Opening Day for our schools always is an exciting time; you can sense it in the anticipation of our administrators and teachers, find it among the eagerness of staff and see it in the enthusiasm of children and parents. During the first two weeks of our new school year, I have had the chance to visit with staff, parents and young people at various open houses, faculty meetings, an early football game, and while riding with students on the bus for their first day of school.
In all of these places, I heard from principals that the first days of the new year went very well, with students instantly engaged in building learning communities. Parents tell me they have been pleased with school schedules, bus transportation arrangements and by their interaction with administrators, staff, and teachers.
I do know, however, that with 13,000 learners, more than 2,000 employees and over 14,000 miles of bus routes, perfection will not always be achieved. That’s where communication and teamwork come in.
I’ve found that when problems inevitably arise, we do best when our principals, school counselors, and teachers take the lead in collaborating with parents to find the right solutions. That’s borne out, too, in our survey of parents and other community members: the highest grades we receive are when we solve problems at the building level by finding common ground. In the midst of the many changes we make to keep pace with today’s contemporary learners, one lesson has not changed: two-way communications is the key to the success of our work.
There are changes we need to make and some of those have to do with the methods of our two-way communications.
We’re continuing to automate our database to increase online access for parents to information they need about the educational lives of their children. Our Parent Portal is empowering parents and students to access schedules, attendance records, and grades in real-time. We’ve also concentrated on consolidating forms, reducing paperwork, and electronically providing required notifications to parents. This had the added benefit of saving on printing and mailing costs by eliminating the wholesale distribution of “School Talk,” our paper-based parent handbook. Now, information will be posted online and we will work individually with parents who specifically request a paper copy.
We also are improving our website, utilizing the skills of student interns and our technology staff to move thousands of links and websites to our new platform. Our format and designs are simpler and more uniform to make it easier for parents to find the information they need. Regardless of the school web page you are on, you will find important information in predictable places. You also will find that individual schools have retained their own identity through their own use of school colors, mascots, welcome messages, images, and video.
We will continue this year to shift to a more user-friendly communications style. Twitter and Facebook will allow us to post timely updates of important developments and events. Our millennial parents—our first digital natives who now are parents of young students—tell us that social media is their preferred method of communications for family purposes as well as for business.
Social media is also a wonderful force multiplier in the classroom. Teachers are using Skype to connect students with their counterparts from other parts of the county, country and world and to see and hear from subject content experts. Students are posting their own blogs, twitter feeds, wikis and YouTube videos, all with parental permission, of course.
To paraphrase Bob Dylan, times are changing. Just a few years ago, eBay, Skype, Google, Facebook, Twitter, all were strange words. Today people are making hotel or restaurant reservations, paying bills, shopping, and communicating with friends, children and grandchildren using these web sites. We have learned to communicate and conduct business virtually in a broad variety of ways.
So it should be with education. In schools across the United States, both in universities such as the one in our own backyard and in Pre-K through Grade 12 schools, educators are closely working to improve communications and bring contemporary learning tools into the classroom. In spite of all these new communications resources, though, we should all remember that the most ancient form of human communications, face-to-face, still offers the best opportunity to work together as partners in support of our young people.
— Dr. Pamela Moran, Superintendent