Editor's note: This is the fourth in a four-part series on the accessibility of local government meetings. On Thursday, the Aiken Standard looks at Aiken County School Board.
When he was elected to the Aiken County Board of Education in 2006, Vice Chairman Ray Fleming recalls that no more than two board members could be reached through email.
Now, those emails as well as phone numbers are listed on the School District website, which can be found at acps.schoolfusion.us.
In recent years, the School District has emphasized efforts to expand accessibility – not only to administrators and teachers, but to information, said Aiken County Schools Superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt.
“Our website has greatly improved and is easy to navigate for information,” she said. “Since we went to a paperless system, the Board agenda is available on the website, and people don't have to have hard copies.”
Regular School Board meetings are held the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, with the exception of monthly meetings in April and December. People also will be notified of special meetings and, if applicable, a meeting start change. For example, a special meeting is scheduled at the district office, 1000 Brookhaven Drive, on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Agenda information can be obtained with a subscription online through a simple registration on the website at no cost.
In that way, people can receive email with the tag schoolboardnet, usually sent out on the Friday before a board meeting the following Tuesday.
Additional emails will go out whenever the agenda for that meeting has been updated. The agenda itself includes PDFs or PowerPoints of presentations, such as a budget document or an update on a school program.
The website's growth
In the late 1990s, the School District didn't have a website at all, then started one aimed at teachers. Even by 2008, technology specialist Terri Booth said, the online page didn't have any moving parts. Now, it offers hundreds of pages, providing information in myriad ways.
The SchoolFusion address is actually a software program that has provided an extensive upgrade. Its parent firm provides its own content management system, giving teachers and administrators ways to provide information for the public, parents and students, Booth said in an earlier interview.
The front page offers notices on summer school, graduation dates next month and high school award days that start today. On the left side, are links for parents, health services, human resources, technology teachers and much more.
“We've added a new state report card link to the State Department of Education that gives access to all the report cards,” Booth said.
With a portal, parents can do different things online. For some time, they have been able to access PowerSchool, a program that allows them to see their children's grades.
The website also offers school district news and student and teacher achievement efforts.
For several years, the School District has utilized an emergency call system. Parents and school personnel will receive a robo-call for weather issues or school-targeted calls, such as the incidents at Aiken High School and Kennedy Middle School in the past two weeks.
“This fall,” Booth said, “we'll be able to provide texting for parents or others in the community who register. In an incident such as the one at Aiken High, we could send a text letting parents know that everything is OK to calm their fears. Everybody has a phone that can get texts.”
Everitt cited the value of social media sites Facebook and Twitter – another quick way to get information to the public. Pinterest, another online program, provides a way for teachers to post school projects and instructional ideas.
In recent months, Board member Wesley Hightower led a committee of education officials and the public to find new ways the district can communicate with the public – assisted by communication specialist and other personnel.
The project is intended in part to establish positive relationships and credibility between the school district, parents, the public and other stakeholders.