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Communications survey gives direction

April 18, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- Less phone calls, more e-mails and newspaper updates.

A recent communications audit conducted by Hildy Corbett gave the school district some direction in how parents, employees, senior citizens and other community members want to receive information.

Corbett, an independent communications analyst and retired Utica Schools communications director, presented results from the February survey during the school board's April 16 meeting.

"I think the audit was confirming, and also gave direction for improvement," said Superintendent Lorrie McMahon. "We will definitely take what people said about wanting e-mail communications from our buildings and we identified support personnel that don't actively use computers and want more direct communications. We also want to do more e-mail blasts, because it's a popular way for parents to stay informed. I was surprised how many people identified word-of-mouth as their method of learning what is going on in the district. We will try to have more direct communication so people can be assured that what they are hearing is what is really happening."

The district conducted the audit as a step toward improving district communication, one of the district's three goals established in January. Other goals include improving student achievement in all grades and ensuring responsible fiscal stewardship.

The district received 217 responses to the web-based survey. Nearly nine of every ten employees and eight of every 10 parents responding to the survey said they were "very" or "somewhat" well-informed about the district, its programs and services. More than six of every 10 senior citizen and community member respondents said they were very or somewhat well-informed.

Parents and employees both cited "word-of-mouth" as the source from which they most often receive information. Employees also cited e-mail and local newspapers, the latter of which is the primary and preferred source of information cited by both senior citizens and community members who responded to the survey.

According to the communication audit results, "parents expressed concern about the number of automated phone calls they receive, particularly in the evening."

McMahon noted that automated calls are sometimes made to remind people of activities in the district including parent-teacher conferences. She said the number of automated calls may be reduced, but they will continue to send automated calls for unreported student absences.

The majority of respondents to the communications audit cited budget cutbacks and lack of funding as the biggest challenges facing the district. Community members also said lack of discipline in the schools was a problem.

Quality of education was cited by employees, parents, and senior citizens as one of the best things about the school district. Community members most often cited district improvement efforts and buildings in good repair as strengths, and employees also cited district employees as one of the best things about the district.

Based on the audit findings, Corbett made six recommendations, including developing a written communication plan for the district; adopting a communication policy; providing regular updates regarding the district goals; developing a crisis communication plan; developing and maintaining a working relationship with local news media; and providing communication training to employees.

"We will put the plan in place and get ourselves following the plan and after we've given that time to become the norm, we will do another audit and see if we are succeeding in communicating with people as we want to," said McMahon.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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