Deer Valley Unified School District is massive – serving over 32,000 students, it is the sixth-largest district in the state. The boundaries cover parts of Phoenix, Glendale, Peoria, Anthem, New River, Cave Creek, and other unincorporated parts of Maricopa County. With 41 schools and a community encompassing 367 square miles, communication with stakeholders can, at times, be challenging. But it doesn’t have to be.
Over the last several years, one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard is a lack of consistent communication between the district, campuses, teachers, and parents – most notably regarding changes to policies that directly impact our student population. Inconsistency in these communications can cause confusion for students, parents, and teachers. When we have different policies at different schools for things like volunteering or field trips, both parents and students become frustrated. When educators are given a new process or policy to follow but don’t understand it completely, they become frustrated.
If the trials and tribulations of the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that communication can make a huge difference in the relationship between stakeholder groups. It’s always been clear that not all stakeholders will always agree on every decision made, but early and comprehensive explanations of what decision was made and why can go a long way in helping all of those impacted be more understanding, or give them the opportunity to weigh in on the topic before it’s too late.
Having received many communications from the district, campuses, and educators myself, I can see where the risk for misunderstandings lies. All too often there is important information at the bottom of an email, with a brief summary of the topic and a link to view more information – but the information on that link isn’t always clear. Many times I’ve clicked to read more only to find that it’s an update to a much larger policy, and I can’t find what’s been updated. I’ve also experienced where a survey is sent out asking stakeholders for input on a major change without a clear explanation of the benefits of said change, or clearly defined considerations of some of the negative impacts a change could have.
When we’re all informed and have the most accurate information, we can all make the best decisions for our kids, our district, and our community.
There are solutions. First, we need to make sure that all of our communications are consistent for all stakeholder groups across the district. If we’re making a policy change, dissemination of that information needs to be made from the top-down, across multiple channels, with clear explanations of the change in a single topic email. By the time a change reaches parents and students, the district, campus, and individual teachers should have sent that information, in addition to it being posted on the website and social media channels.
I also believe that we can make better use of technology in our communications. Let’s be honest, most of us have a pretty short attention span – we’re a society of 60-second videos and constant scrolling. So in addition to a long written explanation of a change or update, a quick video with a brief overview of the topic would also be beneficial to stakeholders. Not only does it give us an opportunity to get a good understanding of an announcement very quickly, but it also adds a human element to the communication. A face, emotion, and a good explanation go a long way.
Finally, I believe that there is great power in town halls, webinars, and discussion panels for complicated topics. Stakeholder groups have a lot of questions – let’s give them the opportunity to ask questions, get responses, and share those responses with the rest of the audience. This has the added benefit of bringing the community together for one common goal – our kids’ education.
When we’re all informed and have the most accurate information, we can all make the best decisions for our kids, our district, and our community. As a Deer Valley Unified School District school board candidate, it is one of my missions to improve communication and give parents and guardians the opportunity to understand and participate in their child’s education.