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Parent Concerns: Avoid Being Blindsided, Stay Informed

Good school districts pride themselves on their ability to reach out to and work with parents and other members of the school community. But just because you think you have a good communications strategy, doesn’t mean your stakeholders agree.

Such was the case in Kalma, Wash., recently, when administrators at a local elementary school claimed they were “blindsided” by a parent letter outlining a litany of serious concerns.

Among those concerns, first reported by the Daily News Online, poor communication between staff and parents, insufficient reporting on student injuries sustained at school, a lack of extracurricular activities, safety risks related to local traffic congestion, bullying in the school cafeteria and high teacher turnover.

Chris Roberts, the letter’s author and a parent in the district, suggested that parents and school administrators have a shared responsibility to address problems in the community. While the letter came as a surprise to school officials, Roberts says better communication could have prevented many of the issues outlined in his letter from coming to a head.

But he doesn’t just point the finger at administrators.

“For the most part, parents weren’t using the proper procedure. We were naive,” Roberts told the paper. “We should have been going to school board meetings, and a lot of things would have been figured out there. We created a perfect storm.”

The school’s principal, Ann Whittaker, said she was not fully aware of all the concerns in the letter. But she did say the school would work to improve how it communicates with parents.

“I don’t know where (the mistrust is) coming from,” Whittaker told the paper. “We want to get it right, and if somehow we’re alienating parents … we want to get on the same page.”

Clearer messaging
Educators in Kalma aren’t the only ones looking for ways to build trust and improve communication. Across the country, school leaders are forced to confront new realities, many fueled by the always-on nature of modern technology.

When a bomb threat forced the evacuation of a Staten Island high school for the second time in one day, parents blamed a lack of online updates for stoking confusion.

“We understand if [administrators] can’t share the details, but just tell us the children are safe,” parent Sam Pirozzolo told Silive.com. “We get contacted if [our children] are late, or miss a class, or are absent, but this they can’t do? In this day and age, that’s inexcusable.”

Pirozzolo has a point. But, as a school leader, how do you strike the right balance between effective communication and over-solicitation?

That process starts by including all the members of your school community in the conversation. Town hall meetings are one way to do this. But, as evidenced by the situation in Kalma, they don’t always provide a clear picture of what everyone in your district is thinking.

If you really want to understand the expectations of parents and other stakeholders, you’ve got to meet them where they are—and when they need you. Let’s Talk! can help.