Southampton County Public Schools addressing communication with parents
Published 12:25 pm Thursday, April 21, 2022
The Southampton County Public Schools administration briefed the Southampton County School Board in its first meeting of 2022 on the school division’s communication plan and preliminary and practical tips for everyday communication with parents, outlining how SCPS employees will treat the public and what the public can expect from them.
At the school board’s March 14 meeting, a parent and member of the public, George Collins, said he was glad to see the presentation on communication, but he said he wanted the board to ask administrators two questions.
“When will the communication plan be presented to the parents? And when will it be followed?” he asked.
At the conclusion of the preliminary and practical tips presentation by SCPS Director of Curriculum and Instruction Kelli Gillette during the board’s Jan. 10 meeting, Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn asked, “How are parents going to know the plan? How are you going to share this plan with the parents?”
“We’re going to put it on the website,” Gillette said, referring to www.Southampton.k12.va.us. Then, referencing an education communication platform, she added, “We’re also going to have Remind, and we can put it through.”
Lastly, referencing a learning management system, she said, “We also have Schoology that we can post it on there as well, and parents have Schoology websites as well with that.”
In an April 12 interview, Collins said a variation of the communication plan was put on the school district’s website at some point.
“But the parents were never notified about it being on the website, and I didn’t even know it was on the website until shortly after I made my (March 14) comments,” he said. “The superintendent sent out on the Remind app a flyer about the communication plan in the middle of the school board meeting.”
He noted that Remind is the main communication platform that SCPS uses, and he said it is very effective.
“They have since sent a flyer out with all the emergency contacts of the various administrators within the school system, but the problem still exists that people are not returning phone calls and emails and things like that,” he said. “And I understand that people cannot respond to every single little minuscule issue that arises.”
Collins made a point to highlight what he sees as positive moves the school division is making, specifically in connection with emphasizing its communication plan.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction, but I think there’s still some work to be done, and that’s kind of what I was saying in my comments in that meeting,” he said.
Following are some of the details of the discussion and presentation that took place at the Jan. 10 school board meeting in reference to communication.
Goodwyn opened the agenda item by stating, “We know the importance of communication. We know that we need to communicate clearly, effectively, efficiently, both internally and externally, so Dr. Shannon has come up with some practical tips.”
Gillette went into the details, but SCPS Superintendent Dr. Gwendolyn P. Shannon first offered some preliminary information.
“In your packet you all have a copy of the communication plan, and this plan really contains a lot of information for our employees on how we will treat the public and different things that the public can expect of us,” she said. “Also, we have various chains of commands in this booklet, and this booklet is not new. This is something that we’ve shared with the board multiple times, but I just try to keep it front of mind so that you all know that we are really, really working on improving communication efforts.
“And also you’ll see a PowerPoint that looks very similar to the booklet about communication, and this is a PowerPoint that we’ve utilized before,” she continued. “But tonight, we also have some preliminary and practical tips for everyday communication with our parents, and that’s what Mrs. Gillette will come forward and talk about. And we think it’s important that we share some of these tips, because we want our parents to know what to expect when they call a school, what’s a reasonable turnaround time if they send us an email or things like that, so that’s what we will talk a little bit about tonight.”
The title of Gillette’s presentation was, “Preliminary Practical Tips for Everyday Communication with Parents.”
She addressed the flow of communication.
“We start with our teachers and our classified staff, to our guidance counselors, to our assistant principals, the dean of students, supervisors, then move on to principals, central office staff, the superintendent or the superintendent’s designee and then the school board,” she said.
She touched on preliminary expectations for communication in five different situations: phone communication, email communication, face-to-face communication with an appointment, face-to-face communication without an appointment at the schools and face-to-face communication without an appointment at the division office.
Following are details she shared from the first three three situations.
When a parent calls a school or the division office, they can expect the following:
- The phone will be answered promptly, at least by the third ring.
- A pleasant, positive, clear and professional greeting will be heard.
- The person who answers the phone will actively listen to the parent, whether it’s compliments or concerns.
- If the call is for a teacher, counselor, school- or district-level administrator or any employee, if the individual is available — not teaching — the parent can expect to be transferred to their extension. If the individual is not available, the parent can be expected to get a call back within 48 hours.
- All employees will check their voicemails daily and respond according to the above guidelines.
When parents send an email, Gillette said, “A professional response will be emailed within 48 hours. The emails may take a little time — that’s why we say 48 hours — because they may require additional research. They may not answer all the questions, but we’ll do the very best we can.”
The presentation noted that division employees will not respond to rhetoric, philosophical views or matters that are not relevant to educational matters within the school division.
Lastly in reference to this situation, the presentation stated that all emails from bonafide persons will be acknowledged. This does not include spam, marketers or anonymous emails.
In terms of parent expectations for face-to-face communication with appointments, Gillette said, “They can expect prompt, professional communication.”
She said they will not have to wait for more than 15 minutes without an explanation as to why. Parents will have the full attention of the division employee, and the employee is permitted to take notes. The employee is expected to be actively listening, using a polite tone. They will provide a verbal summary at the end of the meeting, discuss next steps, and the parent will receive a follow-up email or phone call.
At the end of her presentation, Gillette highlighted a new superintendent communication email.
“We do have many emails that come in,” she said. “Dr. Shannon, herself, gets hundreds of emails daily. … We want to make sure that we are having communication with parents, and so Dr. Shannon has set up a new email just for parents.”
The email address is superintendent@Southampton.k12.va.us.
“You can still email GShannon@Southampton.k12.va.us,” Gillette said, “but sometimes things tend to get buried after so many emails come in, so we are recommending — and this will be on our website as well — that you use this email and you will get a faster response, again, within the 48 hours.”
Board member Lynn Bradley emphasized the importance of everyone with the division checking their voice mailboxes, making sure they are set up and are sufficiently cleared to allow people to continue to leave voicemails.