Director of Communications, Bay District Schools
There’s an old adage that if you don’t tell your own story, someone will tell it for you and nowhere does that ring truer than in education today. School systems are often the target for community vitriol and criticism and while that’s draining, and unfortunate, there are some things that savvy school leaders can do to mitigate the damage and get ahead of those who seek to divide us.
At Bay District Schools, we run four very active social media platforms and are approaching 29,000 followers on Facebook … no easy feat for a district with 25,000 students. About 75 percent of our followers are in the 29-52 age demographic so we’re confident we’re reaching a large chunk of our parents and guardians using this platform. It’s worth noting that our Facebook platform had only 3,000 followers four years ago so our exponential increase in followers tells us we’re doing something right!
Additionally, we’ve leveraged the power of the press and the Superintendent writes a weekly column for the local newspaper which has a paper circulation of about 10,000 currently. The demographics of the newspaper readers are different than those of our parents/guardians (much older for the most part) but these readers are taxpayers and voters and so communicating with them is just as important as communicating with our other stakeholders. Additionally, the e-edition of the paper has about 747,000 monthly views and our weekly articles are featured prominently in the Sunday e-edition which broadens our reach. That weekly column is also emailed every Friday afternoon to all of our parents and guardians and to all of our employees so everyone has a chance to receive the same message at the same time.
With a nod towards the “video age”, our Superintendent also records his weekly message in two videos each week … one video is shared on social media for the community and the other video features the same message but tailored more specifically for employees. That employee message is the featured video in our weekly newsletter.
The weekly newsletter has also become a valuable source of information for our more than 3,000 employees. Each week the newsletter, a S’more-based product, features news they can use, useful links to community resources, the Superintendent’s video, other videos we’ve been working on that highlight the fantastic work of our team members and funny snippets/motivational thoughts. Employees flock to the newsletter each Thursday and our statistics show that the newsletter is opened by every employee at least once and sometimes twice every week.
To continue communicating with our employees and community as a whole, we recently hired a former news reporter from a local television station as our first Communications Specialist. While working to support the Office of Communications in many ways, she’s responsible for our new video outreach. When we hold press conferences etc., we record our own versions as well (because we all know the media doesn’t always highlight what we’re hoping they will) and we package those for social media ourselves.
Additionally, this year, we’re adding Parent University – a series of short (five minutes or less) interviews with district experts about a variety of topics ranging from “how to get your student ready for kindergarten” to “helping your middle schooler with math homework” to “what to do if you think your child needs speech therapy.” Parent University broadcasts will begin three weeks before school starts this year and will continue weekly throughout the school year. Videos will be shared on social media and packaged for our dedicated Vimeo channel.
We also use Everbridge for emergency communication during the school day and for reminders about special events during non-school hours. Our Everbridge account is linked to the accounts maintained by our county so in the event of a communications fail (such as the one that happened during Hurricane Michael) the county can assist us in accessing our communications network. BDS is also a PeachJar user and if you haven’t checked out that service yet, we highly recommend it. PeachJar allows community agencies to submit flyers to us for dissemination to our parents/guardians and we’re able to use it ourselves as well. Email is a reliable source of communication with parents and we’re grateful to be able to use email so effectively thanks to PeachJar.
At Bay District Schools, we are very mindful of the story we want to tell and we’re doing all we can to ensure that story lives, and is shared, in our community. We believe in being proactive with communication and we’ve dedicated some significant resources to that end. However, our two-person Office of Communications is testament to the fact that you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment, or a team of people, to tell your story … you just need to creatively leverage the resources you have to meet your stakeholders on the platforms they use.
We LOVE helping others tell their stories and we’re happy to go into more detail with any other districts about all of the ways we’re communicating our message.