On Fire For Their Future: Madison County Schools

by Erin Stewart, Madison County Schools, KYSPRA President 2013-14
It’s an exciting time to be a part of Madison County Schools! Our academic achievements shine through our designation as a proficient-progressing district. Our commitment to early childhood learning has been strengthened by the implementation of full-day kindergarten across the district. And we’re pressing forward with important facilities improvements that will enhance learning for students.
These achievements are only the beginning of what we have in store for the next decade. As we engage in a strategic planning process to set new goals and initiatives for our district, our mission is to redesign, re-brand and refocus Madison County Schools. It is imperative that we effectively communicate our commitment to providing a first-class education to every student in Madison County.
Last night, more than 150 stakeholders gathered at Glenn Marshall Elementary to help refocus, redesign and rebrand Madison County Schools through a strategic planning process that will develop 40 new initiatives for the district. At the event, Superintendent Elmer Thomas introduced the district’s new logo. We invite you to take a few minutes to listen as he explains the strategic planning process and introduces the new look of the district.
We are very excited about the new look of Madison County Schools, but more excited about being On Fire For Their Future! Thank you for your support.


Crisis Communication in the Digital World

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.

Related post by the National School Public Relations Association: Always, Always Have a Social Media Plan

Communicating Info about Enterovirus and Ebola

The information below is provided by the National Public Engagement Team, and the State and Local Public Engagement Team of the U.S. Department of Education.

The United States has been experiencing a nationwide outbreak of enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) associated with severe respiratory illness that has been especially harmful to children. Citizens may also have questions about the Ebola virus. To address both public health concerns, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) and our federal health partners have a number of informational resources to share with you.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed information and resources for parents about EV-D68. Below are CDC resources about EV-D68 developed for parents:
·      Web Feature, “What Parents Need to Know About Enterovirus D68”
·       Drop-in newsletter article (matte article), “Parents: Learn the Facts about Enterovirus D68”
·       Fact sheet for parents, “What Parents Need to Know about Enterovirus D68”
Ideas to share these resources:
· Work with your schools to share CDC information with parents:
§  Print and send copies of the fact sheet and/or infographic home with children.
§  E-mail parents links to information on the CDC website.
§  Post links to CDC information on schools’ social media accounts.
· Link to the URLs provided in the list above on your parent-facing webpages.
· Share the infographic or Web Feature with parents over social media. Below are some sample tweets or create your own:
§  Parents, CDC addresses your questions & concerns w/ new educational materials about EV-D68. http://1.usa.gov/1o92Sdx
§  Concerned about #enterovirus? Here’s what you need to know about EV-D68 & respiratory illness. http://1.usa.gov/1sC9Jfc 
§  Parents, follow these steps to protect kids, especially those w/ asthma, from EV-D68 & other viruses that cause respiratory illness. http://go.usa.gov/VyzA
·      Syndicate content from the CDC website. CDC encourages organizations to mirror CDC’s web text through content syndication rather than copy text onto their websites. Benefits include immediate and automatic updates whenever any changes are made on the CDC site and ensure all content is consistent and current across the Internet. If you’d like to include EV-D68Web content without having to monitor and copy updates, visit Content Syndication for the free one-time setup instructions. EnterovirusD68 is listed under “Syndication Topics.”
·      Place the text of the matte article on your website or in e-newsletters and other publications you have that reach parents.
·     Work with local child care facilities and organizations in your area to share CDC information with parents:
§  Ask child care centers to place the drop-in article in parent newsletters.
§  Ask child care centers to print and post the fact sheet and/or infographic.
·     Encourage parents and community partners to share the fact sheet with doctor’s offices, clinics, faith communities, and other community settings.
Remember, too, as enterovirus season is expected to taper off, flu activity usually begins to increase in October. While there is not a vaccine to prevent illness from enteroviruses, the single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year. Many resources for parents and others can be found on the CDC flu website. CDC recommends that ALL children 6 months old or older get a flu vaccine.
Finally, we know your communities also may have questions about what schools can do to keep students and adults safe from the Ebola virus. The President has made control of Ebola a top national security priority, and we as a nation have spent more than $100 million fighting this outbreak since the first cases were reported last March in Africa. Our national health system has the capacity and expertise to quickly detect and contain this disease and is working with states and school districts to ensure the safety of our students and school employees. As you likely know, the CDC is continually updating its information on Ebola; information that can be found here: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/index.html.  
Our Department’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students has a number of materials available regarding Readiness and Emergency Management of Schools in crisis situations, and those materials can be found here: http://rems.ed.gov/. One resource at this web link is steps the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) has taken to keep parents and community partners continually updated on the Ebola situation there, including establishing a website: http://www.dallasisd.org/healthupdates.
Additional materials developed by the DISD Communications Team included there are:

Local leaders need to get up to speed on KDE District Finance Report Card

By Brad Hughes
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.

Thanks to Brad Hughes for permission to share this article, originally published in the Get Your Message Out column of the Kentucky School AdvocateOctober 2014.

Social Media and a Professional Road Tripper

Fall Break has finally arrived! Whether I’m traveling or enjoying a stay-cation in BG, fall break is one of my favorite weeks to take a few days off from work. Thinking about the break and traveling, reminds me of my friend Cory Ramsey, a professional road tripper, social media expert, oh and a welder. You may not know him, but he has already visited your county or city and he certainly can teach all of us about building an idea using social media.

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.

In 2013, Ramsey launched Map Dot, Kentucky. You may have heard the country song, Where the Green Grass Grows by Tim McGraw with the lyrics, “I’m from a map dot, a stop sign on a black top.” The Map Dot adventures take Ramsey, and now his team all over small towns and back roads of Kentucky spotlighting the rural, beautiful places not always promoted by tourism and mainstream media. Below is a video piece about Map Dot from WLKY and also an article written by Cory about his adventures. You’ll find more about Map Dot adventures on Facebook.com/MapDotKentucky, Instagram and Twitter @mapdotkentucky (#mymapdot) or www.kentuckymapdot.com. Cory would also welcome the opportunity to speak to students or schools while he’s traveling. You may contact him directly at 270-727-0165.
Happy Fall!
Leslie Peek
KYSPRA President, 2014-15

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.