Education & Government
Jennifer Rose Hale Image
Jennifer Rose Hale
Former Client Partner, Texas Association of School Boards

Improving community access to information in public education

March 8, 2024
0 min read
Improving community access to information in public education

Communication has been called a soft skill — sometimes dismissed as less important in comparison to the technical skills that are in high demand in our digital era. But for schools and school boards looking to connect with their communities, that soft skill is key to addressing one of the most critical challenges facing school districts today: how to build trust through transparency with the people they serve.

In recent years, school boards have had to reexamine how their trustees and schools connect with parents and other stakeholders. Kingston City School District in New York, as an example, has been working on a multi-year goal to improve its communications plan. District strategies include:

  • Shifting from reactive to proactive communication
  • Leveraging communication assets
  • Enhancing staff communication and building-level communications with families
  • Improving communication and engagement with non-English-speaking families
  • Maximizing community partnerships

Modernizing district communications hinges on implementing top-down smart strategies. A study by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research found that “communicating with families — rather than being haphazard or improvisational — should be governed by a clear plan designed by school leaders.”

So, what should school district leaders do to ensure that district communications are effective and support transparency and trust? Let’s examine the hurdles school leaders must navigate, the best practices for increasing transparency and how technology can help.

Challenges to effective public education communication

In this digital era, it is not enough to simply put the message out. School boards and districts face a number of challenges when it comes to communicating effectively with parents and other stakeholders.

  • Overwhelming signal-to-noise ratio. Most of us are bombarded with information throughout the day — messages at work and home, through email, text, mail and even billboards and other ambient sources. It’s easy to empathize with overwhelmed parents when many of us have been in or are in those same shoes. So how do you ensure your message finds the right recipient at the right time?
  • Demands for customization and targeting. In an era where individuals seek and expect information through myriad sources, districts must be prepared to both make information available in a number of places and ensure that it is accurate, up-to-date and thorough, often with limited time and resources.
  • Complex accessibility needs. Districts and boards are responsible for communicating to every stakeholder, taking into account language differences and varying levels of tech savviness and ability. How can the district ensure that key messages are available in multiple formats and to different groups of individuals?
  • Increased security risks. With the rise of cyberthreats, key communications need to be delivered through secure means to ensure the right message gets out to the right people at the right time. Sensitive information can be misdirected by both external actors (data breach, phishing) and internal ones (accidental or intentional), but no matter the source, this type of exposure damages trust.

Tips to ensure your community has access to information

So, how do school district leaders ensure that their communication strategies foster trust and transparency? Follow a few basic guidelines.

Consistency is key

To get through the influx of messages most community members receive, strive for consistency in scheduling, messaging format and location(s). Some messaging, like board agenda publishing, is based on legal requirements, while others (district newsletters, for example) may make sense on a weekly or monthly basis. Your community members should always be able to find the most recent information about board activity, their schools and more in a standardized place.

Implement a single source of truth

Whether it’s the school board using a board management platform or a high school with a website, your community should know the default location for anything they need to know about local schools. Emails, texts, social media and other “push” communication methods can point back to the central location, ensuring staff time is spent efficiently, only updating information in one place.

Use the right platforms

Even with a centralized location for information, boards and districts need to share information on the right platforms. Invest in secure platforms, such as robust board management software, that allow multiple forms of communication, including publishing to a website, texting and emailing, from a central interface.

Focus on findability

Everyone has experienced frustration with a site that either lacks a search engine or returns poor-quality results. Ensure key resources, from the upcoming meeting details to policy documents to the staff directory, include a usable search engine as well as intuitive navigation and document storage.

Measure performance

District leaders should never be in the dark about the performance of key communications. Modern technology tools will include metrics for use, whether it’s the number of visitors to a website, number of emails opened, links clicked and more.

How technology can support public trust and transparency

Districts should regularly examine their track record in public transparency and how they can improve it. Technology, and in particular board management software, can play a key role in several ways.

In addition to managing and documenting board activities, a modern district board management tool can be used for these needs:

  • Managing communications for multiple audiences and scaling up as needed — for example, when sending out an email during a severe weather incident or posting to a public website
  • Enabling communications through multiple platforms, including website publishing, emails and text alerts
  • Livestreaming meetings to ensure maximum accessibility for all audiences
  • Making information findable through powerful search capabilities
  • Reporting on metrics for district communication efforts can be stored in a central library for easy access by board and committee members.

Good communication with the community falls squarely upon the shoulders of school leaders, starting with the school board. By regularly evaluating the success of its communication efforts, the school district will build better trust with the community and build transparency.

We at Diligent understand the nuances of building strong relationships with the public. We’ve designed Diligent Community to include the necessary tools for a successful communication among the board and with all stakeholders. Let us know how we can help you.


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