Schools weighing digitized dialogue

Posted on Friday, April 11, 2014 at 11:21 am

After hearing the need for two-way dialogue between the public and school board, representatives are tossing around new and “old” ideas to receive citizen input.



Mechanicsville District School Board member Glenn T. Millican Jr. urged at a work session last month that the board use more interactive ways to engage with citizens.

“The easier we can make [communication with citizens], the better our system will be,” Millican said in a recent interview.

For the last year, Millican said that he has researched how the board could use various social media platforms, mobile applications and other digital media outlets to reach more citizens.

Through research, he found a free mobile device application that would send “push notifications” of school-related information directly to parents and other stakeholders. Millican said he will continue to read up on all the possibilities and opportunities.

Currently, the board does not use any forms of social media in an official capacity. There is a Facebook page for the school system, but it is not actively used.

Millican would like to assemble a plan to implement the technology in the near future, in addition to hosting recently proposed “Town Hall”-styled meetings.

“It’s nice, but it’s really kind of archaic for busy people that are on the run and want to share thoughts when they have a little down time,” he said, about town halls.

Though Millican said he is not opposed to that form of communication, he believes an online presence and digital communication in this day and age is “ an integral part of any communication program.”

Millican’s idea for a more interactive means of communicating with the public came about in the middle of discussions between board members regarding ways the school board could initiate more conversations with its constituents.

“I think we certainly need to get on board with technology,” said Robert Hundley Jr., chairman and Chickahominy District representative, in an interview.

Hundley said he believes division staff has been looking into the possibility of moving the board to various social media platforms and how that could work.

“We will probably be having that discussion sooner than later,” Hundley said.

Part of figuring out the logistics would also include figuring out who on the school division’s staff would lead the effort.

At the moment, the school board and division staff are working on the details for holding “Town Hall”-style meetings, where the public and board members can discuss and talk about issues or various topics.

One way citizens can already provide input on education issues is by speaking during the school board’s scheduled time for public comment at their monthly regular meetings.

But some individuals have said that there are not enough opportunities for two-way conversations between the board and the public.

“The board meeting is not really established to necessarily foster community engagement as much as it is to deliver information to the public,” Hundley said.

Hundley said that division staff or individual board members take notes on any issues raised by citizens. Then, a school division employee or a board representative will contact those individuals regarding their comments or concerns.

As far as any policy-related concerns, Hundley said the school board discusses those amongst themselves or responds to the issue at another meeting. In some cases, he said individual board members personally contact citizens between the board’s scheduled meeting dates to address the issue or worry.

Community members can also get involved with one of  the district’s “advisory committees” centered on specific topic discussions such as special education, new textbook adoptions and transportation. Hundley said the public would join in on discussions, in the form of a committee, if the board were to adjust school boundaries.

Another opportunity for people to provide input is during the planning process for the school system’s long-range plan. Hundley said the process includes input from roughly 50 to 75 people, including residents, teachers, school officials, administrators and board members.

Citizens can also reach out to their district representatives by phone or email, both of which are listed on the school board’s website.

Sue Dibble, South Anna District board member, said she receives feedback from parents and other stakeholders when she visits schools and attends functions and activities.

“If people have something on their minds, they’ll find you,” she said.

Although Dibble makes her own personal efforts to hear the public’s input, she said she would support any more “formal” ways to do that.

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