As technology continues to advance, Aiken County School District board members and administrators have worked on improving communication opportunities with parents, other members of the public and their own staffs.
A new committee has been looking for ways to expand communication even further.
“We’ve sort of been criticized that we don’t seem to be very open,” said Board Chair Rosemary English. “This is an effort to show we want to be as transparent as we can.”
The district has revamped its website over the past year, and that tool is a crucial component, said Ken Blackstone, communications director for the Richland County School District 2. He showed committee members his district’s own expanded website, filled with photos and snippets of news updated daily or if necessary, as they happen.
On behalf of the committee, board member Wesley Hightower invited Blackstone to a meeting on Thursday.
“We now have the ability to reach target audiences,” Blackstone said. “While the news media is a valuable part of communications for school districts, we don’t have to depend on them to get out our message.”
Keys for effective communication are acknowledging mistakes quickly, but also correcting errors in statements that come from outside the school district, Blackstone said. Still, some people have negative perceptions about the school system, and administrators need to do research to fully inform the public about the district.
“There are daily miracles that occur in any school all the time, and we don’t tell people about them,” Blackstone said. “You have 3,000 goodwill ambassadors employed in the school district. It’s easy to say and much harder to build that vision, but you can foster a positive work environment.”
Everitt said she appreciates that message.
“There are some things we are doing well and others we need to improve on,” she said.
Board Vice Chairman Ray Fleming was excited that four community members attended the committee meeting after seeing it posted online or through their children’s schools.
Diana Floyd has two children currently in the school system.
“I think a lot of good things are happening in the schools,” she said. “I’m frustrated that the perception from the community is not the same as what I see. Most of the successes are not being recognized. My children have a good experience in the school, and I hope this committee stimulates new ideas on how we can communicate to the community of the good things going on.”
Mark Melton’s wife Jennifer teaches 4-year-old kindergarten at Millbrook Elementary School. He said he was asked by board member Donna Wesby to attend the committee meeting as a representative of her District 8 in Aiken.
“I would agree we need to make sure we’re communicating the positive information,” Melton said, “especially to those who are not parents. They need to hear about the value of supporting the school. We need to provide our kids with good educational opportunities.”
Communication is essential for any public organization, said retired teacher Dr. Marsha Harris, who remains active in monitoring the school system.
“When there are good things happening and challenges, we need to know about them,” she said. “We also need to know how the challenges are being addressed. It’s not just for good public relations. It’s about communicating credibility and developing potential of our students.”