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.