Doing more with less is a beautiful concept. It allows you to simplify processes, be more productive, and use resources most effectively. For schools especially, the notion of doing more with less should be particularly appealing given stretched budgets, sparse staff, and ever-increasing to-do lists.
To-do lists nowadays include so much more than the everyday tasks that take place within your school walls. In order to be successful, engage parents, rally staff, and connect to the community, your school communication is essential. And communication itself is a long to-do list of school marketing, public relations, social media, keeping your school website updated, community outreach, internal communications… we could go on, but with staff time maxed and budgets running tight, we don’t want to stress you out.
Let me tell you how our friends at Ridgefield Public Schools (RPS) are managing their to-do list all while saving staff time and staying within their budget.
Increasing Community Support & Involvement
Last year, RPS came to School Webmasters inquiring about a website redesign for their district and school websites. Schools often come to us expecting to find a content management system (CMS) and hosting for their websites; little do they realize we are so much more. Because our services focus on service rather than on a CMS, we strive to understand the underlying goals for school website design projects.
The Ridgefield community has many wonderful, involved residents, and RPS recognized that their district and school websites played a key role in keeping people informed. Beyond their website, however, they had a much bigger goal—to increase community support and involvement by improving the understanding and visibility of their district mission and values.
That is an impressive goal—and one that goes far beyond website design. To achieve this goal, Ridgefield had several tasks on their to-do list:
- Redesign their websites and then keep them updated
- Establish and maintain a social media presence
- Hire a district communications person
Easier said than done. You know as well as we do how daunting these tasks can be. Keeping the district and school sites up to date and maintaining a social media presence alone are time-intensive tasks that can take a toll on your already thinly-stretched staff. As the school year rolls on, other priorities take precedence over “secondary” tasks like updating the district Facebook page, and what started with good intentions can soon fall by the wayside. That’s why RPS planned to hire a full-time communications person, a salary for whom would take large chunk of their budget for these projects.
Would you believe that RPS was able to employ a school webmaster and hire a social media consultant as well as a communications coordinator all for less than they allotted just to hire a communications person? They did.
Let’s look at what RPS is doing to improve the understanding and visibility of their district mission and values and thereby increase community support and involvement.
RPS employs a local communications coordinator. The coordinator is in the trenches at the district and at the schools facilitating the flow of valuable, current information to RPS’ stakeholders. This consistent flow of school communication and news to the community makes Ridgefield Public Schools more transparent. Because they have a communication coordinator, the district can provide information to the community, respond to public concern, and share their story in their voice.
Ridgefield’s communications coordinator is helping the district and schools tell their stories by providing insights into classrooms and generating visual stories (taking pictures). She is also helping the community become acquainted with the district staff—who they are, what their credentials are, and what their tasks and goals are. She is able to assist in providing up-to-date information for the websites, meaningful posts for social media, and engaging stories about the great things going on at RPS. But her reach goes beyond Ridgefield’s “information seeking publics” (that is, people subscribed to their newsletter, already checking their websites, and connected on school social media).
In terms of PR and school marketing, having a dedicated communications coordinator is crucial to “information processing publics” (taxpayers, residents without enrolled students, and stakeholders not actively seeking information about the school district but who will process information that comes across their path). Ridgefield’s communications coordinator has established relationships with the local press who in turn help circulate RPS messages to this greater community.
The biggest benefit of having a local, engaged school communications coordinator is the insight she has to the community. For example, the communications coordinator has been able to orchestrate an event at the local Founder’s Hall, in which the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent and director of technology and operations for RPS will give a seminar on 21st Century education.
Increasing community support and involvement is an ongoing, ever-changing job. It changes with every event, every new budget, and every new situation, which is why communication tools like the school website and social media also play a key role in Ridgefield’s story.
Social Media Management
Social media for schools, when done right and done consistently, is a huge asset to schools like RPS who want to increase the understanding and visibility of their mission and goals; it’s also a huge time-suck. Facebook algorithms make unstrategic posts less visible. Twitter recommends at least two posts, 5–7 days a week, for any kind of impact. And Pinterest? Very few schools are able to utilize Pinterest to it’s potential.
Together with School Webmasters’ social media for schools services, Ridgefield Public Schools maintains a strategic, meaningful social media presence. Our social media team creates a communication calendar that parallels the school’s yearly calendar. On behalf of RPS, we post reminders for parents about early releases, parent-teacher conferences, important dates to remember, and events. In addition, the district team posts additional information, such as board of education meeting times and other events to keep the community informed and involved. The district has even held several Facebook Live sessions to discuss important “hot” topics, like their 1:1 Chromebook initiative.
Not only are they increasing the visibility of their district in their community, but they are increasing the visibility of their messages, which, in turn, increases the opportunity for engagement and participation. School social media engagement goes a long way to making parents’ jobs easier. And when a school helps its parents, it’s bound to earn their trust and respect.
Website Design & Management
To increase community support and involvement, you must have a strong base camp for information—your school websites. The website is often the first place anyone will look when seeking information about your district or school. Every school website design project should go beyond just developing a “new look” for your school’s online presence.
Dr. Miller, the director of technology and operations development at RPS, explained, “Communication is important to our work, and the newly redesigned websites symbolize the efforts and systems we have put in place to ensure a more transparent and meaningful web presence is available for our Ridgefield community.”
It’s clear from the website’s organization and navigation that RPS wants its community to be informed and involved. RPS took its key stakeholders and their needs into account when they added a quick links sidebar and scrolling news. Not only do their websites have a fresh, contemporary look, but they are organized in such a way that their mission and values are clear and visible.
But a website is not a novel to be written, edited, published, and never changed; websites need constant, current updating. Together with the School Webmasters team, the information available on the RPS website is immediate and up to date. RPS makes sure its website is current with board of education updates, current and informative news articles, and district and school event information.
The best part is, it doesn’t take any time away from their staff members; updating their website is as easy as sending an e-mail, and our team of updaters takes care of the rest. Because we use a trained group of website updaters, RPS never has to worry about its website becoming convoluted and unintuitive. We take care of website accessibility, intuitive content and navigation, and keeping the design looking clean and organized. As one of its main school marketing tools, RPS’ websites are a solid reflection of their school brand, and their content is consistent and professional and adheres to a style guide.
What Can Your School Do?
Ridgefield has beautiful, customer-friendly websites for their schools and district. They have a team of website updaters to keep communications up to date, responsive, and intuitive. They have a social media team working behind the scenes to increase visibility and engagement with their messages. And they have a local communications coordinator to strategically plan and keep communications flowing to their community. Ridgefield is doing an excellent job at reaching its goals. But what can your school do?
There are a lot of options out there to help schools meet their goals and work with available budgetary and staff resources. We hope your first course of action is to come to us and let us help you find solutions that fit within your resources. But here are some other available resources to assist your school marketing, PR, and communication goals:
- Communications person not in your budget? Here are a few do-it-yourself options:
- Don’t have a team for social media? Here are a few guides to help you do it yourself:
- #Social4Schools eBook
- Information on how to schedule Facebook posts
- Information on how to schedule Twitter posts (Note: Don’t click the “get started” link, that will take you to Twitter ads. Tweet scheduling only appears after entering a credit card to your account; although it’s important to note that there is no spending required when you add a credit card to schedule Tweets.)
- Need some help with your website? Here are a few guides to help you:
Katie Brooks, Public Relations Specialist