Published Online: November 15, 2000
Published in Print: November 15, 2000, as Leadership

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In Touch Online

School boards in five districts may soon get to know their communities a little better—and they'll do it electronically.

A pilot program sponsored by the National School Boards Foundation, based in Alexandria, Va., and the AOL Foundation, part of the Internet giant America Online of Dulles, Va., will link the school boards to their constituents via e- mail, message boards, Web site polls, and other electronic tools.

The idea is to help the local elected officials stay in better touch with their voters, and for school leaders to understand how the latest technology works.

"Most people are online," noted Brad Maynard, the superintendent of the 1,100-student Solon, Iowa, schools, one of the districts chosen to take part. Even in his neck of the woods—a district between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids that covers 100 square miles—three out of four people are believed to have Internet access in their homes.

To Mr. Maynard and his school board members, that means a new way to communicate.

Since some parents in his community drive to university and technical jobs in nearby cities, the superintendent says, they often have electronic mail at work, and never hesitate to send him queries about issues of the day.

He already sends e-mails to school board members and keeps in touch with some parents that way. With the new project, he hopes to do more: survey the community on various topics, post messages about school closings or events, and allow easier contact between parents, students, taxpayers, and the school leaders who work for them.

Mr. Maynard says he could have polled the public last week, for example, on whether to close school so that fans could drive 100 miles to attend a football playoff game. (The Solon Spartans were still undefeated last week, and schools were indeed closed Nov. 6.)

The district recently passed a $7.6 million bond issue to build a new high school, but the superintendent could have sought more advice from the public on whether the project should have been a middle school instead.

"A lot of times it could eliminate rumor" about votes or issues, Mr. Maynard added.

The other districts participating are the 15,000-student Overland Park, Kan., schools outside Kansas City, Mo.; the 35,000-student Calcasieu Parish schools in Lake Charles, La.; the 2,200-student Greendale, Wis., schools outside Milwaukee; and the 47,000-student Pittsburgh schools in Pennsylvania.

—Alan Richard

Vol. 20, Issue 11, Page 9

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