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 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, Wis.

* Pittsburgh Public Schools, Pa.

* Solon Community School District, Solon, Iowa

The districts represent a cross-section of sizes, locations and socio-economic

groups, 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. will provide the graphical interface and technical support.

Once the pilot program is over in the spring of 2002, the NSBF (www.nsbf.org)

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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