Note: This article is a follow-up to the previously published 3 Ways to Improve Community Relations in Your District.
We’re all aware that the business of education doesn’t stop just because the weather turns warm. In fact, many facets of a school district experience their busiest period during the summer. Much like procurement, training, and curriculum, the district’s community outreach operation should continue to stay busy over the summer.
There are many reasons to consider a ramped up approach to outreach while students are out. First, many of the most significant changes to any district are made within the summer months, and if parents and students don't find out about them until the next school year starts, it can give the impression that changes were made "under the table," even if that was never the intention. Transparency is about outward appearance as much as as collaboration, and all stakeholders should at least have an understanding of what is happening before anything new gets put into place.
Second, the summer tends to be a slow news period overall. You’re more likely to receive coverage of positive news because the outlets have space they need to fill. This affords an opportunity to exercise a little more control over your messaging.
Finally, the perception of the majority is often that the entire school district takes the summer off. By proactively sharing updates and results from summer activities, you can demonstrate that "the machine" is still working and take the opportunity to paint your district as the dedicated, year-round operation that it is.
Here are four best practices we've picked up from our K-12 district partners around the country.
1) Deepen Your Relationships
Whether you have a dedicated public outreach officer or that role is filled by your superintendent, you can use the summer as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship wih the people who have the greatest impact on your public perception. Develop partnerships for mutual promotion and open communication lines to ensure that your district's actions are never taken out of context. These partners can include:
There is no need for your efforts to be formal in nature. Simply invite these folks out for a cup of coffee or lunch. Don’t have an agenda. Just have a collegial conversation about what’s going on in the district and how you can build trust between your organization and theirs. These relationships will be important when you need to move mountains later.
- Education beat writers for local newspapers
- TV station reporters who cover your district's communities
- Leaders from after school programs, local businesses, and neighborhood charity organizations
- Faith leaders and those who operate local community centers
2) Take Advantage of the Positives
For many districts, outreach is easier in the summer than at any other time because there is more positive news to share. Budget discussions, student behavior events, and arguments about weather delays are mostly on the back burner for the time being.
Meanwhile, assessment scores are coming out, high-achievers are being recognized for their performance during the school year, and graduating high school seniors are receiving scholarships, appointments to service academies, and more. School facilities are being improved, and you may even be able to talk about the "golden goose" of community outreach – a brand new school opening. These are all things that the public would love to hear about.
3) Go Where the Parents Are
We can't stress the benefits of social media enough when it comes to creating a positive culture of collaboration with your community. Keep those tweets, Facebook posts, and Pinterest ideas flowing during the summer. The benefits are manifold – keep parents engaged with educational tips and tricks, give your students something to think about with college and career planning resources, and share some of the great new strategies and technologies that are influencing your learning environrment.
Here's a handful of other ideas to consider:
- Help students avoid summer brain drain
- Prepare rising seniors for the college entrance process
- Prepare new kindergarteners for their first day of school
- Summer reading lists for parents, students, and staff
- Free resources for underpriveleged families to stock up on school supplies
4) Invite the Community Inside
As we mentioned before, if your community is not kept abreast of major changes, many will assume that they were intentionally left out of the fold. This is not an optimal outcome and is relatively easy to remedy.
Consider organizing some informational meetings over the summer about changes that will be implemented in the coming year(s). Even if the ship has already sailed (the budget has already been passed, the curriculum purchased, etc.), just giving community members a forum to air their opinions can significantly increase buy-in and advocacy.
Another great idea is to invite the public in to find out more about how the district operates. The vast majority of your community probably has never been inside the headquarters building. People might even be interested in seeing the shop where the buses are serviced or other physical plant operations. Organize some tours or an open house event for interested parties. Chances are they will come away impressed with a better understanding of all the moving parts that keep your district moving.
Overall, summer affords districts the opportunity to show the community aspects of itself that might not be available during the school year. Districts that make the effort in a positive, good-natured way, often find that their communities reciprocate in turn.
Stay in Touch with Family Access
Skyward's Family Access solution is a great way to stay in touch with parents and students from the district office all the way down to the classroom level. To find out more, click here.
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