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Staying in Touch: Fostering ongoing communication with the community

By Jim Paterson

When parents think about how their child’s school connects with the family each year, a few things are likely to come to mind – an occasional recorded phone call, a back-to-school-night event, or a flyer stuffed in a backpack and only retrieved by chance.

But that’s changing, in part driven by the huge shifts in communications technology, but also by parents who are seeking more detailed information about schools, and by districts recognizing that better and more connections will make their job of educating their students easier and more effective.

“Administrators are smart about how they do our job, but we are smarter when we collaborate,” says Diane McCallum, principal at Summitview Elementary School in Waynesboro, PA, and the head of a special communications committee established two years ago to broaden the reach of the Waynesboro Area School District (Franklin Co.).

“Hearing the voices of a variety of stakeholders, and getting their input gives us more information and different viewpoints, which allows us to do our job better,” she says. “And if you are not clearly and effectively communicating with families and staff, they may not understand a decision and then have a negative opinion about what’s happening. You have to take time to give them facts.”

A nagging concern

The significance of communications with families and the community is evidenced in a recent survey by the education advocacy organization Project Tomorrow. The results show that about one-third of school administrators say communications issues are “waking them up in the middle of the night.”

That same survey, however, offers some reassuring data. It indicates that more than 70% of secondary school parents were satisfied with school communications and about a third “very satisfied,” although they wanted more direct contact with teachers. The satisfaction level is even higher in elementary grades

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