Proactive Communication for School Leaders
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Note: When speaking with parents, community leaders and the media, remember that there are no "failing schools." This is NOT official language being used by anyone at the state or federal level, and every effort needs to be made to correct the use of that language by other educators, members of the media, community leaders, parents, etc. The schools "on the list" are those "in need of improvement" or are "under-performing."
“It is important to note the law does not use the term 'failing' schools,” according to Rod Paige, Secretary of Education. "In some cases, schools identified as 'in need of improvement' may, in fact, be succeeding in some measures," he said. "What's important is that we know these schools are capable of getting better results for their students."
Here are ways you can be proactive in your communication with staff, parents and community leaders:
Explain that the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Report is a list of schools that need improvement. See “What is Adequate Yearly Progress?”.
- Remember to explain these reports to ALL school staff members including secretaries, bus drivers, custodians and food service staff. Local residents will seek out the opinions and knowledge of school staff at local grocery stores, churches, community events, parties and other informal settings.
- Tell school staff, students, parents and community leaders whether your building(s) expect(s) to be on the NCLB AYP list and explain the actions that might be taken BEFORE they read about it in the newspaper.
- You have a story to tell about the strengths and challenges of each school building and the steps that have been taken toward improving student achievement. Tell your school's story BEFORE the media does. You should use building and district newsletters, Web sites, message boards, and small group meetings with staff, parents and community leaders. Be sure to mention specific things the staff, students, parents and community members can do to help improve student achievement.
- Each principal may want to create a one-page written statement (your school's story) that can be approved by the superintendent in advance of the release of AYP. This statement can be shared with staff, parents and community leaders. It can also be included in newsletters. If approved and used in response to media inquiries.
- Each principal may want to craft at least three key messages s/he wants people to remember about the school's data. Ask yourself: "What's the message here? How are we doing?" Make sure these messages are clear, concise and honest. Communicate them to staff, parents and community leaders.
- Do not refer to your school or to any others as "failing." If educators use this word, others will think it is accurate. The schools "on the list" are those “needing improvement."
· Meet with staff to revisit your school’s student achievement plan to see if revisions are warranted. Have your school improvement team send an encouraging memo and the revised plan to all staff members. Every member of your school staff may want to sign this plan showing their commitment to improving student achievement. The plan can be shared in district newsletters or can be posted within the school building.
- Meet with parents to review the parent involvement policy and school/parent compact (Title I schools and programs). Have your school accountability committee distribute these documents to other parents. Ask the school accountability committee to review the documents and come up with additional ways to encourage parents to take action. Note that NCLB 115 STAT. 1503 lists the following parent responsibilities: "monitoring attendance, homework completion, television watching, volunteering in their child's classroom, participating, as appropriate, in decisions relating to the education of their children and positive use of extracurricular time."
- Principals may want to identify and meet with key members of the neighborhood in which their school building is located. Brainstorm a list of things these neighbors can do to help. Ask one leader to spearhead this community group to ensure that action is taken.