Determining the right mix of traditional and digital tools to best engage with parents and district stakeholders remains a primary challenge for district communications, according to a new report.

A large part of a school district’s ability to implement successful initiatives or pass bonds lies in its communications and its ability to connect with community members.

Now, a new report from Blackboard and Project Tomorrow outlines the different roles district communications officials play in today’s schools. The results reflect the increasingly important yet challenging role of communications in today’s K-12 districts.

Front lines of district communications officers” includes responses from 500,000 K-12 students, parents, educators and community members.

District communications officials said the three priorities that drive their strategic planning include nurturing their district’s brand and reputation and development (69 percent), engaging with the community (62 percent), and managing information dissemination (50 percent).

The report reveals that parents and communications officials place value on different traditional and digital communications tools.

Next page: What are parents’ and communications officials’ preferred digital communication tools?

Fifty percent of district communications officers said increasing parental knowledge about school or district policies and programs is a top priority for their district, making the right use of various communications tools essential.

Parents rank text messaging, a school portal that provides grades and assignments, and a mobile app as their top three preferred digital communications tools.

Personal emails, face-to-face meetings, and personal phone calls are parents’ top three preferred traditional communications tools.

Responding district communications professionals said face-to-face meetings (74 percent), personal emails (59 percent), personal phone calls (55 percent), PTA meetings (38 percent), and hard copy flyers or newsletters sent home with students or mailed (25 percent) are effective traditional tools.

A district Facebook account (74 percent), school portals that share grades and assignments (68 percent), text messaging to families or parents (64 percent), a mobile app (49 percent), and personalized auto messages about academics or attendance (28 percent) were rated as effective digital tools by district professionals.

If district communications officials can understand how to leverage communications tools to meet parents’ needs and preferences, they will be better able to enhance district communications and meet key goals, according to the report.

Fifty-four percent of district communication officers said that parents’ or families’ lack of internet access is their biggest external challenge affecting district communications.

While only 15 percent of district communications officers said 100 percent of their communications vehicles are online exclusively as of today, 73 percent said at least three-quarters or more of their outbound communications require internet connectivity.

However, this challenge may not be as concerning as in previous years. Project Tomorrow’s annual Speak Up survey findings, which are used in the Blackboard report, indicate that 94 percent of responding parents said they have an internet-connected smartphone.

Other external challenges include responding to a crisis with message management and response (50 percent), combating negative attacks on public education (45 percent), dealing with a culture of political divisiveness (30 percent), language barriers in the community (30 percent), and entrenched negative views on district performance (28 percent).

Internal challenges include securing funding to support communications initiatives (43 percent), a lack of reporting data or analytics about the impact of communications efforts (34 percent), and a fear of social media use or lack of comfort in how to use it effectively (27 percent).

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura