, and will consider funding and implementing some of the strategies during budget talks later this spring.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Jan 25, 2013 01:42AM Published Jan 25, 2013 01:41AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.