Interactive Applications Bring Power and Depth to Communications

Although a large part of our focus was on increasing engagement with parents, we also wanted to improve communications with our broader stakeholder community. The Centricity community management solution has enabled us to achieve this objective, as well. On our public-facing web site, we now post RSS feeds, podcasts, news briefs, and many other tools for our stakeholders to access information and resources on our teaching initiatives, the school board and many other topics. Taxpayers can drill down to see where their tax dollars are spent and how the funds benefit learners. Currently, we are using a survey tool on the web site to solicit the community’s feedback on how we can improve communications even more. These are all additional communication tools that were not available to us before within our traditional web site, and they have doubled our ability to communicate with our many and varied constituents.

All applications and resources, like eMail and teacher pages, are readily available through the district home page. Because the product is so easy to populate, our designated staff members regularly add and update content, resulting in an explosion of information being made available to our stakeholders. For example, one of our high schools posts a daily podcast and our principals blog about topics of interest to the district. This capability to add voice, photos, and information from multiple sources is very powerful in bringing the work and successes of the district alive. In addition, the mere fact that we have these interactive technology tools reflects well on the district. Their availability tells stakeholders that we care about communicating with them and that we are using current technology in the classroom to educate the community’s students.

Our online platform helps us make sure that the majority of our stakeholders are receiving complete information. We no longer have to rely on the local newspaper to print an accurate story on the budget needs of the district, or hope that taxpayers open the mail that we sent to their house. People in the community are aware of our district web site and access it regularly. Many parents have made it their homepage on their computers. It allows us to post comprehensive information on proposed budgets and other topics so that stakeholders can access complete information.  We are also able to quickly and consistently address and end rumors by posting information online, in a message from the superintendent, for example. When we have a hot issue, we direct everyone to the web site for information so that our communications remain controlled, consistent and available.

Recently, we tapped into the power of our platform once again when California cut $30 million from our budget. We’ve been able to keep our stakeholders informed about the impact of the cuts and solicit their input. We know they are accessing the information because we are seeing more engagement from the community as a result. For example, we have been receiving donations of paper, money and school supplies. Also, more folks are showing up for meetings and are getting more involved with the district. I believe all the information we have posted and made available is helping people fully understand the severity of the budget problem and as a result, they are stepping up to help where they can.

In addition, we were positioned to quickly reduce the costs associated with paper documents. Because our teachers already have teacher pages, they are putting more information and resources online, reducing their use of paper and helping the district cut costs. Several teachers have requested additional training so that they can leverage some of the more sophisticated applications on the platform to make even better use of their time and to engage their students further this year.

If we had “only a web site”, we would not be able to move quickly with all these initiatives. But because we took a broader view of our communications platform at the outset, we are in a position to continually adopt new applications and technologies as they emerge. And we have already benefitted from stronger community support that resulted from our increased and more effective communications.

Joe Jenkins joined Natomas Unified School District in 2001. In 2009, he was promoted to the position of Chief Technology Officer. He is an active member of the superintendent’s cabinet Jenkins has more than 23 years of experience in information technology, including 10 years of integrating technology in support of education.