The Owl: Too Many Educators are Missing the Benefits of Email
ISSUE 45 | MARCH 24, 2002
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For 20 years, professionals in government, the sciences, and business have used email to communicate quickly and at low cost. The rest of America has recently caught up.
Well, almost everyone. Educators are unfortunately bringing up the rear. Some rationalize their foot-dragging by saying that email doesn't reach every parent. These slow-pokes should take a look at this study by the Pew Charitable Trust.
More than 51 million Americans by March 2001 (a year ago) had emailed family or friends. This was up 70 percent from the year prior, a phenomenal rate of growth. If that rate of growth continued at the same rate for the next twelve months, more than 86 million Americans would be emailing today.
Is everyone using email? Not yet. But given these numbers, that day is not far away. Perhaps more important is the centrality of email in the lives of those who use it.
SUCCESS STORY IN PLEASANTON UNIFIED
When the Owl did a quick survey of Bay Area school districts to find early adopters, the list he compiled was startlingly short. One pioneer, however, is prospering.
Pleasanton Unified's Community Liaison, Jerri Long, talked with me about her district's embrace of email. It was no after-thought, she assured me. The turn toward email was driven by her district's strategic plan, which focuses on parent satisfaction and improved productivity. So the transition to two-channel school-to-home communication (email and regular mail) was supported at the highest levels.
Parents were encouraged to sign up for email notices, either online via the district's website, or at school events like Back-to-School Night. Out of about 13,500 students enrolled, approximately 4,700 households have now subscribed. Because some parents maintain more than one subscription (husband and wife, home and work), Ms. Long isn't sure of the exact portion of their enrollment they serve via email. But the Owl would guess it's about one-third.
One school's parents really got the message, and signed up in droves. Now more than 80 percent of the parents at Phoebe Apperson Hearst Elementary are reading their school notices via email.
BENEFITS TO PARENTS AND EDUCATORS
According to Ms. Long, parents like email for the following reasons:
What educators liked aside from having happy parent-customers were the savings that resulted from reductions in mailed communications, and the quick replies they received from parents who they might not have heard from otherwise. For all the hollow, half-hearted assertions by educators of how much they want parent involvement, here's one district that took a practical step to pave the road. The healthy dialogue the district now enjoys with its parent community should give other districts incentive to give email a try.
DO THE MATH. Get out your calculator and figure what your district now spends on school-to-home communications. A district like Pleasanton USD's serving 13,500 students might be sending an average of six messages home per student during the year. That's 81,000 messages. If they were all mailed at first-class rates, the postage alone would be $27,540. Factor in printing and mail handling costs, and you're easily at $35,000.
BE BOLD. Jerri Long describes herself as a "techno peasant." You do not need to be a techie to bring email to your district, she told me emphatically. So don't be shy. Find technology implementers inside your district (or outside) and get started.
BE STRATEGIC. Email is not just a tactic. It is a strategy for doing some old things more productively, and doing some new things as well. It is a strategy for adding capacity to your resource starved district. Want to involve parents? Give them a way to talk back to you when you write to them.
REPORT RESULTS. Your school accountability report cards (SARCs) can do more than sit on a shelf or languish in the corner of your district's website. Push this important report out to your parents and staff who have email addresses. Attach it to your superintendent's cover letter, and ask recipients to confirm receipt. Count how many confirmations you receive. And ask them to evaluate the quality of your annual report. Compare this to your efforts to distribute SARCs in prior years.
The Owl is happily hooting about email communication's practical benefits for parents and educators. Expect to hear more about email implementers in future issues. If your district is doing smart things with email, then by all means send the Owl a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Practical advice for deploying email is available from eschoolnews' columnist, Nora Carr, of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg school district in North Carolina.
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