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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Lesson Learned

Although we are not yet finished with our Open House events, I can already say I've learned a lesson. Tonight was the second of three such activities scheduled on consecutive nights. Since these programs are scheduled so early in the school year, and I am still new to the district, they have occurred with less involvement on my part than I would normally provide. I will admit that I allowed everything to proceed as it has in the past because I am new and assume "that's the way it is" or, "it must have worked in the past because we keep on doing it." That may border on being irresponsible and I apologize if it appears so. Sometimes you don't realize what can be improved until the experience unfolds. However, I've seen enough to offer an observation that we can, and will, do a better job of organizing and promoting any future Open House.

First, let's begin with advertising the events. It's not enough to simply list the programs on our website. Even if people have Internet access, it doesn't mean they check the district website every day. While our district website is an award winning website and offers a lot of important information, we are competing for your time and attention with many other entertaining attractions (television, other computer programs, movies, family time, recreation...) and it would be foolish of any school to imagine that parents routinely and anxiously visit our website each and every day. A survey conducted at the school where I worked prior to coming here revealed that the average parent checked the district website just a little over once a week. There could have been, and should have been, written reminders sent home to encourage parents to come visit Heatly during Open House. We could've enlisted the support of the Parent Teacher Organization to reach out and contact other parents over the phone to invite them to attend.

Second, scheduling events on three straight evenings does not seem accommodating to busy parents and may approach a sense of indifference toward the reality of those we serve. That's difficult and inconvenient for many parents to fit into their personal schedules, particularly if their attendance at a school function requires child care services for children at home. Not only is it a time crunch issue, but it also results in a challenge to find a babysitter - and pay for one too! Showing your support for your child's education at Open House should not require you to pay more than your time and interest. We should be able to condense the number of evenings for Open House, and still allow opportunities for parents with more than one child to visit with multiple teachers and classrooms rather than force them to commit to as many as three different nights.

Third, free child care services can be supplied during Open House by either representatives of our Parent Teacher Organization or in combination with high school honor society or student council members who seek community service responsibilities. This would make it less inconvenient for some parents to attend Open House - without cost as well. We could make the gymnasium available for play activities or a movie projected on a wall of the gymnasium or several other engaging possibilities.

Fourth, our need to attract parents to Open House and other school activities is like that of a store seeking to lure shoppers in to buy items. I may go to a store only because of one product featured in a sale advertisement, but find myself buying other items that I discovered while I was in the store. And, if the products proved to be worthy, and the service was helpful, then I would more likely return again - and again. Why not solicit a donation of gift cards from any of a number of businesses that recognize the value of parent involvement in schools.? Why not give each parent a numbered ticket when they arrive at Open House and then have them drop it off in a box near the end of the program and then draw tickets for door prizes? Why not offer some snacks and beverages too? Once we get people in the door then it's our responsibility to convince them to come back by demonstrating an interesting and quality program.

I regret if this blog sounds more like a rant, but it's meant to reflect our need to examine what we do, how we do it, and most importantly, why we do it? I can assure you that we'll look at Open House and whatever else we could be doing better and make the necessary commitment and changes to improve.

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