|I am in my tenth year of producing our Pewaukee School District newsletter which goes out three times per year. Many school districts have discontinued their published newsletter due to high printing and mailing costs. Before making this move, however, I would challenge you to make sure it is a decision that is not going to be a negative one down the road. For instance, is your district going to hold a referendum? If so, are there equally good sources you may use to reach all of your stakeholders?While the annual report and other types of publications are going electronic, the Board of Education and administration know that there are many benefits to committing resources toward our community newsletter. The distribution covers approximately 12,000 households and overlaps with four other school districts in the village and city of Pewaukee. Only a very small percentage of those households receive the twice-weekly local paper. The Journal/Sentinel no longer has the staff to cover metropolitan areas like they once did and often refer me to the local paper when I contact them, which is under the same ownership. If members of the community without children in public schools are going to learn anything about the district, their options are very limited.
One of the ways we know that our constituents read the newsletter is through our community surveys. When preparing for a referendum several years ago, questions about how information is obtained were slipped into several surveys. In 2008, a community survey conducted by an outside agency showed 65% of 200 randomly selected participants choosing the community newsletter as the first source of information they go to for district news. The second choice was the local paper at 49%. One year later, in 2009, the district conducted a survey online with 880 participants, which showed 83% choosing the community newsletter as how they receive information from the school district. The next highest choice was only 51% for the district website as the source. The second survey would have naturally attracted more families and teachers, however, an announcement was sent to the community for participation.
It may be tempting to look to anecdotal evidence as the reason to discontinue a publication, however, to actually measure the interest of your community through a survey is the only way to get a response from those who are not directly involved in your district. Even an online service, which can be very inexpensive or free, will help you to understand how your stakeholders want to receive information about your district.
Once it is determined that a newsletter is going to be of benefit to your district, the next step is to be sure the publication is something your readers will want to pick up. Making it easy for older members of the community, who will definitely be your audience, is important and worth the research you do to make it a reader-friendly piece. For example, what has been surprising to me over the years is the number of elderly readers who struggle to read words on a glossy stock with a color-heavy background. A simple change to make, but I would have never known if I didn’t get a few letters on the topic. Font size, style, color, and stock are all considerations when you have your newsletter printed.
Another way to make it readable and reader-friendly is to keep your articles short. Continue with detailed explanations on the web for those interested in learning more. You could even include a link at the end of your article. Most of your audience is only interested in the basic facts minus the educator-speak that they will not understand. As is the case with any publication, photos that are taken in a professional manner with good lighting and as close up as possible, are going to be the draw into the article. Group photos should only be used if absolutely necessary. Close-ups draw your readers in.
Awards and recognition students receive, new programs, and special events are expected from your readers. But it is important to think about messages you would like to relay. For instance, two to three years prior to asking the community to vote on improvements on the Pewaukee School District campus, our newsletters started to share important information concerning fiscal responsibility. Letting readers know the healthy financial state the district is in began the dialogue on the right foot. Lastly, including news about what our graduates are doing has brought unexpected recognition and interest. Your graduates are your “results” if they are successful and making a difference in the world, that is a fantastic message to send to your community.
Unfortunately, the financial picture for school districts is forcing many to cut all publications that are mailed. If that is the case for your district, creating an electronic publication that will get read is a viable alternative. One option we have used for our annual report for the past two years is to send out a postcard to the same 12,000 residents who received the printed version asking them to access the information on the web. While we know that the publication is not going to be read as much as the hard copy, at least the resident is aware that they may still receive the same information if they so desire and the district is meeting its obligation to the taxpayers.
If your information can be relayed in a video, we have found that to be one of our best options for communication. Three referendum videos received over 19,000 views and we continue to have great success with similar productions. It is extremely easy to use with a digital camera that has a video setting. A $30.00 tripod will go a long way in helping to make the production more professional.
With technology changing at the pace it is, our options are unlimited for communicating. For many of us, however, our taxpayers are aging and not necessarily willing to access information the way we do. A printed publication can fill those gaps in your communication plan. Even an annual publication may be enough to satisfy those who prefer reading words off a printed page. But why guess? Ask them what they would like…you might be surprised.
|Call for Nominations – Board of Directors|
WSPRA has some great projects in the works and is looking for new members to help plan and execute these initiatives. If you are interested in serving on a committee (whether it be planning a conference or workshop, writing articles for the WSPRAgram or helping with membership, etc.), please contactHeather Westgor. Committees offer valuable networking opportunities that can help strengthen and build your career. Joining a committee doesn’t require a set commitment of time. You can participate in a variety of ways, with as little or as much time as you have available. We hope you’ll consider becoming more involved with WSPRA.
|NSPRA National SeminarMark your calendars to attend the NSPRA National Seminar in Chicago, July 8-11, 2012. Click here for more information.
An NSPRA National Seminar Registration Scholarship will be available from WSPRA. Please watch for details in the coming weeks regarding the application process in the coming weeks.
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