Roaring Fork to carry out communication audit |

Roaring Fork to carry out communication audit

Bill Lamont
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Webster’s Dictionary defines communication in part as: “To convey knowledge of or information about: to transmit information thought, or feeling so that it is satisfactorily received or understood: to open into each other: a verbal or written message.”

The Roaring Fork School Board publicly committed in May to conduct a communications audit of its internal and external communications. The new school board reaffirmed its commitment to the audit in November and again last week. The audit will occur in April 2012.

Why conduct an audit?

For years there have been rumblings that the district office and school board are not sufficiently informing parents and communities about the district’s activities, successes and problems.

There is also the feeling, among some, that the district office and board do not always listen to concerns raised by parents, teachers or principals.

When the board discussed the audit with its consultants, Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said, “We need to communicate with people in good times and bad. We need to overcome the lack of trust. People need to feel comfortable and that they were heard.”

What are the current constraints?

Re-1 has repeatedly made the decision to put its scarce funds into the classroom, not into marketing.

Larger districts have staff and funds to communicate with the communities they serve. Smaller districts wait until they have a bond issue or, as we did this fall, a mill levy override question, and then do a crash communication effort using public donations and sweat to explain their need. Maybe this needs to change.

Compounding the lack of budgeted funds for communication, we have a lean district management staff: a superintendent, two assistant superintendents – one for finance and business services and another for curriculum, instruction and assessment, and one human resources director serving 5,000 students, 800 employees, 12 schools and three very distinct communities.

The district office staff and school board members have a variety of ways they communicate:

• School walk-throughs by the superintendent and assistant superintendent for curriculum.

• Visits to schools by board members.

• Presentations by principals and teachers to the board.

• Regular meetings between district office and building administrators by school level and with the Building Leadership teacher groups from each school.

• The Superintendent’s Advisory Group, made up of teachers from each school who meet monthly in an open forum. The superintendent answers questions or concerns in a follow-up memo to all staff members.

• A weekly email update from the superintendent on activities, upcoming issues and progress on various on-going efforts, opportunities, etc.

• A monthly meeting between the superintendent and the teachers union representative.

The district also uses a process called Interest Based Bargaining, It focuses primarily on budget allocations, but can also address any issue a participant raises. This process is conducted over a few months once a year, and involves teacher and principal representatives, the superintendent and assistant superintendents and two board members.

Parents primarily receive information at their individual schools. There is also an accountability committee for each school composed of parents, teachers and the principal. A district-wide accountability committee was formed in the 2009-10 school year, but was judged redundant.

The community at large primarily relies on news releases from the district and newspaper coverage by journalists. Attendance by the public at board meetings is sparse at best, unless there is some controversy.

A comprehensive review of communications will be conducted by consultants from the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB).

CASB staff has conducted more than 20 such audits statewide for large and small districts.

The professionals brought to the task by CASB will gather input through an anonymous online survey, 11 90-minute focus groups sessions, and individual interviews with board members and district office administrators. The review will be preceded by a thorough assessment of the current efforts and procedures.

With this background, the consultants will explore the communication opportunities and challenges specific to the Re-1 District. Recommendations and strategies will then be made to the district on how to build upon successful communication methods and eliminate those that don’t work.

The goal is for the Re-1 School District to develop ways where everyone can express, to paraphrase Webster, “information received and understood, in an open, trustful manner.”

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