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Time to talk with people and not just talk at them
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There are 23,000 students in Manteca Unified.

That means there are likely 46,000 parents.

Then there are the 51,000 or so folks that aren’t parents or students who have a vested interest in the district. Call them taxpayers, residents, employers, or voters

There are advantages to size but there are perils.

The best way to avoid things from going sideways as well as to maximize the effectiveness of the district in harnessing community resources is through communication.

And by communication that does not mean simply talking at people but talking with them.

Alexander Bronson understands the importance of real communication whether it is between a teacher and a student, an administrator and a teacher, the administration and the board or the district with the community.

The 22-year-old school board member has never known a world without the Internet. Rest assured he can work his way around social media with the best of them. But he is quick to point out the fallacy of communication strategies that rely exclusively or heavily on electronic devices. Emails thanks to spam fills in boxes with greater volumes of junk than snail mail could ever produce. Tweeting is fairly limited in what you can say.

There is an electronic Tower of Babel out there. 

That said newsletters, newspapers, radio, websites, and TV alone aren’t all encompassing either in their reach. 

Manteca Unified is a far cry from a century ago when word of mouth, the newspaper, and a few flyers informed everyone in town about a school event. And with student enrollment in the hundreds and the community’s population in the low thousands almost everyone pitched in to help schools fulfill needs. And if the community was upset about something school officials knew it. And if schools were doing something new everyone found out about it.

That’s not the case today.

And although the district does get a decent amount of information out the effectiveness of that reach is tepid at best as illustrated by the Going Digital initiative.

The district has taken steps to remedy that with the posting on the Manteca Unified website this past week of answers to frequently asked questions regarding Going Digital.

But even that isn’t the complete answer to effective communication — far from it.

Engaging people in real one-on-one conversations is critical.

Teacher Leo Bennet Chauchon made a point  at a recent board meeting that a Going Digital blog would have been even better than posting answers to questions that the district has been gathering. That’s because it allows follow up questions that can provide additional clarity or root out even deeper concerns.

The district could host a live blog for a specific hour once a week to address parent and community concerns or hear suggestions on how to make Going Digital even better,

Bronson wants to crank Manteca Unified communications up a notch even beyond an interactive blog.

Since board members are now elected by seven districts he’d like to see town hall style meetings conducted by each trustee at times convenient for most of the residents within their district. There would be no agenda except for what people bring up to discuss.

The going may go slow at first but it can catch on.

And targeted town hall meetings would be effective such as asking employers and business owners to one.

Yes, the district has sought out employers in the past for specific projects and have generated curriculum accordingly to help prepare students for the “real world,” but it’s been a limited conversation.

There is value in winning over skeptics by letting them know what you are doing. And there is also value on receiving additional input. Build a relationship and all of a sudden the district may find itself with a small army of mentors, advisors, volunteer support, and even additional supplies and materials to enhance what they already had.

The best example in recent years is the school farm. The program is what it is today because the district opened a dialogue with frustrated farmers, listened, got them on board, and went to town.

The district’s be.tech initiative is in the same vein although perhaps not as intense.

Stepping up communications would go a long ways to making education stronger in Manteca, Lathrop, French Camp, and Stockton’s Weston Ranch neighborhood.

The fallacy of instant communication is that it leads you to believe you are actually reaching people because you can do it in a heartbeat and that they fully understand what you are talking about.

Smartphones, the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and such are only tools. They don’t replace the real deal of making connections with people one-on-one.

High performing schools that everyone is so envious of all effectively communicate with parents as well as the community.

And their communication consists of more than an email blast, a Facebook, website posting or sending home a note with students.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.