A&q lft... THE LEADER IN SCHOOL COMMUNICATIONS ` Communications Audit Report. Baltimore County Public Schools

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1 Communications Audit Report Conducted by the National School Public Relations Association for the Baltimore County Public Schools Towson, Maryland February 2002 A&q lft... THE LEADER IN SCHOOL COMMUNICATIONS ` National School Public Relations Association Derwood Road, Rockville MD /

2 Table of Contents Introduction Perceptions offocus Groups Observations and Recommendations Appendix

3 Introduction Superintendent Joe Hairston and members ofthe Board of Education are committed to improving communication within the Baltimore County Public Schools and with residents. This audit was contracted for, approved and supported by the Board and superintendent as part of a commitment to increase communication both within and outside the organization. It clearly demonstrates their willingness to risk change in order to improve educational opportunities for Baltimore County Public Schools students. The challenges of building and maintaining public and community engagement, dealing with growing enrollments and inadequate funding, and communicating effectively with all segments of the community affect not only the school district but the community as well. Throughout the focus group sessions with a variety of school employees and community representatives, it was obvious to the consultants that there is a solid base of support for and pride in the school district. The goal of this communication audit was to seek facts as well as perceptions, and from these to propose recommendations that could ensure improved management of public relations, greater parent and community involvement, and enhanced two-way communication between the internal and external publics of the Baltimore County Public Schools. The observations and recommendations included in this report should be reviewed carefully. Whether they pertain to the work of the district's Office of Communications or any other unit, they are intended to improve communication in a school district that is poised and committed to facing the challenges of education in the 21 st century. NSPRA Communication Audit 1 Baltimore County Public Schools

4 Processes and Procedures A communication audit conducted by the National School Public Relations Association enables a school district or agency to view its communications from an "outside" perspective. The audit is performed by seasoned communications professionals who have many years of experience in educational public relations/communications. The first step in an NSPRA communication audit occurs when the district sends the consultants samples of its communications policies, newsletters, booklets, news clippings, demographic data, etc. These are carefully examined from a reader's perspective, to see what they are communicating and whether that communication is as good as it could be. A major segment of the audit occurs when the consultants conduct on-site focus group sessions to hear from many segments ofthe district's internal and external audiences. In our audit ofthe Baltimore County Public Schools, the consultants met with 24 groups and conducted individual telephone interviews with two Board members. The consultants for this communication audit were Karen H. Kleinz, APR, Associate Executive Director of the National School Public Relations Association, and Kenneth K. Muir, Ed.D., APR. Ms. Kleinz has more than 18 years of experience in public relations in several school districts, and Dr. Muir is a former president of the National School Public Relations Association, and for 20 years was director of information for the Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools. As a result of our review of district materials and focus group discussions, the consultants prepared recommendations which we believe can help the district improve its public relations and communication practices. The final report was reviewed carefully by NSPRA Executive Director Richard D. Bagin, APR. Findings in this report reflect our review of many district documents and the perceptions of participants who met with the consultants in focus groups on Wednesday and Thursday, November 28-29, These perceptions were based on answers to a series of questions the consultants posed to each group. NSPRA Communication Audit 2 Baltimore County Public Schools

5 Guiding Definition Since 1935, the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) has worked with school districts, state and national education organizations and agencies to advance the cause of education through responsible public relations, information and communication practices. In doing so, NSPRA uses the following definition as a foundation for all educational public relations programs : Educational public relations is a planned, systematic management function, designed to help improve the programs and services of an educational organization. It relies on a comprehensive, two-way communication process involving both internal and external publics with the goal of stimulating better understanding of the role, objectives, accomplishments and needs ofthe organization. Educational public relations programs assist in interpreting public attitudes, identify and help shape policies and procedures in the public interest, and carry on involvement and information activities which earn public understanding and support. Assumptions It is assumed that school districts undertake communication audits because they are committed to improving their public relations/communication programs. It is also assumed that they wish to view the district and its work through the perceptions of others, and that they would not enter into an audit unless they were comfortable in doing so. However, some caution should be observed regarding the nature of such a review. Whenever opinions are solicited about an institution and its work, there is a tendency to dwell on perceived problem areas. This is natural and, indeed, is one of the objectives of an audit. Improvement is impossible unless there is information on what may need to be changed. NSPRA Communication Audit 3 Baltimore County Public Schools

6 Parameters of the Audit It is difficult to measure public relations. However, individual elements can be assessed. It can be determined whether specific program goals and objectives have been met. The real measure of success for any program, however-including a public rela tions/communication program-is to determine whether it is helping the organization work toward its stated mission. Accordingly, in developing the recommendations, the consultants reviewed the perceptions of the focus groups and resource materials in light of the district's vision, mission, beliefs and goals. Resource Materials Before the consultants' on-site visit, a comprehensive collection of school district and community materials was sent by the Office of Communications for our review. These included : " District policies regarding Community Relations " Organizational charts (district and departments) " Spring 2000 Parent Involvement Survey " 1997 Review ofthe School System's Strategic Communication Plan " Blueprintfor Progress: Realizing the Vision booklet " Conceptual framework for developing a Strategic Communications Plan School-Based Management Guide for School Improvement Teams and School Administrators " Overview of General Fund FY02 Budget and Communications budget " Excerpt on public information and communication from MGT of America report on school system organization and management " Baltimore County Public School System Feedback Report 2000 on Baldrige Assessment " Miscellaneous newspaper clippings Media Tips for April 21-27, 2001 " Sample recognition letters and ceremony programs " Sample news releases " Sample Superintendent's Bulletin " Sample Emergent Bulletin " ParentAGuardian Rights, Expectations & Responsibilities brochure NSPRA Communication Audit 4 Baltimore County Public Schools

7 " Communicating with the Board ofeducation brochure " Various issues of The Retiree Review " Various issues ofstaffexchange " BCPS School Information Calendar & Annual Report " Student Handbook " June 2001 issue of Equity andassurance Newsbrief " School & Office Personnel Directory " Confidential Personnel Directory " Welcome to the Baltimore County Public Schools information folder " School Directory " Crossroads : A Multicultural Guidebook " Samples ofbuilding-level newsletters " List of administrators' interpersonal communication activities " News media list " Sample Board ofeducation agenda " Press Release Writing 101 workshop materials " Basic PR Workshop materials " Miscellaneous PR tip sheets and articles " Information on School-Business Partnerships " BCPS Magnet Programs brochure " Volunteer Baltimore County Pitching In For Progress October 1999 activities " United Way information " Kid Helping Hopkins Child to Child brochure " Shared use agreements with community agencies " Emergency Procedures and Safety Manual " Emergency Procedures guide " Job descriptions for Communications Office personnel NSPRA Communication Audit 5 Baltimore County Public Schools

8 NSPRA Communication Audit 6 Baltimore County Public Schools

9 Perceptions of the Focus Groups The following is an overview of perceptions identified by the consultants in the focus group sessions held during the on-site visit. This section is not a verbatim report ofresponses to the consultants' questions. Rather, it contains comments that appear to identify significant beliefs, concerns and suggestions ofparticipants. Many ofthese comments led to recommendations in this communication audit report. Other comments may be helpful to the school board and superintendent in addressing staff and community concerns in other areas. Group : Central Office Secretaries This group reported that the district has high standards and holds students accountable for good work. Implementing and upgrading technology was another strength, as well as magnet programs, outstanding athletics, and good student support. From a more personal point of view, they also listed the number of paid holidays and flexible work hours. When asked, "What is your best source of news and information about the district?" this group mentioned the Superintendent's Bulletin, the news folder on the Outlook system, and StaffExchange, although some noted that the newsletter is not distributed to all office units. Most said they receive communication mainly through , although some felt that the system's server was not too reliable. The majority of participants in this group said they rarely watched the district's cable television channel (Channel 73), and complained that many parents hear about early closings or other weather-related changes on radio or television before employees are notified internally. This group felt that was adequate for routine communication, but urged activating and expanding the telephone tree to central office units for emergency communication. Some questioned the need to have two different telephone directories, NSPRA Communication Audit 7 Baltimore County Public Schools

10 and some noted that the more complete directory, which indicates office personnel responsibilities, is not distributed to all central office staff. When asked to grade the district on its "customer service," this group gave it a B+. Some noted that the superintendent has directed that "voice mail is not to be used by offices" in lieu of answering telephones in person, and that the professional development unit has sponsored customer service training (Fred Pryor) for professional, but not clerical staff. Asked to name one thing that the district could do to improve communication immediately, group members answered more cable access to Channel 73, enhancing the role and services of the Office of Communications (including 2417 phone answering), and better sharing of the Superintendent's Bulletin with staffwho don't receive an copy. Some felt that newspaper coverage of the schools is biased, and focuses primarily on bad news. Some felt the StaffExchange mostly covers old news and "fluff." Group : Assistant Principals This group felt that the district's strengths include safe schools ; extracurricular activities ; good technology that is growing ; a highly-educated staff, the Blueprintfor Progress; clear expectations for students ; and good countywide student handbooks. This group's best sources of news and information include : The Sun ; each other; the Superintendent's Bulletin ; ; weekly school bulletins ; Board minutes ; and the summary of Board meetings on Channel 73. Some felt that the Superintendent's Bulletin is intended to clarify information, but that ing it only to principals and secretaries for copying and distribution to staff causes it to be a spotty source. "Send it to everyone," one person said. Another noted that the Bulletin's distribution by on Friday afternoon is not the best timing for school-based staff. Some barriers to good communication that were noted by this group include the need for more training on how to use the Outlook system, and central office units that overuse answering machines and don't respond to calls for two to three days. Some said they arrive at school at 7:00 to 7 :30 a.m. and can't get any response from central office units until 9 :00 a.m. ; others noted that some memos are dated seven to 10 days prior to their receipt. They complimented the district on its new Internet home page, including news messages, but also said the telephone tree was still preferred for emergency messages. This group gave schools a B+ or A- on customer service efforts, feeling that they and other administrators were very good at dealing with inappropriate staff responses to the public. NSPRA Communication Audit 8 Baltimore County Public Schools

11 Things that the district could do to immediately improve communication include : sending communication to all administrators in a building, not just the principal ; using the website for emergency communications and publicizing that fact ; permitting assistant principals to attend principals' meetings; and the need for some principals to do a better job of communicating with their assistants. Group : Secondary School Teachers This group described the district's strengths as : the wide-ranging curriculum; nurturing of students ; high quality education; an inclusion program that works well ; and the high quality ofnew teachers. They also noted the district's encouragement of parent involvement, good communication with parents, and quality extracurricular offerings. Although this group felt that the public schools were generally better than local private schools, some felt that some public schools are bedeviled by undeserved reputations. Some felt that greater standardization of the curriculum and offerings from school to school (i.e., some schools having four-period vs. seven-period days) might help improve public schools' images. Finally, this group commented that they have good contact with many parents, and one person commended a middle school that puts student homework assignments on its website. When asked about weaknesses, some felt that many positive stories about minority student achievement are not publicized. The group again mentioned that there are perception problems about some public schools throughout the county. Some felt that greater communication is needed between stafffrom elementary through middle and high school so that there could be better "K-16 alignment." This group felt that staff development offerings were excellent, but some noted that there is little time to talk with colleagues and exchange ideas. Some were critical of "meetings just for the sake of having a meeting." Some felt that teachers are not informed about district events and processes, and cited the recent reorganization as an example. Finally, many felt that the district should do more marketing ofits programs to keep or attract students away from private and parochial schools. This group's best sources of news and information included : school administrators ; person-to-person communication ; curriculum offices (particularly math) ; and the news folder on the Outlook system (although two in the group weren't aware that this resource exists). This group was not aware of the Superintendent's Bulletin. Some also mentioned The Sun and news on the district's website. Some were critical of a lack of NAACP and district publicity or recognition of African American students who were honored with ACTSO awards. NSPRA Communication Audit 9 Baltimore County Public Schools

12 When asked about viewing Channel 73, some said there was too much "canned" programming. They would like to see more locally produced programming, especially on student achievements. Some felt that notices of meetings were not timely, sometimes reaching them on the day ofor the day before a meeting. Many said they preferred to receive news and information by , but others noted that they do not have convenient access to a computer terminal. This group felt that customer service was good districtwide, noting that the personnel, benefits, and payroll offices are excellent in responding to staffinquiries. In response to what the district could do immediately to improve communication, suggestions included having a central clearing house for information. Some felt that the Office of Communications needs to do a better job of coordinating information, and one person said that StaffExchange frequently mentions the same people and schools. Another suggestion was to pursue better articulation with the community colleges, enabling students to earn college credits. Croup : Stakeholders This group of "stakeholders" included individuals from non-profit organizations, a police officer, the county executive's chief of staff, a recreation department staff person, and a realtor. This group said BCPS offers a very good education ("at least as good as private schools," one said) ; ease of communication with teachers and principals ; competitive and safe schools ; a relatively small amount of discipline problems ; and wise spending on facilities and maintenance ofbuildings. w Some weaknesses noted by this group included a lack of consistency in communication, with the suggestion that it should be disseminated from one place, and the need for greater consistency in dealing with the media. Some felt there is too much variance in principals' attitudes and behaviors from school to school. One person felt that some central office personnel need to better understand the use and control ofjoint park and recreation sites. Responses to the question, "What is your best source of news and information about the district?" ranged from newspapers, to no reliable sources, to "I call Sharon Norman." Few in this group look at the district web site. Some suggested that a single source of school news and information would be helpful. Some in this group felt that the district web site should be the source of information about schools. Some suggested using different media channels to reach different groups and communities. Others felt that a lot ofinformation comes from rumors, and much ofthe district information is one-way. Some complimented the school-business partnerships. NSPRA Communication Audit 10 Baltimore County Public Schools

13 Several suggested wider use of the Welcome Wagon, and more contact with Realtors. Some felt that Channel 73 could be a good source of information, but that it needed more publicity. Customer service, this group felt, was good at the central office, but varied from school to school. "A principal's attitude toward the public is communicated to the staff," one person noted. Some in the group reported having unpleasant experiences with school personnel. When asked what the district could do to immediately improve communication, one person said, use the Office of Communications to better coordinate information. Another said there was great communication and rapport between the police department and schools. Group : Board of Education Members (Group 1) District strengths mentioned by this group of two Board members were : diversity ; a talented staff; good curriculum and infrastructure ; and many longtime employees who have a commitment to students and to the community. They felt there was a positive relationship between the superintendent and the various unions who represent employees, as well as with Baltimore County state legislators and the county government. They believe there is strong community support both systemwide and at individual schools. One noted that a large board (12 members) is a great strength, because "its members are inquisitive, and there is more active engagement with a large and diverse community." These Board members felt that district weaknesses include diversity (disparities in racial and socioeconomic factors in various geographic areas), size, and the difference between equality and equity, which they saw as based on peoples' perceptions. They felt that "squeaky wheels" tended to get the most attention at both schools and districtwide, and that tended to create "upsets." They felt that the district doesn't always make the best use of resources, and that its community and public relations efforts are not adequate or proactive. They felt the central office should anticipate "negatives" and have plans for dealing with them. They believe there should be better utilization of community structures and groups. They felt that the district does not respond adequately to criticisms. These members felt the Board needs help in anticipating events, presenting its case, and obtaining more community engagement. The school system, they said, needs to plan and deliver more effective communication. One person felt that the system needed to develop some strategy for the forthcoming elections (September and November 2002) for the county executive and county council because of a potential for the schools to become part NSPRA Communication Audit 11 Baltimore County Public Schools

14 ofthe political debate. Other issues that need careful communication planning and strategies are redistricting for the new high school, and the forthcoming middle school study. Also raised was the fact that the Blueprintfor Progress had been developed, but not well disseminated or promoted. And, finally, these Board members said that parents and others need to better understand how the school system works and how to access it to get what they need. Group : Parents e This group said felt the district offers excellent secondary magnet programs and schools ; good discipline ; a strong reading program with basal readers and phonics ; and good resources (paper and books) in schools. Some said that the district does a good job of helping students prepare for the state MSPAP tests. Other strengths include : safe schools and neighborhoods ; a good learning disabilities program; clean buildings ; and good building maintenance. Most said there was good communication between parents and school staffs. This group said its best sources of information about the district include : PTA meetings, the principals ; school newspapers ; the district calendar ; and viewing Board meetings on Channel 73. Some said, however, that Board meetings on television were confusing because no one provides the context or background for the issues that are discussed. Some felt there was a lack of publicity about school events. When asked about other school information they would like to have, several in this group said "more information from teachers about what the students are going to learn this year," and "why the curriculum keeps changing." They would like to hear from teachers about ways parents can help their children learn. They said most schools have newsletters that keep them pretty well informed, and a few have automated phone calling systems. Secondary schools need to mail information to parents, addressed to them, as opposed to counting on students to carry it home. With respect to the district's customer service, there was a wide range of feelings. Some who spend a lot of time at school felt it was very good ; others said it depended on the rapport between the principal and parents. One person said it was like "pulling teeth" to get any information from the secretary at her child's school. Some said they felt that the teachers in their school were "very approachable." Most felt that not enough parents have computer access to the Internet to make this a good way of communicating with schools. When asked what one thing the system could do to improve communication, the group suggested providing for more money for school newsletters, as opposed to reducing a school's copying budget ; automatic dialing phone systems that schools could use to NSPRA Communication Audit 12 Baltimore County Public Schools

15 remind parents of coming events; and phone mail systems that would allow parents to leave messages for teachers. Group : Advisory Councils and Committees " Some participants in this group felt that staff needed training in how to communicate with parents and others, and that the district doesn't tout many of its good programs, or what they described as "buried strengths." For this group, their best sources of information about the schools were through volunteering in their schools, kids and other parents, and school newsletters. Some use the district web site and Channel 73. Others mentioned PTSA meetings, newspapers, and the very negative nature of talk radio. " This group said they would like to receive more information about "positive things," and would like to see more participation by school staff in community organizations. Some said parents need to understand how the system works and that BCPS ought to do more outreach to parents. Some recommended a parent orientation regarding homework expectations, dress expectations, and behavior at each school level. These participants rated schools as average in customer service, with some saying it was not uncommon to be left waiting at school counters for a long time. One person said that the possibility of a student receiving failing grades needed to be communicated in advance. Immediate steps to improve communication included telephones in every classroom ; greater efforts to "get the good news out" ; and more marketing. Group : Employee Union Leaders " Many in this group felt that the district leadership was "a bit too distant" from their members (district employees) ; that communication was frequently delayed or sluggish; that employees got mixed messages ; and some questioned the accuracy of communication. One person felt that the former area administrators were "a layer between the superintendent and principals who put their own `spin' on information." Some felt that the district is characterized by confusion, spinning wheels, and frustration. One said that some people don't do anything "because in three weeks, it's going to change." One person argued for "message simplicity, clarity, and straightforwardness. Implementation should be clear ; when it's not, people make up what to do, and as a result lots oftime and energy are wasted." NSPRA Communication Audit 13 Baltimore County Public Schools

16 When asked about their best sources of news and information, several praised the Superintendent's Bulletin as good, introducing consistency, but noted that it is not distributed consistently in schools. Some felt that principals must keep in closer touch with the ESS staff since there is no longer an area staff. Some said that the recent reorganization has disrupted some communication channels and new channels and responsibilities haven't yet been established. One person noted that expulsion hearings are more difficult because the people involved have to travel to a central location rather than to an area office. Some felt that meetings and deadlines are not well-coordinated. One person said there was too much information in the Superintendent's Bulletin, and a file of this year's issues is about 3" thick in three months. With principals responsible for screening this document and copying information for teachers and others in their schools, several people felt that their members either don't see it or get the information too late. One person suggested that about 25% of the Superintendent's Bulletin volume was special education information and suggested that perhaps that office could create its own newsletter. In addition, some said, people also receive memos or information from other departments. What the county could do immediately to improve communication is to develop one message, stick to it, and follow through, one person said. Some suggested that the superintendent should meet monthly with union leaders for a Q&A session, or meet with area focus groups. One person suggested that the superintendent and a deputy lunch with employees periodically "to find out how it is playing out there." Group : Counselors For this group, their best sources of news and information about the schools are The Sun, Channe 73, information that principals share from meetings, Staff Exchange, union publications, and local newspapers. Distribution responsibilities for the Superintendent's Bulletin, some felt, are unclear. is a source of information, but some were critical of antiquated software, citing the DOS scheduling program. This group felt that the web site has improved. Most felt that there are not enough telephone lines for good communication to and from schools. Some felt that voice mail would be a big help in improving the public's image of school accessibility. Members ofthis group felt they need more information about good programs and best practices in other county schools, and that the district needs to do a better job of promoting itself in recruiting new teachers. One person cited the staff development activities the day before Thanksgiving as excellent for sharing among staff. Another felt that there should be systemwide conference days for secondary as well as elementary schools. NSPRA Communication Audit 14 Baidmore County Public Schools

17 Some felt that the distribution method for print material needs improvement ; although one person said that her school has an "urgent spot" on the office bulletin board for things that everyone needs to read. Some felt that principals need more autonomy in communicating with parents in emergencies. Several in this group said that decisions to close schools for inclement weather need to be made earlier; some staff and students have already left home by the time the Baltimore County announcement is made on the radio. Most gave schools high rankings for customer service, although some said that school office staffs were "too stretched." "Send more positive stories to the news media," one person suggested when asked about what the district could do to improve communication. Most would like to receive notices in print, not through posting on a bulletin board. Several said it would be nice for administrators to get in the habit of saying something nice to staff, "people are feeling beaten down," one person felt. This group felt that few central office administrators visit schools. Some had concern for new teachers, whom they feel need more positive support. "The teaching job has become overwhelming, and we're losing good people because they feel micro-managed," one person stated. One person suggested a quarterly video report from the superintendent, broadcast on Channel 73. The greatest challenges facing the district include its changing demographics, increasing numbers ofkids with severe needs, and insufficient staffing. "Taxpayers need to be better informed about issues if we want their support," one person said. Some felt that the county needs to raise taxes to support education, and that the county needs a better longterm growth plan. Group : School Clerical This group felt that the district needs more textbooks and earlier decisions and announcements of snow closings or delays. Some said the telephone tree is a good idea, but that callers can't get through in emergency situations. Some felt that elementary schools have too many people roaming through the buildings and that this could become a security issue. Some said they receive the district directory too late, and some said that until a change was made after 9/11, they were unable to access their principal's . Some said it was difficult to find substitute teachers, that the sub list "is a joke," and several blamed the problem on low pay. Most felt that schools need more phone lines and teachers should have voice mail. When asked about their sources of news and information, this group mentioned the news on the web site, Channel 73, StaffExchange, Outlook , and the Superintendent's Bulletin. For those who have only one computer in the office, some said it is difficult to NSPRA Communication Audit 15 Baltimore County Public Schools

18 get from the attendance reporting program to the web site. superintendent is doing a great job of communicating. One person said that the One in this group felt that the district should publish a community newsletter. Some felt that directives are not clear, and that better calendar and deadline coordination is needed. They feel that person-to-person and communications are best. On customer service, this group felt that "it is really good," and one person said that the central office functions much better under the new superintendent. Most felt that the schools project a friendly atmosphere. The district could improve communication, members of this group said, by standardizing technology faster, and making earlier inclement weather announcements and not changing them. Group : Cabinet/Directors They felt that some weaknesses include : the size ofthe district; problems in delivering teacher and administrator training ; staff turnover ; and having to manage more with fewer resources. Some felt that communication needs improving so that staff trust the information they receive and that it is delivered in a timely fashion. Some felt that the recent reorganization has helped improve communication. The best sources of news and information for this group include : the PTA bulletin ; Staff Exchange ; local newspapers ; and news on . None in this group use the district web site. Some felt that the telephone system needs to be improved, with voice mail that would enable people to leave messages if the person called is not available. This group said that some of the district's communication is not timely, and they were critical of a too-short turnaround time for meeting deadlines. Some called for better integration of the master calendar, perhaps putting it online. "The Outlook calendar has worked to some extent," one person felt. When asked about customer service, this group felt that the elementary schools are great ; secondary schools are "not as warm." The district office phone is always answered pleasantly, some said, but some internal offices "leave something to be desired." Some felt that fingerprinting of new employees needed to be improved, citing long waits and the need to visit multiple sites to get processed forjobs. Overall, they felt, the district does a good job, but it could do a better job of recognizing outstanding programs, staff and students, one person said. NSPRA Communication Audit 16 Baltimore County Public Schools

19 This group felt that the district could improve communication by having a new telephone system, and putting the telephone directory on the Intranet, similar to the way that addresses are listed. Group : Board Members (Group 2) This report is a synthesis of comments from two members who were interviewed in person and one by telephone. These Board members feel that Baltimore County Public Schools have lots of resources, but they don't use them effectively, and don't communicate about them to parents, staff and others in the community. One member said that there are excellent private schools in the county, but that the top students in academic competitions, SAT and other tests are nearly always students from the comprehensive public high schools. One said he thought few people were aware of the excellent culinary arts program at Sollars Point, for example. These Board members feel that the district needs to do a better job of marketing its schools and programs. "There is no reason why Baltimore County Schools shouldn't be recognized among the best in the country," one said. "We're reactive, and usually very slowly," another said. "We have to aggressively tell our story ; make issues known to the community." Some felt that the district was not using Channel 73 as a news and information vehicle, and felt that internal communication also needs improvement, with more feedback opportunities. All said that the web site has been vastly improved. One member said the district needs to develop a strategic communications plan, which should include utilizing business partnerships to pay for marketing and advertising. When asked about major issues facing the district, one member cited increasing emigration from Baltimore City, and ensuring that the public schools not become a "whipping boy" in the 2002 county elections. "We need to ensure that we maintain our independence, not become a department of education in the county government," one said. Group : Media Representatives These representatives from newspaper, televison and radio described Baltimore County Public Schools as being widely diverse - ethnically, economically and religiously and believe it is growing increasingly so. They feel that many people don't want their children NSPRA Communication Audit 17 Baltimore County Public Schools

20 to go to city schools, so they are moving to the county. It was suggested that Baltimore County has lost position when compared to Harford and Howard counties with respect to good jobs, higher income, job base and county facilities. One participant said he had visited Eastern Technical High School and found it to be very impressive, but it doesn't tell its story well. He said he saw stories that could be told on his visit, but the only notices the media ever gets are about a car that is given away at the end of the year. " These reporters said they get a monthly packet of tips from the Office of Communications. One participant joked that it is so thick, information must be based on how much the document weighs. The television and radio representatives said this type of information packet is not as helpful or user-friendly to them because their assignments are scheduled on a daily basis. The newspaper representative, however, felt the packet was very useful. All said they would like the district to send more news items by . Their only stipulation is that information should be included in the body of an message because newsrooms are not allowed to open any attachments due to viruses. Faxes are also good, but they need to be timely. This group finds the Office of Communications to be responsive to their needs. They describe the staff as helpful, accessible and responding to them in a timely manner. They feel the communication staff is well-trained and able to provide answers. One felt that the responsiveness of administrators in general has improved over the past six months saying, "There are actually administrators who return calls!" It was noted that they "don't always have to go through Charlie anymore to get questions answered." One area all agreed is a problem in all Baltimore area school systems is a lack of communication about contagious diseases. They indicated they find out about outbreaks (such as meningitis) via letters sent home the end ofthe day to parents. Because they find out at the end of the day, instead ofbeing contacted by the district directly or receiving the information at a news conference, television ends up having to do a live segment in front of a school to make the news. They believe this makes the story seem worse than it is, and this could be avoided by more timely communication. It was also mentioned that because BOPS does not have an elected board, there is no "buzz" about issues. " These reporters felt BCPS principals need training in how to deal with the media in emergency situations. One cited an incident where a principal verbally assaulted a reporter who was covering a school story from a public sidewalk. They indicated there is a lack of consistency from school to school in handling crises, but noted that disaster plans are NSPRA Communication Audit 18 Baltimore County Public schools

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