School communication found lacking

Oak Harbor School District may soon hire a specialist who will implement a communications plan.

That is one of the major recommendations that came from a communications audit that was presented to Oak Harbor School Board during its Monday evening meeting.

Such a person would ensure that a consistent message gets out to the community.

“You’re big enough that you need someone to coordinate those projects,” said Jeanne Magmer, a consultant with C and M Communications, a Portland-based company hired by the school district to perform the $8,000 audit.

The audit consisted of reviewing the district’s communications policies, conducting a series of focus groups and providing recommendations for a two-year communications plan.

Magmer said the audit showed that the school district needs to send out a more consistent message that also promotes student achievement.

“One of the things I heard on those focus groups is that they don’t know how good you are,” Magmer said.

She added that the district also needs to improve communication with non-teaching staff and that many of those employees feel excluded from the school district.

Magmer pointed out that different mission statements appear on school district publications, calenders and brochures. She would rather see one mission statement visible throughout the district.

She added the district should improve its Web site because the community, especially those connected to the Navy, is Internet savvy.

Another recommendation is for the district to develop a “key communicator” network as a means of disseminating information to the public.

“It’s one of the most effective communications tools there is,” Magmer said.

Her recommendations were similar to some existing perceptions.

“I don’t think there were any surprises in the audit,” said Oak Harbor Schools Superintendent Rick Schulte in a Tuesday morning interview. “It just validated what we already knew.”

He said the focus groups were useful because it provided information on what people thought of the district’s communications policies.

The school board members seemed supportive of the audit's findings.

“We definitely need to talk to the public more frequently and directly,” said board member Kathy Jones during Monday’s meeting.

Board member Kathy Chalfant said if someone isn’t brought in to to implement the audit recommendations, then any communication plans would be hit and miss.

Schulte said he will work on finding the money to hire a communications specialist in the next several months.

Magmer suggested that the position could incorporate other job duties such as grant writing.

Schulte didn’t know what kind of salary the school district would offer but researched similar positions in other school districts.

He said Tuesday morning that the salaries in other districts range from $35,000 a year to $94,000 a year. Schulte said that any position the school district offers would be in the $40,000 to $55,000 a year range. School districts such as Mount Vernon, Lake Stevens and Bremerton offer those salaries.

Schulte hopes to have a plan on funding such a position to be ready sometime in June. That way it can make it into the district’s 2005 budget.

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