How to include the community when making key school decisions


Typically, the goals for any public engagement initiative are three-fold: (1) increase transparency; (2) hear from more and different community voices; and (3) generate better solutions to complex social challenges and issues.

Most districts use a variety of tactics to engage diverse audiences in important community conversations and decisions. These can range from small, grassroots meetings to blue-ribbon committees. Choosing the right mix at the right time requires thoughtful and inclusive strategy discussions and a clear understanding of the desired outcomes.

MindMixer helps officials navigate this often rocky terrain through its access to engagement specialists and its community-building service, which promotes engagement by finding existing, online conversations and inserting the school or district site into the conversation. This service might help reach younger and more mobile-oriented audiences, which tend to be more diverse than those seeking information and news on traditional websites.

Given the digital divide, most of us need help engaging diverse audiences and developing strategies that successfully engage voices beyond the white, middle, and upper-class parents and families who most often participate in online surveys. Studies by Pew Research Centers, for example, shows Latino and African-Americans in the U.S. are adopting mobile technology at a much higher rate than traditional websites.

Employers don’t always have the best handle on employee concerns and trust issues, so having an outside party review strategies and data—or even facilitate the engagement process—sometimes yields better and more actionable solutions.

For more advice about engaging school stakeholders, see:

Smart phones require smart communication strategies

Using QR codes for school communications

Ten tips for using social media in school communications

Headquartered in Omaha, Neb., MindMixer is working with about 300 organizations nationwide. The fee structure varies by the length of time the site is active.

According to Reed, most school districts choose annual terms. Pricing is confidential but extremely reasonable; contact MindMixer for details. Fees include the graphic report.

Whether you use MindMixer, online surveys, websites, voice polls, focus groups, small group meetings, advisory councils, year-long public engagement strategies, or other techniques to engage employees, parents, students, and taxpayers, getting more voices heard and more people to the decision-making table—real or virtual—is the only way to find common ground in today’s diverse communities.

Technology can help us keep the public in public schools, but it doesn’t replace potluck suppers, stellar customer service, handwritten notes by teachers to parents about their children, and other key ingredients in a systemic, ongoing communications plan.

To find out more ways to tell your story more effectively, check out the communications resources, tips, and strategies available in archived editions of this column, and through associations such as the National School Public Relations Association—the only group dedicated exclusively to effective school communications and marketing. (See www.nspra.org.)

Award-winning eSchool News columnist Nora Carr is the chief of staff for North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools.

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