While increasing transparency and improving constituents’ access to information were the district’s primary goals, CMS also realized significant savings by publishing and distributing the information online rather than in print. With 17,000 employees and more than 135,000 students, the district would have had to reduce the report’s content and narrow the audience significantly to be able to afford the printing and distribution costs.

The first of its kind for CMS, the annual report will serve as a model for future online publications, according to Henry, who used an outside firm to help design and program it for the online environment.

Like many school systems nationwide, CMS’ information technology department is “overworked and understaffed,” says Henry. “We needed a team that could exclusively dedicate time to produce the district’s first interactive report.”

While shifting from print to online information distribution makes sound economic sense, school officials should expect some push-back from constituents who either don’t believe tax dollars should be spent on communication efforts or who are concerned about those who don’t have internet access.

It certainly doesn’t hurt, and is part of our role as school leaders, to remind employees, parents, and community stakeholders that public schools can’t thrive without the support of the public, and a steady flow of information and meaningful opportunities for involvement in school and district decision-making are required to keep the public in our public schools.

School leaders also should keep the latest Pew Internet and American Life research regarding the internet at their fingertips. Updated frequently, these data show that 74 percent of all U.S. adults are now online and that 62 percent of those online now use the internet to view video content.

While the Pew research is helpful and the data are representative nationwide, this doesn’t mean the same statistics will hold true for your local community, however.

Knowing the preferred and most trusted information channels for each stakeholder group is an important part of communications planning, so before you start creating your own online annual report, do a little homework on your local community first. That said, CMS’ online annual report offers an excellent model to emulate.

Award-winning eSN columnist Nora Carr is the chief of staff for North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools.

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Successful Video Production resource center. Knowing how to produce, edit, and distribute video gives high school and college graduates a valuable and much-in-demand skill. Go to: Successful Video Production


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