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Russell Street School's online newsletter

Cluster Goal 2

Strong leadership of eLearning

Cluster Goal 4

Family, whanau and the wider education community participate through online environments and the sharing and celebrating of eLearning

The context

During 2010 the leadership team discussed how we had noticed that many of our school community seemed to not be reading printed notices and how we had to send multiple copies to ensure messages got through to everybody.  With so much information being on class and personal student blogs, parents were now being more informed by online sources.  Also discussed was how printed newsletters were very static and the information could often be a week old by the time it got sent out to the community. The TNB (Thursday Notice Board), our weekly newsletter, was due for a 2011 makeover and we thought that as part of this process we would trial an online newsletter. This would allow us to post regularly and use moving and still images as well as make links to relevant sites.

The focus

To share information with our community in a timely manner using an engaging online format.

The rationale

To ensure all stakeholders in our school were informed and up to date with school events.

What did we do?

Early in 2011, Principal David Reardon and Deputy Principal James Rea discussed the things that would need to carry over from a paper copy as far as content and style were concerned. We contemplated possible online publishing formats including a website, wiki, facebook, and a blog.
It was decided to use a Google site that looked and felt much like a blog under our Russell Street School domain.  Being part of the school's Google Apps and part of the domain allowed easy control over the contributors and allowed all staff to post to the TNB online.  James then set up a trial model of what the TNB would look like. The administration and leadership team were shown the model and found that the posting of items was easy. Since the site was part of the school domain, once you logged into email you were also logged in to edit the TNB. 

We realised that for this new format to be successful we would still need parents to regularly access the site - just as we relied on parents opening their child's bag and finding the paper copy of the TNB.   Texting reminders provided an obvious solution and James discovered a cheap software program called ‘Bluephone Elite', which connected the administration computer to the school cell phone via Bluetooth. This allowed us to download and regularly update a database of parents' cell phone contacts to the computer's address book from our SMS. We could then type a text reminding parents to check the online newsletter on the computer screen and send this as a text to all parents in that group. This text is sent on a Thursday with a link to the site.  In addition, a 2degrees prepay sim card was purchased which allowed texting to any network with their $10 pack (2000 texts for a month)

To get the new online version up and running, staff tutorials were held regularly for those wanting to post items and to problem solve e.g. how to get images etc the way we wanted them to look.   A screen-cast (movie of the computer screen) showing how to post to the TNB was made, uploaded to YouTube and a link sent to all staff.
Along with the online newsletter, a paper copy of the newsletter was kept running for 2 - 3 weeks while we moved over to having just the online version. However, in week 3 we just printed the last 7 days of posts in a booklet for all our families. (We still do this but now its only 30 copies, not the 350 we used to print)
A post for parents was made about how to subscribe to RSS feeds so parents would be able to see new posts to the TNB, School website, class blogs and online portfolios from one place.

What happened?

Parents have seemed to happily move to the online version of the newsletter. This may be due to the prominence of online information, like class blogs and the school website, already in place at Russell Street. Parents were happy to receive text reminders.

The task of collating, formatting, printing, folding and distributing the newsletter by the admin team has been greatly reduced as teachers post directly and we now only print 30 copies.  Parents can access information as soon as it is posted and subscribe to RSS feed so they get information, as they need it.

The newsletter is now searchable, with the community able to search for relevant words and get all the information - even if it had been posted months ago. Return slips and additional information is attached to the post so they don't get lost and can be referred back to later. Contributors have regularly added images, movies, links to relevant sites, or attached additional information and return slips etc.

What did we learn?

Texting is a cheap and effective way to communicate.  An example is the school sending a request for help with distributing a community newsletter and receiving about 60 responses in the hour.   We then had to send a second text to say we no longer needed any more help!

Online newsletters can lighten the load and still get the message across to your community. However there are still some people who just want to read news off a piece of paper.  If you keep looking you will find the technology that meets your needs and can even exceed expectations.

This is an ongoing and new initiative and ongoing development and feedback will be needed over time.

Russell Street School ‘Thursday Notice Board' 

Russell Street School Deputy Principal, James Rea talks about family participation in learning