School boards to create online dialogue

Under a pilot program organized by the National School Boards Foundation, education officials and staff members in five school districts will go online to communicate with parents, gauge opinion on school priorities and communicate plans of action.

By bringing parents and others into the decision-making process, policy-makers can initiate reforms more easily.

The effort will go live in January when the school districts will add an area to their Web sites to communicate via e-mail, electronic newsletters, polls and online discussion forums. A third-party moderator will guide the online discussions.

An interactive voice-response system will be available by phone for those who don't have access to a computer, said Kathy McGuigan, NSBF project manager.

The five pilot districts are:

    * Blue Valley School District, Overland Park, Kan.

    * Calcasieu Parish School System, Lake Charles, La.

    * Greendale School District, Greendale, Wis.

    * Pittsburgh Public Schools, Pittsburgh, Pa.

    * Solon Community School District, Solon, Iowa.

The districts represent a cross-section of sizes, locations and socio-economic factors, and have widespread Internet access in schools and other public facilities.

The effort, funded by a $400,000 grant from the AOL Foundation, is called Xchange: Strengthening Schools Through Board Connections. The Learning Network Inc., a portal for education sites, will provide the graphical interface and technical support.

Once the pilot program is over in the spring of 2002, the NSBF will consider getting other districts to adopt the concept of a virtual school board community. NSBF, the project and research arm of the National School Boards Association, will promote best practices from the pilot program across the country.

"We want to teach boards and school districts how to use this technology and that it is not harmful, but an opportunity to improve," McGuigan said.

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