The Kingston City School District is changing its communications plan, with an eye on being proactive rather than reactive.
A presentation of the plans during a meeting of the Board of Education last month shows a measured approach based on the RACE model, which prioritizes Research, Action planning, Communication, and Evaluation. School officials said the plan will be underway during the current 2022-23 school year, and will be fully enacted during the 2025-26 school year.
Superintendent Paul Padalino last week said the importance of open and candid lines of communication became abundantly clear during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More people were tuned in, more people were expecting more communication about things that in the past we might not have communicated about,” Padalino said. “More people are signed up for our text messages than ever before. More people are hitting our website than ever before, there are more people on our Facebook than ever before.”
Padalino said that the new communications plan is the result of public input.
“We brought in a consultant, we did presentations, we did focus groups, we did surveys,” he said. “We found areas where people thought we weren’t doing what we should be doing. What the pandemic did was it really highlighted how important communication was during that time, and it continues to be to people now.”
The project team included Holly Brooker, Ulster BOCES’ community relations supervisor; Jessica Clegg, Ulster BOCES’ community relations specialist; Karen Seery, the KCSD’s district clerk, communications specialist and secretary to the superintendent; and Sandy Cokeley, an accredited communications consultant with Ulster BOCES.
“Dr. Padalino called me one day and expressed the desire to really look at how the district could create a comprehensive communications plan and how we could partner with the district to do so,” said Brooker during an early September School Board meeting. “We began that process with a very intensive materials review. We looked through existing communications, policy messaging samples, the different types of things that are posted on the website, materials, publications, things like that.”
Last week, Padalino acknowledged that the most challenging goal in the plan is to become more proactive than reactive.
“One of the biggest problems is social media,” he said. “We’re never going to be as Instagram or wherever else people are getting their information. But we’ve got to try to be as close as we can.”
In the near term, that means developing and deploying key messages, undergoing professional development on effective communication for district and school leaders, centralizing a filterable calendar, establishing dates by the summer prior to the start of the next school year, and creating a KCSD brand guide. By the end of the 2025-26 school year, the plan includes updating the communication matrix, improving customer service standards, creating a Board Brief newsletter to share what’s happening with the Board of Education, and establishing a crisis response communications team.
The second strategy of the plan is to leverage the district’s communication assets. During the 2022-23 school year, the district plans to schedule regular face-to-face opportunities for the superintendent to meet with staff, district families and other members of the community. Standardizing the start time of Board of Education meetings is also in the works, particularly as executive sessions can sometimes significantly push the public portion of meetings deeper into the evening. The Kingston Parent Council is also set to return, and the district hopes to enhance and refine the official KCSD website as well.
In the long term, the district hopes to maximize the capacity of the Blackboard automated notification system, to push notifications on finance and budget information posted on the district website, and to migrate the Elementary Reopening Committee into a broader standing committee, and then emulate that for secondary staff.
Getting the word to families
Elsewhere, the plan includes strengthening building-level communications with families, including standardizing and consistently updating school webpages, standardizing teacher and classroom apps, and standardizing social media apps and hashtags, as well as developing standards for content and posting.
Also in the plan is improving communication and engagement with non-English speaking families, as well as maximizing community partnerships.
During the early September meeting, Cokely said the communications plan should be focused but not inflexible.
“It’s pretty robust, it’s pretty aggressive,” Cokely said. “But while it is focused and it is specific, we also have to remain agile and flexible…And we know that schools are organic dynamic living things, and communication is always changing. I mean, when I started in 1990 in this, if you told me I was going to be able to press a button and 80 people would get a message on their phone inside of eight seconds, I would’ve told you, you were crazy.”
Padalino said that ultimately, the district’s communication plan has to reflect the needs of the community.
“I think that people have higher expectations of communication now than ever before, and we need to meet that expectation,” he said.