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District plans upgrade to website, using social media

Consultants say sites lead to better communication

June 15, 2011

Whitefish Bay - With the intent of more effectively communicating with constituents, school officials plan to begin adopting social media tools and revamping the district website in the near future.

The initiatives are borne out of a nearly year-long communications study that included a hired consultant - the Donovan Group, a firm specializing in educational institutions' communications efforts - and participation from an assembled advisory committee that consisted of School Board members, district staff, administrators and residents.

Joe Donovan, president of the company, presented the board with a finalized communications plan last week. Final recommendations were made after several discussions involving current practices, future goals and administering surveys.

Website tough to navigate

"We created this plan from an area of strength," Donovan said. "The good news is the community values this school district. Normally, when we work with school districts, we work from a place of deficit. The community generally feels (the district) is doing a good job of communicating, but the bar could be raised."

The district's website, wfbschools.com, was identified as one of the top areas of improvement. Despite being comprehensive, findings revealed users found the site difficult to navigate. Efforts are already under way to improve the site.

District Administrator Mary Gavigan said plans include updating a set of guidelines relevant to the site's maintenance and involving more staff members in the process of updating the site. A content management system also is being refined.

"Creating the new look is often the easy process," Donovan said. "Everything else is the heavy lifting."

Getting message out quickly

Other tools designed to engage the community include such social media outlets as Facebook and Twitter.

"It's a great opportunity to get information out quickly; I love it," Donovan said. "But social media can be challenging because it takes work. You need to maintain it. If you create it, you're creating an expectation on the part of parents."

School Board member Marie Greco said she hopes the new initiatives will be a mechanism of facilitating meaningful communication between school officials and the community.

"I think it's important to solicit important, meaningful two-way communication," Greco said. "On (online news site) Patch, you've got a couple of crazy people arguing with one another."

Donovan said common themes throughout the survey and audit process revealed a general sense of trust and transparency from district staff and the community.

According to his findings, Donovan said less than 20 percent of respondents look to the newspaper as a source of information and most respondents use the district website as a primary source.

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