Schools look to enhance communication techniques11/20/08

Nov. 20, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Parents and school officials agree on the importance of clearly communicating concise and correct information within the Williston School District. But the Williston School Board and the Conceptual Frameworks Committee have also determined that communication must improve.

At last Wednesday’s School Board meeting, members of the Frameworks Committee — a group charged with enhancing communication, configuration and house equity — presented its recommendations to improve the school’s communication methods.

The Frameworks Committee began its work in July. The board meeting was the first part of the committee’s report to the School Board.

Mary Jane Shelley, facilitator of the Frameworks Committee, gave an introduction explaining the purpose of the group’s recommendations and how those recommendations came to light.

The final recommendations are a consensus of what committee members felt was most important.

“Not everybody is gung-ho about every single recommendation, but everybody can at least live with it,” said Williston’s Student Services Director Carter Smith, who also serves on the committee.

Shelley explained the committee chose five areas of focus: responses to parent concerns, issues with inconsistent execution, limited communication from the schools to the community, issues with Families as Partners and issues with the district Web site.

The group outlined goals under each area around which it based its recommendations.

Upper house teacher Debra McConnell presented ways to deal with parent concerns.

McConnell said the goals were to have consistent communication protocols set up and to let parents know who to contact with concerns. One recommendation was to hire a “communications officer” who could serve as point person for communications.

The idea of creating a communications position was a theme that ran through the presentation, including goals for improved consistency in communication. Wendy Goodrich, a St. George School Board member and Frameworks Committee member, also said a “point person” would help in this regard.

“Communication was inconsistent on a number of levels,” Goodrich said. “It was hard to know where to get information.”

Smith spoke about improvements in school-community communication, with the idea of spurring interest in school happenings.

“Knowledgeable and informed is one thing, but interested is another,” Smith said. “We need people to get interested.”

Recommendations included more frequent community-wide communication, creation of a sign in front of Williston Central School to highlight events and meetings, formation of more partnerships in the community, and having more dialogue nights and forums.

In the area of Families as Partners — and the group’s advisory council — the committee came up with goals aimed at giving FAP a clearer voice in the school and increasing parent participation. Recommendations were to change meeting times, give the advisory council more influence in school matters, and possibly change the name of FAP.

Committee member Kevin Mara gave the presentation about updates to the district’s Web site and how to make it more of a “home base” for school communication.

“I have a lot of experience in building and designing Web sites, and I have a lot of passion for it,” Mara said.

Mara mentioned the Chittenden South Supervisory Union is already in the process of updating Web sites for all the schools under its jurisdiction, and he’s seen early drafts of Williston’s site. He’s happy with what he’s seen and the recommendations created are to help the Web designers focus on important areas.

Among the recommendations were getting some parents to volunteer with tech support, updating house pages more frequently, making it easier to search the site for information, and putting an administrator in charge of the site.

“We need to keep it up-to-date and current,” Mara said.

Board members and administration officials were enthusiastic about the presentation. School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said the recommendations would be the basis of many future conversations and appreciated members of the committee talking at length.

“It brought it alive,” Worth said.

Worth said after the meeting it was unlikely the board would be able to hire an extra staff member for communication and Web site purposes in this tight budget season, but that someone already employed at the school might be able to undertake some of the responsibilities. She also said the board would have further discussions with the administration on how to best implement recommendations in a cost-effective manner.

Nicki Layman, who has attended many of the committee’s meetings as an audience member, said she’s been encouraged by the group’s work and discussions, but wants to know what will ultimately come of it.

“I’d like to see action,” Layman said. “If nothing is done, it’s going to create an even further rift between the school and the community.”

The Frameworks Committee is expected to return to the board in March or April for further recommendations regarding configuration and house equity.