Post by Tracy Harris Green, Director of Communications and Development, Oldham County Schools
Crisis communication has changed a lot with the popularity of social media and reliance on those sites for breaking news. Twitter is my go-to news source; many people use Facebook for the same. As a school public relations professional, it means I face a quandary during crisis situations: put info out to the whole wide world, or know that as soon as the media are on the story, THEY’LL post it.
For us, it is a case-by-case analysis for which we’ve created a flowchart (happy to share; email me) to help determine if a situation warrants a social media post. We’re still working through hurdles — for instance, say a school is evacuated because the fire alarm is sounding. The cause on one day (well, several) was a malfunctioning ventilation hood in a science lab. On another, it was a bomb threat. Obviously conveying the latter situation was something we needed to do on social media — but the former was not. Finding ways to solidify those distinctions is something we are still working on — and if you have input, please share!
I learned a lot about crisis communication by following several districts during all our winter weather last year. This could be a great topic for a KYSPRA conference, too!
That said, I want to share a link to an update on Facebook algorithms that may shape your decisions in communicating crisis info via social media in the future. Both relate to links on your page that direct users away from Facebook and are designed to improve user experience. This article explains the algorithm changes and what it may mean for us as school public relations professionals.
KSBA Director of Member Support/Communications Services
Meetings of the Kentucky Board of Education are really quite similar to those of local school boards. Adopt agenda. Approve minutes. Public comment. Routine actions. Staff reports. And when a presentation generates a lot of questions from board members, the audience starts to pay attention.
Such was the case at the Aug. 7 KBE meeting. The topic that sparked the state board members’ inquiries is one that local school board members and superintendents should take note of right away.
The issue was the addition of a district finance report card to this year’s release of Unbridled Learning school and district assessment and accountability data. When the report cards go public, the new feature – according to Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and other Kentucky Department of Education staff – is designed to produce greater public discourse about the fiscal decisions local leaders are making. [School Report Cards were made public on October 3, 2014.]
The KBE conversation
What was slated as a 20 minute discussion of the district finance report card took almost twice as long. At least seven KBE members weighed in on the report card and its 20 “data elements,” including average daily attendance, enrollment, fund balances, percentage of personnel salary and benefits compared with total expenditures, and whether the school board voted to take the maximum 4 percent revenue increase not subject to voter recall.
The fact that the report cards will highlight in orange those last two points created much of the KBE members’ exchanges with Holliday and Associate Commissioner Hiren Desai, KDE’s equivalent of a district finance officer.
Desai noted that the new report card information already is on the KDE website. “We’re not providing anything in this which is unknown or necessarily controversial. We think this finance report card will be useful to all constituents in providing transparency in how funding is spent at the district level,” he said.
But KBE Chairman and former superintendent Roger Marcum wondered about the potential for misinterpretation of data because the report card doesn’t let districts add explanations of factors that played in the decision making. Desai acknowledged, “We anticipate that the financial report card will be used by some constituents to misinterpret the data. We can’t eliminate that.”
Several other KBE members joined in with similar issues.
“My concern is that it looks like an audit with no notes and doesn’t give the district a way to explain what is taking place,” said Trevor Bonnstetter. “It seems to me that we’re missing the two-way side of the communication. We’re sending out information and we’re not providing the district an avenue to communicate.”
KBE Vice Chairman Jonathan Parrent added, “I don’t think we want to make any judgments on this. We just want to present the data.”
New KBE members Sam Hinkle and Debbie Cook, both former local school board members, also questioned the lack of an option for districts to provide additional information. But for this year, the report card design is “locked in,” although Desai promised, “This is a living and breathing document.”
To see the full 39 minute discussion (begins at the 1 hour, 18 minute mark), visit the KBE meeting archive here and click on the Kentucky Board of Education August 2014 event.
The Last Word
Holliday told the KBE that the district finance report card was a result of two years of scathing audits by state Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen. “A lot of the public is calling for more transparency,” he said, adding that district staff were taking up “hundreds of hours” asking KDE staff to provide comparative financial information that now will be readily available via the report card.
Holliday called the report card “a trial…that will get better and better.”
For now, superintendents and local board members need to get acquainted with the document and the data. When this report card goes out, the focus won’t be on what teachers taught or students learned. It will be on how local leaders spent taxpayer dollars and whether they can justify those actions.
And that’s a message worth getting out.
A few years ago, while Ramsey was laid off from his welding job, he decided to use his time hiking and exploring Kentucky. A native of Hickman, Kentucky and graduate of Western Kentucky University, he found that more of Kentucky looked like his hometown than cities of Lexington and Louisville. He started sharing photos and posts about his trips on his personal Facebook page, and when he returned to work, continued to explore Kentucky and share posts several days a week.
By Cory Ramsey:
A McDonald’s sausage biscuit is hot and held taut in my right hand, the wrapper folded halfway back around to catch errant crumbs. My left hand grips the steering wheel, thumb pointing back towards the biscuit halves. My right foot rests forward on the accelerator giving gas, but not too much. Hazel eyes point straight. Taste buds busy separating the spices as I chew. An upbeat song is cranked to the pleasure of ears. Perhaps Dire Straits or Creedence. The smell of fresh ground, black coffee in a stainless travel mug snug in the center console. Another day down an outpost off ramp, to the open road. The breakfast of a professional road tripper.
My Grandad was a truck-driver. Air-brakes, CB, good buddy, and all. His handle was “Slow and Easy,” but he said he’d go as fast as the truck would allow. The asphalt came naturally for me I guess. But the back road took some coax. I was driving thirty years somewhere before I actually drove nowhere. One afternoon, sitting at home, two hours to kill and a folding map in front of me on the coffee table. I plotted a scant loop around Bowling Green’s surrounding counties by back road and just went. The sunset kept me from turning it to more before returning home that night smiling. It was a start for seeing Kentucky just because by way of the also rans.
Now it’s become a crusade.
Maps don’t hardly get plopped anymore, so chunks of the state don’t hardly get traveled to. The bulky large pages of an atlas have been replaced by an app we spread apart with our fingers on a tiny screen. Gas station pamphlet-style map folding has become a lost art. Blacksmiths, now map folders all classified archaic. A shame, because that’s where some great Kentucky is found, with research outside the beltloops, throwing imaginary darts to the dots and just going. The crossroads, the country stores, the court squares, the nether regions. Kentuckians are complacent with never leaving their own county or college town. Living here their whole lives and saying in unison “You know, I’ve lived here my whole life (but have never really traveled there).”
I’ve seen what the sausage is made of. A Kentucky more than the noted barrel or horse barns we already know about. Tourism agencies have well done their job there. We’re proud of those things and our exclusive birthrights to them.
But there’s way more in that wrapper.
I’m out to see every single Map Dot. The Common parts of the Commonwealth. The shared wholesomeness of a people glad to get a howdy and a wave from the friendly finger. Twice now the trips have taken me to every county, and to within twenty miles of anywhere called Kentucky. So I’d say you’re in pretty good hands so long as they’re not busy with breakfast. How about you buy your own biscuit and come along with me for a road trip or two. You mind a little Creedence?
Welcome to the rest of Kentucky.