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Market got you worried? Invest in your schools’ message

Market got you worried?  Invest in your schools’ message In the same August week during which the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 698 points, anyone with assets in the market – from mutual funds to retirement accounts – was looking for anything positive about investments. Anything positive. On any kind of investment.

So I took heart when the Christian County and Hopkins County school systems announced that they were investing in getting their messages out by hiring two new communications managers.

A stretch, you say? Not a bit. I’ve been through enough market ups and downs to understand that those who lose frequently are the ones who panic and cash in. Those with carefully planned investments take the long view and don’t overreact.
Brad Hughes
KSBA Member
Support Services Director

My bread and butter comes from working with educators who have stories that parents and others should know about. So when two school boards and superintendents commit a slice of their limited resources to reaching out with their messages, I see that as a sign of leaders who understand that staying connected is a vital investment in the success of their districts.

After listening to superintendents at several recent regional education co-op meetings, it’s clear to me that a sustained investment in district communications is vital for the 2011-12 school year and beyond. Those district CEOs had public awareness on their minds when they spoke of:

• Newly calculated high school graduation rates – most of which declined

• Expected midyear cuts in non-SEEK state funds and the related local decisions to follow

• Funding uncertainties as the 2012 General Assembly budget-writing session approaches

• New tests in a new state accountability system – so new that questions outnumber answers

And leaders in every central office across the state await word if Kentucky’s waiver request from No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress targets will be granted… or if districts will have to educate parents next spring about dueling yardsticks – one state, one federal – for their children’s schools.

School leaders have no choice but to invest themselves in more effective communications in the coming months.

Everyone is a resource, all have roles

School boards and superintendents, with or without a public affairs staffer to do the grunt work, have their work cut out for them this year when it comes to keeping the home folks in the loop.

This fall, if school leaders set tax rates that represent any option other than a reduction, they should be ready with a sound set of talking points, not just on why they need more resources, but also what they’ve accomplished with the cash they’ve already been given.

In January, when legislators and the next governor start making spending decisions, they’d better be hearing from association members – the ones who live and vote in their districts – not just from their association lobbyists.

Next spring, when parents are reading news stories about results of the new state tests, most of them won’t understand what the numbers mean unless educators – including educated school board members – are out there doing a whole lot of explaining: at board and council meetings and civic clubs, newspaper and newsletter articles, during chats with friends and wherever they can create an opportunity.

In each case, Kentucky’s local education leaders will be called on to make an investment of a most precious commodity: time.

Invest your time in a clear set of reasons why taxpayers who don’t have children in your schools should accept, if not champion, the tax rate necessary to keep your schools and students progressing.

Invest your time in frequent contacts with your state representatives and senators before and throughout the 2012 General Assembly when they consider bills that will advance or stymie classroom learning.

Invest your time in comprehending what results of the new tests will mean, and then grasp the good news and that which needs to get better. And when the numbers are released publicly, help your communities see not just where Frankfort says your district and schools need to be headed, but also how you’re going to get them there.

The Last Word

Recently, Simpson County Schools Superintendent Jim Flynn penned a back-to-school column entitled “We need community to engage in the education process.”

“We are continuously striving to improve our school system on behalf of our students and community. In order to make continuous progress, we need our community to be interested and engaged in our schools. Therefore, I am inviting you to join our mission of successfully educating every child in Simpson County Schools.”

It seems to me that Flynn has his sights set on greater investments in school throughout his community.

That also seems like a message worth getting out.
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