Embracing 21st Century Communication Approaches to Improve Community Engagement

Late in the fall 2012, a group of parent volunteers gathered to support our students and educators. The Community Outreach and Engagement Advisory
Committee was formed to provide recommendations and support the in
improving the communications with Lunenburg residents. As parents and concerned
citizens we connected with our networks of Lunenburg residents to get feedback
about areas to focus on.

This committee was formed to advise the school committee, District leadership and educators about the best ways to:

  • Increase awareness and knowledge of District initiatives and activities
  • Increase reach within the community to improve overall perception of the District’s value to the community
  • Ensure parents receive timely, relevant, consistent and accurate communications about students and schools
  • Improve overall communication processes to reduce duplicate efforts and increase effectiveness

Through research, informal polling and brainstorming the team attempted to put all of the pieces of the communications puzzle together.  We identified some low hanging fruit
which could be addressed immediately, short term projects and longer term
projects to help improve overall communications.

We identified as an untapped source within the low hanging fruit.  The committee has created a public Facebook page.  This public page will enable the district
to reach any user who “likes”  the page.  The primary
function of this page will be sharing information with the residents of

We have also created a Twitter handle for Superintendant Calmes which is an excellent vehicle for sharing updates (school cancelled!), quick thoughts (such as State level budget issues) and sharing other news (linking to news articles pertinent to the
district).  We have received strong feedback that many parents and
students use Twitter and a communications vehicle.

In addition to Twitter, we will increase the visibility of the school committee and other school events by creating our very own YouTube channel.  For those residents who are unable to attend a school committee meeting or do not want to set aside time to watch public access, YouTube offers the flexibility to residents to watch what they want and when they want!  It also provides the District the ability to see how many residents are actually viewing the videos.  In the future, we are recommending a video blog to get news and thoughts out to the community.  Bob Meek-LaVeck has been critical in our ability to establish this online video presence.

The final piece of the social puzzle will be blogs.  We are recommending starting with superintendent Calmes.  The blog information will be the same article posted to the Ledger but offers residents the ability to comment (which are moderated!) and provide direct online feedback.  We have recommended starting with the superintendent because executive sponsorship is just not enough.  We need executive adoption, someone who talks the talk and walks the walk.

Beyond the social sphere, we felt it important to provide a visual identity for our school district which reflects our values.  This logo or seal would provide the visual branding to be used across all district wide communications. We have a strong mission and identity.  We need to use this to enhance awareness and identify.  How about a little contest across the district to create a logo/seal?  Low cost and fun for the students.

The website was a source of frustration for many based on the feedback we received.  Despite the best efforts of the District, many find it confusing to find and navigate.  We recommend using a single domain direct to one web presence.  In addition, we should align to a standardized naming convention along the lines of .   The should be search optimized and reviewed for best practices in navigation. It is also important for our residents that they be able to use the website from their mobile devices.  The current set up is not at all suited to mobile consumption.  The work on the website is a mid-long term exercise which will require resources and expertise to accomplish.    In addition to web expertise, there need to be changes to the policies and procedures to ensure information on the web presence is accurate and up to date.

To improve overall communications and increase productivity we must look at how family information is managed.  Currently there are multiple databases where student and family information is stored.  To truly meet the goals, it is strongly recommended at creating single database of student and family information, ultimately a 360 degree view of the student.  This will lead to better data management practices and ultimately improved efficiency and parent satisfaction.  Whether this is power School, Naviance , blackboard or something else all together, this is a critical component to success.  This recommendation may require additional funding.

To increase efficiency and reduce workload on the administration, the District should enable parents to register their children online.  Parents should have the ability to review their children’s’ information online and make updates when required.  It is expected that this will yield benefits for the administration via costs savings and also provide parents something they have been asking for.

Finally, to move forward, there is a lot of work to be done here.  We recommend keeping a group of parent volunteers who can support these initiatives.  In addition to the parents, we are working to establish a communications champions team comprised of teachers and other members of the district to help push this forward.  These people will be fans of social media and also willing to help coach others in the processes.  This enablement will be critical to making these approaches part of the District DNA moving forward.  On the legal front, we believe there will need to be some policy additions and changes to support our mission.

Several people have asked how this directly impacts the educational quality.  I believe firmly that an informed resident and a smarter resident.  Only by being aware of what is happening can residents make informed decisions about the priorities for this town.

To wrap up, what happens if we do nothing?  Well, we have a very large and expensive project ahead of us.   We need to engage with the residents of Lunenburg now so that they will have confidence to provide the town with the funds necessary to get us a new school.  The time is now.  Let’s not let this opportunity pass to improve resident engagement!

It is time for schools to embrace 21st century communications

Would you allow a company like Sears, Amazon or Nordstroms call you at home at 5:30 AM without your permission to let you know that they are closed due to a snowstorm?   I think not! Then why do school districts get away with this lack of targeted, preference based communication?

All town residents are  customers. They pay for the schools via taxes whether they want to or not.  They deserve to be treated as customers and therefore deserve to communicate with the district on their terms.

Many school districts take a “spray and pray” mentality.  So what exactly does that mean? Schools will send out a  in every possible format in the hopes that one of them will stick:

  • Email
  • Printed news letters
  • Notes from teachers
  • Articles in the news paper
  • , facebook,  posts

I submit, that school districts should allow residents to choose their preferred communication preference.  This aligns with a 21st century approach to communications – preference based.  I am talking communications targeted to address the needs and concerns of residents as individuals.

I also understand that school districts are under extreme pressure to deliver more less budget than ever and that administrators and teachers are doing what they can just to education our children.  So, any solution needs to seamlessly integrate into the day to day operations without adding additional overhead.

Want the good news?  The technology exists to capture residents’ demographics, interests and preference….and it is often FREE!  It is time that we start using it!

  1. Create or use an existing database of contacts enabling contacts to manage their own information – our school district has this.  The key here is that the school districts need to consistently ensure that there is one system of record.
  2. Give contacts choices in their communications.  Provide parents and other residents the ability to manage their own information (address, email address, phone numbers and preferences) from the device of their choice (iPhone, Android device, tablet, laptop etc)
  3. Enable multi-channel communications (email, , telephone) and the preference choices govern which medium is used for communications.  This means establishing policies and procedures about using the preferences in fabric of the school district.

So, what is your opinion?

Do you have other suggestions?  

On October 16, six Lunenburg residents met to discuss how the Lunenburg Public School district can more effectively engage the community.  We spent 2 hours discussing what we ultimately want to achieve, how to get there and what next steps we need to take.


  • Increase awareness and knowledge of District initiatives and activities for all Lunenburg residents
  • Increase reach within the community to improve overall perception of the District’s value to the community
  • Ensure parents receive timely, relevant, consistent and accurate communications about students and schools
  • Improve overall processes to reduce duplicate efforts and increase effectiveness

How can we achieve these goals?  I believe firmly that the Lunenburg Public Schools need to embrace 21st approaches to interact with the Lunenburg residents.  This means:

  • We must adopt preference based communications:  Residents should tell us how they want to hear from the schools. The District should provide as many communication vehicles as possible to ensure we are reaching the residents – print media, email, facebook, twitter, television, meetings, sporting events, other live events etc..  The schools should not arbitrarily decide what communication vehicle to use. They need to offer the parents a choice.   They should even offer a choice to “opt-out” of all communications.   Think about your bank…Banks largely offer you a choice:  do you want to get your statements online? in an email? on paper?   Why should schools treat their customers any differently?
  •  and websites:  Like it or not, , twitter and other social media platforms are here to stay.  Embrace it or be left in the dust…People have become accustomed to a top quality .  As consumer we expect to be able to use google to find what we need.  When we arrive at a website, we expect the information on that website to be customized to our needs.  This expectation is being carried over to the .
  • Online access and management of personal information:  I cannot think of the last time I had to fill out a paper form to register for something….actually, I can!  It was for school just a few weeks ago.  If I open a bank account, apply for a mortgage,  get a car insurance quote or generally want to use any service, there is invariably a website where I securely enter information as part of the application process.  If I move, I am responsible for updating this information myself.  This is not just a question ease of use but also of efficiency.  There is zero reason in today’s interconnected, instrumented world to have to duplicate data entry by filling out a paper form only to have another person enter the data into a system.

These are some of the initial ideas about how Lunenburg Public Schools could better reach and engage residents.  Contact me to find out how to get involved!

Last night the Lunenburg School Committee held a workshop to discuss how to better engage the .  This comes after a discussion about some of the challenges the District has had in consistently communicating with the community.  There is a recognition by the entire committee that the District has done some things well but also, that there is major areas for improvement.

In our discussion last night we identified several areas for improvement:

  • Preference based communications:  If the school were a private company, I would  describe our communication approach as “spray and pray’. The schools send emails, voice mails, paper forms, paper news letters, have a website,  and use verbal communication to try to reach their key target audience.  The District does not currently provide parents a mechanism to select their preferred communication channel.  In today’s era of the empowered consumer, who has access to unprecedented amounts of data to make informed decisions, must embrace a communication approach which addresses an audience of one.
  • :   We are behind the times when it comes to embracing social media.    Districts around us and across are using , , ,  and other social channels to engage communities.   Like the in ’04…why not us?  Well, we will be dipping our toes in the water over the next couple of months…stay tuned.
  • Website:  There was discussion around improving the overall customer experience with the District and school specific websites.  Several community members expressed frustration with the inconsistency across the websites stating that it can be difficult to quickly find information they need.  There are a couple of approaches we can likely recommend here:  design guidelines and policies for lay out, content management processes to ensure information is up to date.
  • Single view of the student:  Currently there are several locations parents can go to see student information and monitor progress:  Power School, school note, sneaker net (aka information sent home in backpacks).  There is a desire have a ““.  This would be one location where parents can view ALL information pertinent to their children’s world at school.  The good news is that Lunenburg owns the software to make this happen!  We need to explore how to increase adoption of the Power School solution to take advantage of all the capabilities the solution offers.

Their are some long hanging fruit here and some longer term items which will need to be addressed over time.  The most important thing Lunenburg residents need to understand: the schools want to engage the entire community.  The and Lunenburg Public Schools need residents’ help and support to make this a reality.

The role of CEO (Chief Education Officer) – district superintendents

Since the post about the role of the last week, I have received several questions about the role of the .  It is important to understand how this critical role impacts the entire district and in the end, all students.

I laid out the areas of responsibility in .  As a reminder, the identifies the following areas of responsibilities: Policy, Finance, Staffing, Collective bargaining, Performance Standards, Professional development, School Councils, Advocacy, Curriculum, Governance, and Communication.

The Massachusetts Association of School Committees defines the roles and responsibilities for school superintendents in their “Charting the Course” offering:

Policy: Develops and informs committee or procedures required to implement committee policies; recommends policy options to school committee when new or ammended policies are required.

Finance: Oversees the operation of the annual budget; Provides updates to the school committee; Provides early notice of potential budget overruns or shortfalls.

Staffing: Appoints, disciplines and discharges administrators principals, and staff not assigned to particular schools. Reviews and approves principal’s hire of all teachers, athletic coaches, and other staff assigned to a particular school.

Collective bargaining: Serves as a resource in collective bargaining.  Assure adherence to all collective bargaining agreements.

Performance Standards: Assures the evaluation of personnel according to district and state standards; Develops performance standards for all staff aligned to school committee policy, contractual agreements and educational goals of the district.

Professional Development: Implements the professional development program adopted by the school committee. Ensures professional development activities are available to all school department employees.

School Councils:  Reviews with principals the role of school councils and relevant activities.

Advocacy:  Engages in advocacy on behalf of students and their schools promoting the benefits of a public school system to the community; Works with local and state officials to gain support for a fair and sound school budget aligned to district goals and objectives.

Curriculum: Recommends major adoptions of courses or text book; Ensures there is a process to develop and refine curriculum.

Governance:  Acts as the school committees chief executive officer and educational advisor in all efforts of the committee; Serves point of contact for schools’ administrative teams; Proposes and initiates a process for long range and strategic planning; Ensures school provides equal opportunity for students and staff.

Communication: Keeps all school committee members informed about school operations and programs; develops and implements a plan for working with media; shares responsibility for open communication with community.