One way to get parents talking: add days to the school year. When that type of change occurs, superintendents and Board of Education members know they’ll be fielding many calls and emails.
In Caledonia, that’s when the Key Communicators launch into action, like modern-day town criers, ready to spread the word accurately and thoroughly to their school community.
“When (the district) added on extra school days, people didn’t know it was a state-mandated thing rather than a school district thing,” said parent Rhonda Schroder.
So the Key Communicators, a group of designated parent liaisons, fanned out to explain that boosting the required number of days in a school year to 180 — which led to a shortened Christmas break — was required by the state.
“It was a hot topic,” said Schroder, who has served six years in the group and is stepping down this spring when her daughter, Olivia, graduates.
The 20-year-old group serves as an information conveyor for the district, informing parents and community members on issues ranging from why a snow day is called to how school funding is formulated. From parents, they bring issues to the administration and board.
Key Communicators are assigned to the district’s high school, two middle schools, five elementary schools and early childhood center, sharing information between Superintendent Randy Rodriguez, the school board, and parents and the community. The group meets monthly with Rodriguez or Assistant Superintendent Darryl Kingsbury and a board member, reporting back to school principals and Parent Teacher Organizations.
When misinformation starts to bubble or an issue gets heated on social media, they are quick to squash it with facts, Schroder said. Communicators present no-frills information clearly so people understand what they are voting for during elections that affect the district, why changes or decisions are made, or what’s gone into the district’s budget. They also have become skilled at taking the occasional “litmus test” on whether there’s support for a bond proposal or district initiative, Schroder said.
Rodriguez said the parents bring valuable perspectives regarding policies, practices and current events in the schools to the table.
“They truly serve in a capacity to open two-way communication, as we share an opportunity each month to have healthy dialogue about the issues that are important to our parents,” he said.
Providing a Strong Voice for Parents
The communicators recently met for their monthly meeting, and took a moment to discuss their role. Not only do they share information with parents, they often generate ideas or spread them from building to building.
Sheli Langejans, the new communicator for Duncan Lake Middle, said she looks forward to helping parents transition into secondary school.
“I’d like to help other parents feel like they’re in the know,” Langejans said. “I think that it helps to dispel some of the rumors that go around, but also to just feel connected. For me, it’s a way as a parent to help other parents feel a connection to the school district and to the school that their kids are in.”
Jamie Blunt, outgoing communicator for Duncan Lake, said she’s seen the value in just stating the facts when the rumor mill gets churning. “Everybody is going to have an opinion, but if you are giving clear facts, than that is just (what they are),” Blunt said.
The communicators also often act as intrepid voices for timid parents who don’t want to raise a question themselves to the administration.
“I think some parents are just more comfortable going to another parent,” said Jason Saido, who represents Kettle Lake Elementary. “Randy (Rodriguez) gets a lot of information that he probably wouldn’t otherwise.”
Kingsbury, the assistant superintendent, calls the communicators “a critical part of our district. This really allows the avenue of that communication that we might otherwise not get.”