Press-Republican

November 4, 2012

City Schools look to Internet to facilitate conversation

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh City School District is looking at using an online message board to address the questions and concerns of the local community. 

Members of the School Board and District Superintendent James “Jake” Short met recently with faculty from SUNY Plattsburgh’s Department of Communication Studies, who suggested that a web-based dialogue with district residents might be beneficial. 

Over the past several weeks, the board has been discussing ways to foster more open communication with the community and approached the college’s communications professionals for advice. 

FORUM DISCOURAGED

At a previous School Board meeting, Short brought forth the idea of hosting a forum at which board members could publicly answer questions emailed to them in advance by district residents. 

The college faculty, however, advised against this concept, Short told attendees at a recent School Board meeting. 

“The suggestion was to not do the forum, per se, but to get more into the web-based presence of question-and-answer dialogue,” he said.

A physical forum, Short noted, would be limiting in the sense that it would only address issues on the minds of people at the time of the event. 

“The web presence as a question-and-answer dialogue forum seems to have better juice behind it because it can be ongoing, people can look back at a topic from the past that may be relevant to them at the time ... and folks can do this at their own time, in their own place.

“So that’s the direction that we’re going to be expanding ourselves to.”

SITE SUGGESTED

While the exact details of how the online conversation will work have not yet been established, Short indicated that access to an online message board, where district officials and residents could respond to inquiries posted by the public, could possibly be made available through the district’s website: plattscsd.org. 

During the public-comment session at the beginning of the meeting, district resident Walter Chmura suggested frontporchforum.com as a possible communication tool for the district to utilize. 

The website, which is free to use, allows members of a community to create cyber threads about various topics, which can be viewed and contributed to by other members of the same community. 

“It’s worthwhile looking at,” Chmura said. 

He added that Facebook is also a resource now being used by a number of governments to communicate with citizens. 

While Plattsburgh City School does have a Facebook page, Short noted later in the meeting, its purpose is more to share the school’s “good-news stories” than to facilitate questions and answers. 

The superintendent said he would look into frontporchforum.com, as it sounded similar to the type of website the district is looking to use to converse with the community. 

STUDENT PROJECT

In addition to the online-discussion concept, Short said, faculty from SUNY Plattsburgh’s Department of Communication Studies would also like to explore the idea of having a group of college students work on the district’s public relations as one of their academic projects. 

The board’s decision to pursue a way of better communicating with the public was inspired by the fact that community members often come to School Board meetings with questions and comments that they want board feedback on. 

Short has noted in the past, however, that the meetings are a time to handle business of the board and are not the proper environment for question-and-answer periods. 

Chmura told the board he thought fostering communication with the public was a great idea; although, he was surprised the district felt the need to consult a third party. 

“I’m kind of surprised that you have to reach out to the SUNY system,” he said.  

“I don’t think they can communicate any better than the school system or a teacher in a classroom.”

Email Ashleigh Livingston:

alivingston@pressrepublican.com