Expert Viewpoint

4 Ways a Districtwide Communications Platform Strengthened Our Stakeholder Relationships

On any given school day, our 17,300 students across 32 schools speak more than 60 different languages. Where the top languages (aside from English) spoken include Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese and Chinese, in that order.

Our district has numerous specialized programs, three bilingual elementary schools, a bilingual middle school, and a high school that participates in its own bilingual program. Before implementing our unified platform for school-home communications, we were using a handful of tools to communicate with parents — it was disconnected and hard for parents and guardians to keep up. And believe me when I say, there’s no emoji to illustrate the frustration of a parent who receives one communication style from a teacher or coach one day, and then something completely different from a principal or school district office the next. We knew we had to find a solution that could work for everyone.

When schools moved to remote learning during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we found ParentSquare and started using the platform as a primary means of two-way, school-home communications. It proved to be the answer to a lot of our communications issues. We were lucky that many of our educators were early adopters, so they really influenced the rest of our staff, and particularly in light of the pandemic, played a vital role in us shifting everyone to the new tool.

Since the initial implementation, our communications platform has allowed us to refine our exchanges and:

  • Find out what parents really want. As part of our planning process for the 2020-21 school year, we used our new communications platform to survey parents about what they wanted their schools’ reopenings to look like. We wanted to make sure that people knew that the survey was generated by us and that we were listening. Through that exercise, we learned that parents wanted consistent, frequent, and predictable communications, in their preferred language, that met the needs of their diverse community. Then, we designed our whole return-to-school plan based on that specific parental feedback.
  • Break down language barriers. Our parents also needed reassurance that they’d be able to receive communications in a format that they could understand. We already had standards in place for language interpretation and translation, and we’re grateful for the platform’s translation capabilities for those languages that our staff members aren’t fluent in.
  • Keep everyone in the know. We use the platform to send out information about what’s happening right now on any of our campuses. When events take place at our schools, people know about it. They’re very attuned to what’s happening, including reports of vague threats or other information that can spread like wildfire. We know that any silence becomes complicit in fanning that misinformation, so we work hard to quickly get to the essence of current information needs, the intended audience, and whether any follow-ups are needed. We also keep the messaging concise, remembering that no one has 20 minutes to read something that could be encapsulated in a paragraph.
  • Build community and trust. On a monthly basis, I use the communications platform to share the excitement of our district’s classrooms, colleagues, and community. I view this as yet another trust-building activity that helps showcase some of the amazing things that are happening on campus. We're embedding videos and photos into our communications — so it’s not just text — and delivering information in the way that today’s reader best digests it. These messages play a vital role in our ability to build a close-knit community and increase trust.

Replacing our previous modes of communication with a unified platform helps us share the brand of North Clackamas School District, center our equity values, and solidify relationships with our entire school community. The stories we send go out to all of our staff, parents, and guardians, plus other key stakeholders (e.g., community members) who have a vested interest in our district.

Having a centralized communications platform really helps us put students, families, and the community first. With everything that’s going on in the world, we need to put communication with all our stakeholders at the center of our work so that trust can continue to be built. That’s how we're going to bridge differences.

About the Author

Shelly Reggiani, Ed.D., is Executive Director of Equity, Community Engagement & Communications at North Clackamas School District in Portland, Oregon.