By Jean Lotus
Should Forest Park Elementary School District 91 jump into social media? This was the question posed by Superintendent Louis Cavallo to the school board at their meeting May 9.
Cavallo has been cautious about Facebook, Twitter and Google+ he said. The district's new Director of Instructional Technology, James Eichmiller, was put on the question right away and Cavallo shared Eichmiller's recommendations with the board.
The district's Facebook page was last updated in December, 2012.
That's the way Cavallo liked it, until he got the chance to study the alternatives.
"Social media is supposed to be social, that means interactive," Cavallo said Tursday. "But social media is tricky if you use in that way. You have to be careful when you can't control what is posted on the website for all to see."
Cavallo said staff at the schools are already prevented from using personal Facebook accounts through the school, although he said they could always use their phones during school hours. D91 Teachers and staff are also forbidden from having students as "friends" on their Facebook accounts.
But as a communication tool for the schools to reach parents, Cavallo told the board was reluctantly convinced by Eichmiller and Asst. Superintendent Ed Brophy that Facebook and Twitter served to "develop your brand identity."
"Parents want to know what's going on in their schools," Cavallo added.
Cavallo said he and Eichmiller agreed that a push-only Facebook page, with commenting disabled, was a good compromise.
Each of the district's five schools has a media coordinator that would be responsible for publishing news for their school, Cavallo said. The accounts would all be coordinated through the Hootsuite Social Media management dashboard, which would be ultimately controlled by Eichmiller.
The media coordinators would have to make sure that every child whose name or image was used on Facebook had parents/guardians who signed proper waivers, Cavallo said.
This baby step into social media was welcome news to Board Member Sean Blaylock, who regularly pushes for more communication between the district and parents/community members.
"There's frustration about dated or inactive information [on the district's website]," Blaylock said. He added the district was perceived as unreliable if information was not brought up to date. He also pointed out Twitter users had outpaced Facebook and "There are stakeholders who stay away from Facebook."
It was Twitter that Cavallo said made him the most nervous.
"Once it's out there, you can't filter [Twitter] the same way," Cavallo said. He said others could re-tweet or refer to D91's Twitter feed in a way that could get out of the district's control.
"All it takes is once," Board President Frank Mott warned.
Board members encouraged Cavallo to steam ahead with Twitter and Facebook, with the understanding that the Twitter account could be shut down if need be.
"It's worth it to try when we have the ability to cancel it if we need to," said Vice President Mary Win Conor. "We can always deactivate it immediately."
Although Mott said, "I'm against it," for the record, the rest of the board voted to urge the district to go ahead. The Google platform was not significantly discussed.
As part of the district's plan to improve communication with parents, community members and other stakeholders in Forest Park, Cavallo told the D91 board Thursday that the district was sponsoring a communications survey. Seventy-two responses had been recorded the first week, Cavallo said, which he said would close June 5. Cavallo called the survey "baby steps" toward a better communication plan with Forest Parkers.
The survey asks whether participants use the website, how participants would like to find out about their school, how familiar they are with district finances and test scores and asks survey-takers to gauge their interest.
More tax money abated
The District 91school board agreed to abate an additional $305,682 to the taxpayers of Forest Park from the district's debt service fund. Finance Manager Ed Brophy told the board the extra money was left over after the past abatements of $1.5 million and $.5 million in 2012 and early 2013.
"The district no longer has any debt," Brophy said. "So we don't need to have the money in this fund."
Cavallo said Jump Start summer school for students who might need help getting up to speed at the beginning of the school year would be held July 8 – Aug. 8. The focus will be on specifically tailored plans for reading intervention to give students a boost. Cavallo said the district invited 154 students to attend summer school and 85, or a little over half, registered. Cancelled for this year were the enrichment summer school offerings teachers created last year that failed to generate enough registrations.
School will end June 5 this year, since a day of instruction was lost to flooding April 18, Cavallo told the board.