Board ponders options for marketing an identity for local schools

Marketing the local school district and repairing school buildings dominated the discussion during a public work session of the Huntington County Community School Corporation Board of School Trustees on Monday, April 17.

Board members, with Brian Warpup absent, discussed whether to hire an outside firm to market the district’s strengths, hire an employee to handle the task in-house or a combination of both.

Superintendent Randy Harris said the district has taken a look at what other school corporations around the region are doing to brand and market their schools.

“Whatever marketing they are doing is in-house,” he said. “There are some that are trying to coordinate such things as Twitter accounts and Facebook and Instagram, but it’s all internal, and nobody has a real, formal plan to do marketing that I can find.”

Currently, each school in Huntington County posts its own content to individual Facebook pages and an administrative staff secretary monitors the posts.

“That’s kind of where we are at the moment,” Harris said, adding that a new web page is scheduled to be up and running on July 1.

Harris told the board he has asked two firms and may ask a third to visit HCCSC, evaluate the corporation’s marketing needs, recommend services and offer prices.

“One thing we really need to do is create a survey and find out, what does our public really know? Not just what does our school public know,” he said. “When you realize that about 18 to 20 percent of the population have kids in school, that leaves 80 percent of the community that is not directly tied in to the schools, so what do they really know about the schools?”

Board member Reed Christiansen reminded the board that the recent district audit completed by Yager and Pettibone recommended building a brand identity and bringing all the HCCSC schools into that brand. He suggested putting standards and practices in place for schools.

“Even if we brought in one person or hired an agency, with the amount of information they have, they would not be able to stay on top of all of it,” Christiansen said. “They would need a team of people to do that.”

He also brought up the idea of hiring an in-house person who could outsource some work to PR or advertising firms.

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Classified Staff Jon Bennett suggested training the entire staff to be advocates for the school corporation.

The needs of the district’s facilities were also discussed. With bids on repairs to Riverview Middle School’s roof coming in at under $1 million — lower than the corporation anticipated — focus now turns to how to spend money from the general obligation bond on other repairs.

One option, Bennett said, would be to upgrade the stucco around Riverview’s building. Another option would be to fix the adhesive issues with carpeting at Andrews, Flint Springs and Lincoln elementary schools. Other needs include replacing a chiller unit at Horace Mann, a chiller at Crestview, an office air conditioner unit at Crestview and other smaller items.

Other issues discussed included:

• The upcoming vote on the purchase of new iPads and other technology upgrades.

Technology Director Tom Ashley said crews will be installing cabling, Internet access points and other WiFi upgrades and upgrading a data center this summer. Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Chad Daugherty added that the high school’s summer school program will be held at the Horace Mann Education Center because of the work.

• The idea of a “high ability” school or program for talented students.

Harris discussed creating magnet classrooms at Salamonie School for the program. He said it had been done several years ago but didn’t work out because of decreased funding and other issues.

“Some of the problems are what we’ve faced already with the first issue here. Some of it — high ability — hasn’t done a very good job of marketing what high ability does and letting the parents know what we are doing in the classroom,” he said. “I would venture to say that if we created a high ability program at Salamonie, we may have just created a four-star school. We’ve also created a drain on all of our other schools, of kids that have ISTEP-Plus scores and those kinds of things, that you’re pulling out of our other elementaries.”

Bennett noted that the schools can apply for a gifted and talented grant from the Indiana Department of Education, which may help fund such a program.

• The need to designate a high school valedictorian-salutatorian was also discussed.

Harris said more schools, including Carmel High School, are eliminating having valedictorians. He said more discussion is coming about  HCCSC following the trend.

“There are decisions that kids are making, based on class rank, that I would tell you long-term are probably hurting them,” Harris added, including some who are skipping classes they need in order to take “weighted” classes that will improve their grade point average.