Hastings Public Schools are developing a new communications plan for the district using feedback from students, parents and staff.
Jack Sheard of IdeaBank Marketing gave a presentation on the first steps of the plan for the Hastings Board of Education during its working session Thursday at Hastings Middle School.
Research for the plan began in the spring through the use of email questionnaires sent to students, parents and staff to collect data on current perceptions in the district.
“These are perception data numbers,” Sheard said. “It doesn’t reflect if the staff do these things. “
Students between grades 5 and 12 received the questionnaire and approximately 550 responded. Among the strengths they recognized in the district were academics (14.3%), culture (13.7%) and staff (12.6%).
The communication needs identified by the students included greater involvement. Sheard said students want to participate in telling their stories and share them with the public.
Current parents of students who responded to the survey listed the district’s strengths in terms of staff (19.7%) and culture (14.4%), but only 5.3% cited communication as a strong point.
Sheard said parents recognized district leadership as a strength and 73.1% felt staff were dedicated to student success. In total, 57.5% felt they were knowledgeable about the neighborhood.
Parents said the district needs to improve the transparency and consistency of messaging and provide more updates on the school’s website.
Staff cited culture (29.7%), staff (24.3%) and communication (6.1%) as strengths.
“If a school staff believes in the school district, it makes a huge difference,” he said.
Sheard said staff echoed concerns about updating the district’s website and wanted consistency in how information is disseminated.
“They want to feel like insiders,” he said.
Following the surveys, the data was compiled and shared with the district administration before discussions to make improvements.
Sheard said the plan is to establish a communication flow for information about the district. The new information is shared by the superintendent with the education council, then district leaders, then principals, then staff, then students and their families, then the media and the community at large.
He said people are not afraid to wait for the information as long as they understand that there is a consistent process for it to be distributed in a timely manner.
Without that consistency, he said, a message can reach one group without another group knowing and it can lead to a feeling of being left out.
Superintendent Jeff Schneider said during this process he learned that students felt excluded from the flow of information. While the district uses emails and robocalls to notify parents of unscheduled absence days, those same messages weren’t always sent to students, who are also affected by the change.
Sheard said storytelling can help raise awareness of the positive things that are happening in school and that students want to be involved in the process. He said these stories are more compelling when told in the first person.
“They want to tell their story,” he said. “They are proud of it.
To help improve the ways in which the district can deliver information to the public, he said, IdeaBank is working to update the district’s website so that it can be updated more easily. The company is also working on creating an app that can be downloaded to mobile devices. The plan is to make the app available in 2022 as a one-stop-shop for information on the neighborhood.
Sheard said they plan to conduct surveys again in the spring of the next two years to better assess the effect of the changes implemented.
“You don’t want to give up on things too soon,” he said. “With three you can usually see that we were able to make a difference. “
When negative information emerges about something in the district, he said it is important for the district to take ownership of its story and respond to the problem before rumors start to circulate.
“It dies faster because you are there to provide the truth,” he said.
Other items discussed at Thursday’s meeting included:
- A review of the standards and goals of the board
- An update on the back-to-learning plan, in which Superintendent Jeff Schneider said coronavirus cases have increased in the district but not at the threshold where further action is needed
- A request for a trip abroad from a group of juniors and seniors planning a trip to France
- A report on district jurisdiction data collected for the state
- Adopting a writing curriculum designed to ensure consistency across the district
- A construction change order in Morton
- Tenders for the renovation or replacement of the bleachers at Hastings High School
- Offers to resurface the high school track
- Morton Preschool Furniture Offers
- A second reading of the policy to provide an intention to resign at the start of the incitement
- An incentive for substitute teachers
The regular council meeting will be held Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Hastings Middle School.