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Keyword Archives: technology

Podcasts offer exciting opportunities for school districts

November 19, 2015

The surge in the use of mobile devices among all age groups could make podcasts a valuable implement in a school district’s communications toolbox. Podcasts create a unique communications opportunity because of their portability, ease of use and growing popularity. With careful planning and a little creativity, podcasts could become a primary source of information for  your schools to communicate with staff, students, parents and the community.

What is a podcast? Podcasts are audio or video files stored online that may be downloaded by subscribers to their computer, MP3 player (such as an iPod) or smartphone.

According to Pew Research Center, more than one-third of all Americans, ages 12 years or older, have listened to at least one podcast, and researchers say that number is growing.  According to a study by Edison Research, among daily podcast listeners, podcasts occupied 30 percent of their listening time, more than any other audio source.


Posted in Campaigns, Community Outreach, Education, Social Media
Keywords: , , ,

School Districts’ webinars reach out

April 10, 2014

The March 13 webcast looked for all the world — or for the 50 people who logged in — like an unpolished version of Jerry Revish with the news, Chris Bradley bringing you weather and Dom Tiberi on sports.

It didn’t occur at first to Worthington schools Superintendent Thomas Tucker that his online lunch for parents would come across that way. Or that his sport coat was bunching around his neck, something that a television pro would have fixed.

But Tucker is not a television pro. He’s an educator trying to figure out how best to communicate with parents.

So what if his introductions of the district’s treasurer and facilities director weren’t anchorman smooth?

“I don’t care about how I look,” he said. “I’m worried that I’m articulating the best way that I can.”

The Worthington and Hilliard school districts are experimenting with the webinar, a technology that businesses have used for years to get their messages out. The districts use the softer-sounding phrase online lunch.

They are the only public-school systems in central Ohio trying to reach parents this way. According to people familiar with school technology in Ohio, they might be the only districts in the state trying it.

The idea, said Hilliard Superintendent John Marschhausen, is that some parents and community members want to talk to him about education issues, but they can’t find the time to attend the district’s regular in-person meetings. Maybe they can catch an online video chat during their lunch break.

“People want their information in such a variety of different ways,” Marschhausen said.

The basic format has the superintendents sitting, flanked by another staff member or two who can talk about the topic of the day. Anyone with an Internet connection can click a link from the district’s website to see the video feed. They also can type questions.

The participants give some prepared statements and then start answering questions. The March 13 Worthington session was open to general topics, including building security and the district’s financial stability. It was the third webinar the district had tried; the first was last spring.

Hilliard’s first webinar was in 2011, with then-Superintendent Dale McVey, said Amanda Morris, the director of school-community relations and one of the people who came up with the idea. She said the district has seen more interest in the online lunches when they stick to a specific topic.

The March 11 webinar focused on Hilliard’s plan to issue iPad minis to sixth-grade students, and about 50 people participated online. Another 200-plus have watched a recording of the session, Morris said.

Which raises a question: How many people need to log in to a webinar for it to be successful? That 50 in Hilliard is out of a potential audience of thousands. The same is true in Worthington, where 41 people logged in for the March 13 session.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Vicki Gnezda, Worthington’s communications director. “I think it was 11 a year ago.”

Parents in both districts think it’s a good idea, even if they’re not familiar with the details.

“I think there’s been one,” said Laurie Wirt, the president of Worthington Kilbourne High School’s PTO.

Even if she’s not quite right on the number, she said she appreciates the difficulty in reaching large numbers of parents. She has participated in webinars as a lawyer and thinks they can work well.

“It’s hard to figure out what will get through to the most people,” she said.

Mark Harrington, who has four children in Hilliard schools and once worked in technology with the district, likes the casual approach that the superintendent took in the last webinar — Marschhausen had his sleeves rolled up at a table, in contrast to the news-broadcast style in Worthington. Harrington plans to watch the next one, too, in April.

He has a comment, though, if the district wants to reach more people.

“The audio could have been better,” he said.

Posted in Education
Keywords: , ,

Sharpening School Marketing

January 14, 2014

When residents of Macomb County, Mich., tune into Pandora internet radio, they may be surprised to hear ads selling something quite different from landscaping, new cars, or home repair services.

The Fraser Public School District is selling its schools on Pandora this year. The sophisticated, $130,000 ad campaign, which is only .25 percent of the total budget, uses internet, TV, print ads, and educational websites to court parents who live in neighboring districts. Although Fraser isn’t the first district to advertise, they are going about it in an ambitious and creative way.

Fraser operates in a state that suffered deep repercussions from the recent recession, including the restructuring of the auto industry, a loss of more than 850,000 jobs, and decreased income levels.

“During trying economic times, many school districts are forced to balance their budgets by cutting programs and reducing staff, and communications and marketing efforts often fall by the wayside,” says Joel Gagne, owner of Allerton Hill Consulting, LLC, a provider of marketing advice to schools. “If they want new students, public schools now find themselves having to go out and get them.”

In 2008, Fraser decided to aggressively inform the community about the benefits to students of a host of programs it was redesigning for learning in the 21st century. Fraser created a blended environment, allowing designated high school students to spend half their learning time in classrooms and half working online from home or the school media center.

The district also developed a dual-enrollment program, enabling students to take college-credit courses taught by Fraser teachers. Finally, the learning day was extended by giving an iPad to each student in third grade and above.

A taste of the commercials

Fraser School District officials created a few enrollment ads to entice students. They aired during last summer’s enrollment campaign and were used in broadcast and cable spots, as well as on digital ads.

As a result, Fraser was able to increase enrollment during the state’s economic downfall and is now continuing to cash in on school choice, which allows parents to send their children to other districts if they can provide their own transportation. Close to one-third of Fraser’s students come from other districts, having chosen it over their local schools.

Stemming a decline

David Richards, Fraser’s superintendent, is amazed at the degree of change he’s seen in school communications and outreach in the past 20 years. When he was a teacher and high school principal, he says, “communicating meant sending home newsletters and memos with the kids.”

In 2010, Richards took over as superintendent of Fraser’s four-square-mile, middle-income suburban district. He oversees nine schools and about 5,400 students, with about 1,700 coming through Schools of Choice, Michigan’s voluntary interdistrict program. Forty-five percent of all Fraser students receive free or reduced-price meals.

All of Macomb County’s 21 school districts participate in the interdistrict school choice program. Back in 2006, Fraser’s enrollment peaked at 5,088. However, over the next two years the population declined, and enrollment decreased to 4,845. The board of education was forced to consider closing a school.

“Community parents asked that we share the advantages of our schools to try to increase enrollment, so my predecessor started a marketing campaign in 2008,” Richards says.

And Fraser’s marketing is right on the mark, Richards says. “Our enrollment has increased every year since 2008, and most importantly, we’ve seen a very positive improvement in community support. Many applications are stimulated by referrals from family and friends.”

Competition for students is fierce

The first public school open enrollment program was introduced in Minnesota in 1988, and today, according to the Education Commission of the States, 36 states have voluntary interdistrict school choice programs. These programs give students opportunities to enroll in schools and/or districts outside of their neighborhoods. Studies show that students tend to move to districts with lower levels of poverty, higher median family income, and higher-than-average standardized test scores.

In Michigan, the program is voluntary, allowing district officials to decide whether or not they will accept students who live outside their districts. The Michigan Department of Education reports that during the 2011-12 school year, about half of the 545 districts participated, with about 100,000 students attending schools outside their home districts. Over the past 10 years, the state has seen a nearly 150 percent participation rate increase.

David Arsen, an economist and professor of educational administration at Michigan State University, has done extensive research on school choice. Arsen asserts that the growing trend for district advertising is a direct result of Michigan’s extremely competitive market for K12 education.

In Michigan and in most states, school funding is tied exclusively to the number of pupils enrolled, so many districts look at interdistrict choice as a way to increase revenues, Arsen says. Every year, the Michigan legislature decides how much revenue a district will receive per pupil.

Telling the tale

During Richards’ four years as Fraser superintendent, the district’s marketing has morphed from traditional to targeted. “In the beginning, we only used newsletters, ads in local papers, and billboards,” he says. “Since that time, we’ve expanded our campaign to focus on ‘smart marketing.’” Fraser now has a full-time community relations manager, Nicole Malak, who seeks advice and support from outside marketing experts, such as Sussman Sikes and Associates, and advertising managers at metro-Detroit TV stations.

“Smart marketing” means using sophisticated communications channels to reach targeted audiences, Malak says. For the past two years, Fraser has reallocated a large portion of its marketing funds from print to digital marketing, with the highest frequency of advertising occurring during the school enrollment period in July and August.

For example, Malak chose Pandora because it allows an advertiser to decide who views its message based on zip code. Fraser targets zip codes from its own and surrounding districts. When an ad displays on Pandora, viewers who click on it will be taken to Tracking the number of clicks allows Malak to evaluate each ad’s effectiveness.

In a state like Michigan where school choice is prevalent, parents with school-age children are likely to see ads for a variety of districts. If they seek information on educational or regional websites, such as or, they’ll also see ads for the Fraser district schools.

Many of Fraser’s teachers and administrators share information about the district’s programs on Twitter. Even the print ads take advantage of the digital connection. One ad carries an embedded QR-code, allowing readers to use a smartphone to access Fraser’s digital content, including videos. The videos, which vary from 30 seconds to 15 minutes, were created by Detroit’s Velocity Cow commercial, video and branding production company, and feature unscripted students, teachers, and parents discussing why they like school programs.

More traditional channels are employed in very targeted ways. Malak works with the latest Nielsen ratings and Scarborough data to target women with children who are in their home, placing ads on top womens’ television shows in the market, such as “The Ellen Show” and the “The Today Show” and on cable networks, including ABC Family, TLC and Lifetime. Mothers are considered to be the key decision-makers in choosing schools for their children.

The ads have a benefit beyond increased enrollment, Richards says. “More people in the community are aware of the good things we’re doing,” he says. “Whenever we get out and talk about a new initiative, we get a lot of positive support.”

Zero-sum game

One consequence of public school marketing and shifts in enrollment is an increase in competition between districts. “Superintendents understand the reality of the setting, and they know who is eating whose lunch,” Arsen says. “They didn’t set the rules, but the rules force them to think in a more competitive way. They have to protect their programs.”

Visitors to the metropolitan Detroit area will notice school districts there have increased their focus on attracting out-of-district students. Billboards, newspaper ads, and radio spots extoll the virtues of districts. When the school year begins, principals knock on doors in their neighborhoods, and Detroit schools have offered gift cards to students who enroll. “Competition for students has led to the necessity of advertising your district’s virtues,” Arsen says.

But it is still highly unusual for a district to advertise to the extent that Fraser does, says Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA. “Marketing for students is undoubtedly due to the economic pressures school districts are facing,” he says.

Oxford Community Schools—a middle-to-upper-middle-class rural and suburban area in northern Oakland County, Mich.—is another district that aggressively markets its academic programs. Superintendent William Skilling agrees with Arsen that school choice fuels competition. “Unfortunately, school enrollment is now a zero-sum game,” says Skilling. “My gain is another district’s loss. Many of my colleagues don’t like it.”

Richards shares this concern. “There’s a finite number of students, so interdistrict enrollment has an impact that is both positive and negative. If one district’s enrollment is growing, then another district’s enrollment is going down.”

So far, Richards and Skilling have been able to accommodate the students who want to enroll.

“Eventually, we’ll hit a point where we can’t continue to do that,” says Skilling. “And the system is designed so that if you aren’t growing, you are losing revenue.”

Matter of intensity

Does competition for students lead to improvements in the academic programs of districts that are losing students?

“It is a matter of intensity,” says Arsen. “If you’re losing 5 percent of your students, you are getting a signal that you need to make adjustments in your programs and can alter what you provide in your schools. But if you lose one-third of your students and revenue over a few years, that’s a downward spiral of a magnitude that is difficult to reverse.”

In such a competitive environment, schools cannot afford to be complacent. In Michigan today, schools are quite proactive and attentive to parents, more so than they were before school choice became a statewide option, Arsen says.

In the Fraser district, it appears the proactive stance will continue. for years to come “We invest a large amount of money in our marketing, and we take that very seriously,” says Richards. “So far, our board of education views it as a good investment, given the students we’ve gained, the exposure within the community, and the additional families buying homes in our district.”

And Richards concludes, “We’ve never spent more money than we’ve brought in with new students.”

 Read the Full Article on »

Posted in Education
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New Technology Helps Schools to Communicate With Their Community

September 16, 2013

As technology changes how we work and live, school districts find themselves in the position of choosing what, if any, new technology will a. help their students learn more easily and b. help them communicate more effectively with their public. It is very difficult now to find a school district anywhere in the US that hasn’t made technology an integral part of their strategy for classroom learning and communicating to their public. Districts are asking themselves, is an iPad a luxury item or is it a tool that can help students of all skills sets learn?

 Read the Rest of This Article by Allerton Hill's Joel Gagne on Huffington Post »

Posted in Campaigns, Community Outreach
Keywords: ,

Public Schools Must Embrace Social Media

July 23, 2013

The disrupted digital status quo introduces compelling new opportunities for schools. Central to the ongoing digital revolution of the past two decades is a clear lesson. Those willing to embrace an evolving digital landscape thrive; entities that refuse to engage collect dust. The need for schools and school districts to be amenable to adopting the new channels of communication could not be overemphasized.

 Read the Rest of This Article by Allerton Hill's Joel Gagne on Huffington Post »

Posted in Community Outreach, Education, Social Media
Keywords: , In school crises, technology a lifeline for parents

June 14, 2013

Twelve of the 13 UW campuses use text alerts, but at most schools, less than half of the campus population is signed up for them.

When a fugitive wanted by the FBI was spotted in the Madison area May 2, the Verona Area School District went into lockdown for more than two hours.

But many parents were unaware of the lockdown and of a manhunt launched by authorities. Text and email alerts were sent, but most parents of the district’s 5,000 students were not signed up to receive them.

In response to complaints from parents, Verona Superintendent Dean Gorrell pledged to start automatically signing up parents for text messages and other emergency communications when they register their students next fall.

“Timing is everything,” Gorrell said. “You don’t have those kind of emergency situations come up very often and when you do you’d like to be able to reach people.”

School officials use multiple approaches to notify parents, including emails and voice calls. Texting is the quickest method for some parents, but this option is not in widespread use.

Of the 10 largest school districts in Wisconsin, none automatically enrolls parents in text messages — as Verona, a smaller district, plans to do. But four of them allow parents to sign up for them by entering their cell phone number online.

Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, says schools need to be able to communicate rapidly with parents in emergencies. Photo courtesy Ken Trump.

Even when parents can sign up for text alerts, many do not. In Milwaukee, the largest district in the state with more than 78,000 students, the text message system has only 4,300 subscribers.
When something bad happens at school, news travels fast. Cell phone pictures, texts and tweets emanate from the site and find their way to parents.With parents increasingly plugged in with smartphones and laptops, schools are under pressure to use new technology to stay in touch with parents.

“With students and parents texting, information and misinformation gets out very rapidly,” said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm. “Rumors that used to take hours and days to get out take seconds and minutes.”

By being the first to reach parents, Trump said, schools can mitigate panic and help avoid overloaded phone lines and packed parking lots.

“We’re in an information-now generation,” Trump said. “Schools will always be behind the curve on whatever information is out in the school community but they need to cut that gap.”

To this end, some Wisconsin schools are seeking to improve their ability to communicate with parents.

For instance, the Racine Unified School District recently updated its emergency communication system, adding the ability to send district-wide text messages.

“Parents expect to be notified ASAP, so we had to update our system so the message could go out more quickly,” said district spokeswoman Stacy Tapp.


Getting the word out

Besides texts, many school districts also use recorded voice calls, emails, website postings and social media to get out messages. Experts say the key is redundancy — the more channels, the more likely someone will get the message.

“If you want to get an emergency message out, you better use all available means,” said Ellen Miller, a former television journalist who now works as a consultant with National School Safety and Security Services.

“Parents hate hearing something from the media that their own school failed to tell them about,” Miller said.

In the Eau Claire Area School District, administrative assistant Patti Iverson said the district relies on the media, emails and phone calls to communicate with parents. She has not heard any complaints.

As for texting, she said, “We have looked into it and at this time, it was not in our opinion cost-effective to do that.”

One of the most popular companies that provides schools with emergency communication platforms is SchoolMessenger. More than 200 of the 445 school districts in Wisconsin use SchoolMessenger, according to the company.

SchoolMessenger systems cost $1 to $4 per student per year, and they all provide the capability for texting, according to Nate Brogan, vice president of marketing for SchoolMessenger.

The Janesville School District has the capacity to send texts through its AlertNow system, but spokesman Brett Berg said it is not operable. In order to use it, he said the district would need to find a way to separate cell phone numbers from landlines in the system.

This year, the Kenosha Unified School District launched a text message system through a free service, Celly, and so far has 430 people signed up, according to district spokeswoman Tanya Ruder. The district has about 23,000 students.

The Madison School District requires parents to provide at least one emergency phone number for its recorded voice message notification system. Parents can also request emails and texts. The system has about 4,500 numbers for texts, and 20,000 for voice calls, spokeswoman Marcia Standiford said.

The district recently surveyed parents about the system. One of the questions was whether parents would prefer to be automatically enrolled in texts. Results are now being tabulated.

The trouble with waiting

The Green Bay Area Public School District uses SchoolMessenger, but has not used the program’s texting feature because of the potential cost to parents under their cell phone plans, district spokeswoman Amanda Brooker said.

Brooker said the district hopes to start providing text messages next year if it can find a way to allow parents to choose to sign up for them, rather than automatically enrolling them.

“Sixty percent of the students in our district have free and reduced lunch, so we have to be cognizant of that cost,” Brooker said. “I think parents were just so happy that we started using SchoolMessenger this year.”

Before this year, the district could not do voice calls and rarely used emails. Its standard for communication was to send students home with a letter, translated into different languages, sealed in envelopes, said Barbara Dorff, the district’s executive director of pupil services.

Even if the district had the ability to text, Dorff said, it might wait until an emergency situation is resolved to notify parents. This could prevent something she’s seen before: parents flocking to the school and making the situation worse.

Her message to parents: “We will take care of your child before we take care of you, and you should take comfort in that.”

But Miller said schools may no longer have the luxury of waiting to tell parents about an ongoing situation.

“The problem with doing that is a neighbor across the street is going to see a police car outside the school,” she said. “And if they scoop you on Twitter, you’ve lost the trust of the community.”

 Read the Full Article on »

Posted in Community Outreach, Education
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