Communications 101 is my latest column published in American School Board Journal. Given the turnover that school boards see each winter following an election cycle, it’s a a good time to look at the do’s and don’ts of communications. Consider this a how to help your board become educated about the norms and protocols of your governance team.
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Last year, I wrote a freelance story on how schools on the Texas Gulf Coast were recovering following Hurricane Harvey. The same week, 12 months later, I returned to Galveston County to report on another disaster: the shooting at Santa Fe High School that left 10 people dead and 13 injured.
How the district is dealing with the aftermath of two large-scale traumatic events in a single school year is the focus of “After It All Falls Apart,” published in this month’s American School Board Journal. It is available to read in PDF form here and is also on the National School Boards Association website in text form here.
Seven of my freelance articles focusing on a diverse range of topics have been published in four national magazines this fall.
Three of the articles look at trends in K-12 schools and higher education. Two look at staffing services that help companies deal with a tough hiring environment and operational challenges. One examines whether to make crucial capital investments to expand business opportunities, and another looks at the challenges of printing on recycled plastics.
Below are brief summaries of each story. Click on the link to read or download the pieces in PDF form:
American School Board Journal
Teachers in Turmoil: The nation’s K-12 teachers are not happy—and they’re making their frustrations known. This past spring, they walked out of classrooms in six states to protest years of low pay and poor working conditions. An unprecedented number ran for seats in their state legislatures and for Congress. Add to that a 23 percent decline in the number of people completing teacher preparation programs, and you have a crisis in the making. (October-November)
Old Schools Never Die: Closing a neighborhood school is one of the most difficult and controversial decisions boards and superintendents make, even if doing so makes educational and financial sense. Community emotions run high before, during, and after the process, and the blowback is often fierce. (October-November)
Deciding with Data: Higher education institutions—large and small, public and private—are increasingly tapping into data to make better informed decisions about their international recruitment efforts. Doing so, however, raises a number of questions, as this story for NAFSA: Association of International Educators notes: Among them: What types of data should be gathered? What customer relationship management (CRM) tools should be used to slice and dice the data? How can international enrollment managers take what is gleaned from their data and use it with internal and external audiences? (September-October)
Before You Make a Capital Investment: More and more small and midsize commercial graphics and printing companies are expanding, thanks to new, business-favorable tax laws and a steady economy, as this story in the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association magazine notes. With three out of four small businesses planning to invest in technology, equipment upgrades and hiring staff, here are some things to watch. (September-October)
The Green Evolution: Concerns over costs and quality control have prevented printing on recycled plastics from taking hold on a widespread basis. But it is likely coming, thanks to the rapid evolution of digital technologies and retailer demand. For now, companies need to know the issues associated with printing on recycled materials and start educating their clients about the drawbacks and long-term potential of doing so. (July-August)
Navigating a Candidate-Driven Market: A strong U.S. economy combined with a tough hiring environment has resulted in prolonged job vacancies—which can be very good news for staffing companies that have the right recruiting strategies in place. Written for the American Staffing Association’s magazine. (September-October)
Agility Supporting Growth: For small and mid-size staffing companies, focusing on generating revenue is critical to success. Some are finding that outsourcing their “back end” office operations is the way to go. (July-August)
Nine freelance articles published since April have been posted to the New/Recent Articles section of my website. This includes three pieces in which I also shot the photos. You can access them by clicking on the links below.
Working Vacation (August 2018): Despite what naysayers believe, the idea that summer is just a two-month vacation for educators could not be farther from the truth. While some take on second jobs to make ends meet, others dive into learning more about their profession so they can come back stronger in the fall. Written for American School Board Journal.
All About the Money (August 2018): It’s always a good thing for the public to know how tax dollars are being spent. And, given the struggles many districts have faced due to cuts that date back almost a decade, it is incumbent on school leaders to paint an accurate and ongoing picture of the financial challenges they face. Written for American School Board Journal.
Education Abroad (July-August 2018): Study abroad programs are going through a slow but steady evolution. Now in almost every college and university in the United States, the size and structure of these programs vary depending on student demand, faculty support, and the individual institution’s long-term goals. Written for International Educator.
Generation Why (June 2018): The Valentine’s Day shooting that killed 17 at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School could represent a tipping point for student activism and civic engagement. No longer content to sit on the sidelines, these students — led by Parkland survivors — are marching and protesting at a rate not seen since the Vietnam War. Cover story and photographs for American School Board Journal; to see more, go to the Visual Storytelling section.
No More Game of Phones (June 2018): The measures schools have taken to enhance security have evolved greatly in the almost two decades since the Columbine High School shooting. However, internal communications when a situation erupts have always been a sticking point. Solutions that work well and easily often are overlooked and underrated, complicated in part by an ongoing unease about what technology can and should do in crisis situations. Written for American School Board Journal.
Working with Alumni (March-April 2018): As U.S. colleges and universities work to boost international recruitment efforts, alumni who have graduated and returned to their native countries are sought after resources. But working with alumni can present a series of challenges if you don’t have the proper elements—organization, resources, and understanding—in place. Written for International Educator.
Full STEAM Ahead (May 2018): In a small Tennessee community, three schools have been turned into the first K-12 STEAM cluster in the nation, systematically incorporating arts (A) into the traditional science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum. Written for Techniques, the magazine of the Association for Career and Technical Education.
Rogue on Board (April 2018): A rogue board member who hogs the spotlight, constantly stirring things up, can derail even the best-run school districts. Time that can — and should — be devoted to more pressing matters is spent addressing issues raised by a member who has no individual power but uses the position as a bully pulpit. Written for American School Board Journal.
Preschool Push (April 2018): More than a half century after Head Start was initiated, questions persist about how to best serve young children, as policymakers, parents, and school leaders wrestle with the question, “When should a child’s formal education begin?” A growing research base shows that high-quality pre-k programs have both short- and long-term benefits for students, but bringing those programs to scale remains challenging due to long-standing questions over funding and teacher quality. Written for American School Board Journal.
A new communications/public advocacy column I wrote appears in the current issue of American School Board Journal. See it here.
My four-page freelance story on the push for improved preschool programs is featured in the current issue of American School Board Journal. See the story, which includes six of my photos, here.
Two freelance articles — one a feature on the state of the student press — appear in the new issue of American School Board Journal. To read the pieces, click on the links below.
Student Press (February 2018): Student journalists in 13 states have press freedoms and protections, but administrators in the rest continue to review and censor school-sponsored publications under a 29-year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision. But officials say the tide appears to be turning, at least in some areas.
Public Comments (February 2018): The public comment portion of any school board meeting can turn quickly into a communications debacle for the board and district. Over time, however, courts have ruled consistently that the public has a right to raise and air complaints during an open meeting, even when individual employees are named.
Over the past six months, I've had six freelance stories published in magazines, with more in the cue for 2018. Here's what I've been writing about:
Smooth Transition (January-February 2018): First-year interest groups, commonly known as FIGS, are designed to help college freshmen make a smooth transition into university life through a combination of classroom work and personalization. For international students, most of whom arrive on campus just prior to the start of classes, FIGs can help them learn to navigate the sometimes tricky transitions they encounter when moving to a new country. Written for International Educator.
Lone Star Strong (December 2017): An 11-page spread in American School Board Journal featuring more than 30 of my photographs and reporting on school district recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The package also includes a 3-minute slideshow with a separate behind-the-scenes narrative about the story.
Clearing a Path (November-December 2017): As growth in the number of international applications to U.S. colleges and universities falls, institutions are widening their recruitment efforts to include more students who may lack advanced English language proficiency. Many have turned to pathway programs to help ease the language transition and create opportunities for students to be successful. Published in International Educator.
Health Tracker (December 2017): Schools searching for ways to curb child obesity rates are turning to wearable devices and software that provide data on student health and fitness. And when the technology is used appropriately, it is working. Published in American School Board Journal.
Federal Shifts (October 2017): As districts become more invested and reliant on high-speed networks and Wi-Fi access to educate students, school board members need to be aware of how shifts at the federal level could affect the funding and long-term effectiveness of their technology programs. Published in American School Board Journal.
Supporting Staffing Success (July-August 2017): For small and midsize staffing companies that work with large numbers of temporary and contract employees, contracting with an outside provider to provide backend support ensures payroll is accurate, on time, and in compliance with local, state, and federal regulations. Published in Staffing Success.
Two more recent freelance stories look at the effort to integrate the arts into STEM curriculums around the country. The stories, which are part of a Technology column I write for the National School Boards Association, can be found under the header “Building Up STEAM” at http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance
A freelance story I wrote on the “13 Reasons Why” phenomenon and the effect it is having on school districts is featured in the current issue of American School Board Journal. The story looks at how school districts were caught off guard by the Netflix show about the death by suicide of a teenage girl and the tapes she leaves behind, as well as the potential legal and ethical ramifications for school districts.
You can find the story at http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.
Two new freelance articles and several of my photographs appear in the current issue of three national magazines. All have been uploaded to the website and are now available for viewing.
• Several photos from last fall’s trip to Zurich, Switzerland appear in the Association for Career and Technical Education's March 2017 issue of its flagship magazine, Techniques. The trip focused on how Colorado schools are adopting facets of the Swiss apprenticeship model, which ACTE delves into with a feature and Q&A with the Swiss ambassador to the United States.
• Simple Logic, which is in the current issue of American School Board Journal, is a technology column that focuses on the need for more computer science and coding classes in K-12 schools. Today, only 24 states allow students to count computer science classes as part of their high school science credits. While more than a half million computing jobs are unfilled in the U.S., just 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce in 2015-16.
• LMJ Scholarship — Atticus Lee: The sixth in a series of stories about recipients of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s LMJ Scholarship appears in the current issue of Diversity & The Bar.
For more stories and features I've written over the past year, go to http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.
Five recent articles published in three different magazines this fall have recently been uploaded to my "New/Recent Articles" section. You can check them out by clicking on the links below or by going here.
Act Globally (November-December 2016): Increasingly, higher education drama programs are offering international experiences for their students through academic exchanges and education abroad opportunities. This story, published in the November-December 2016 issue of International Educator, focuses on how these opportunities focus on skill development as well as social justice and global issues in the developing world.
Leading the Leap (December 2016): Online assessments are here to stay, regardless of whether your state has embraced the Common Core Standards. In this column for American School Board Journal, I look at how a toolkit scheduled to be unveiled in December 2016 will help schools and districts assess their readiness and ability to effectively deliver these assessments.
Cracking the Literacy Code (October 2016): Cracking the code on literacy, especially in majority-minority school districts, is no easy task. As this story in American School Board Journal notes, large-scale initiatives are costly and time intensive, and the needle on achievement rarely moves quickly. Earning buy-in and support from community and business leaders is critical, as is the need to provide strong professional development to teachers and a rigorous evaluation system that can accurately determine whether a program is working.
Technology Evolution (October 2016): In today's device-filled world, the tools students and teachers use can be terrific, but they have proven time and again to be no replacement for quality instruction. As this column in American School Board Journal notes, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is taking on the conundrum with its second revision of its technology standards for students.
Finding the Class of 2009 (October 2016): The latest in a series of articles written for the Minority Corporate Counsel Association's Diversity & The Bar magazine focuses on Nila Bala, a public defender in Baltimore, Md.
One of my freelance jobs is serving as a technology columnist/contributing editor to American School Board Journal, the magazine where I worked for 13 years. The technology column, which started in January 2015 and appears six times a year, looks at trends and issues of relevance to school board members and top-level administrators.
Here are two of my latest efforts. Click on the link to read them:
Security Goes High-Tech: Technology and security are inextricably linked in K-12 schools. From dealing with crisis situations to safeguarding student and staff data, how you use the tools at your disposal is critical. (July-August 2016)
Online Learning 2.0: Educators nationwide continue to search for ways to meld traditional and digital learning for all students. It’s a combination that has proven full of promise, with more than a few lessons—and potholes—along the way for school boards, administrators, teachers, and communities. (May-June 2016)
"Comeback Season," a freelance story for American School Board Journal, received a Silver Award for Feature Writing in the Association Media & Publishing's 2016 EXCEL Awards competition last night. My friend and former co-worker, Kathleen Vail, also received a Silver for her piece, "Mission: Space."
The awards, handed out during a banquet at AM&P's annual meeting in Washington, D.C., were in the 20,000 to 50,000 category. To read the story, go here.
Two recently published freelance pieces, one focusing on the effect of student trauma and the other on Career and Technical Education, are now up in the "Writing" section and available to read here.
“Responding to Student Trauma,” written for ASCD and published in its Education Update newsletter, looks at how trauma affects students ability to learn. According to the Defending Childhood Initiative, more than 46 million children are affected annually by trauma, with one in 10 facing five or more violent incidents in a year.
Children exposed to repetitive trauma are at risk for a variety of physical and mental health issues—anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and a propensity for substance abuse. (Education Update is a member-only newsletter of ASCD; you can purchase print copies of the article and publication here.)
The second piece, “Coming Around Again,” looks at the comeback story of Career and Technical Education in the February 2016 edition of American School Board Journal, where I am a contributing editor and technology columnist.
Congress’ passage of the long-awaited successor to the No Child Left Behind Act was a major victory for many who opposed the constraints posed by the federal law on school districts, but perhaps the biggest win was for CTE. The program had seen its influence on policy decline amid demands for more academic rigor, college access, and standardized testing.
Hope you’ll take some time to look at these pieces and glance through others that I’ve done over the past several months.
Five years ago, on the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, I was in New York with Ben, who was about to start rehearsals for Ragtime. Because we were trying to work out the rehearsal schedule and how he would acclimate to his new surroundings, I got to know the assistant principal/dean of students on a first-name basis. This is what I witnessed that day.
This morning, I was sitting in the assistant principal’s office at my son’s new school when the principal walked in and asked, “Do you think we should have a moment of silence? There are four times we could do it.”
They proceeded to go down the list: 8:45 a.m., 9:03 a.m., 10:05 a.m., 10:29 a.m. The times were etched in both men’s memory.
“The last one is during lunch,” the assistant principal said. “Too noisy,” the principal said. “I don’t think we should do it then.”
At that point, they agreed to two, one-minute moments of silence — marking the times that the planes struck the south and then the north towers of the World Trade Center.
This low-key approach, coming on the eighth anniversary of 9/11, was refreshing, especially given that my son is now in a New York City public school just 5 miles from the Twin Towers site. No extremist hyperbole, no talk of terrorists, just two short moments to pause and reflect on a day that changed our world.
Just down the street, at the corner of 8th Avenue and West 48th, a group of firefighters from the Engine 54 station gathered on this drizzly morning. Together, they walked across the street to a short memorial service honoring the 15 firemen from Engine 54/Ladder 4/Battalion 9 who were killed on 9/11.
Another Anniversary Story
On a related note, I was in Chester, Pa., when 9/11 occurred, reporting on a story for my former magazine about the takeover of the state’s lowest performing school district by a private education management company — Edison Schools. Five years later, I went back to see what had happened to Chester and Edison in the interim. The resulting story, “Failing District, Failed Reform,” can be accessed here.
Last week, I went down to Greensboro, N.C., to — among other things — take pictures at the STEM Early College at North Carolina A&T University. The photos are for a story I wrote on early colleges for an upcoming issue of American School Board Journal. Not all will be used, but I thought this made for a nice photo essay on some of the work that is being done at the school.
The STEM Early College opened in the fall of 2012 as a joint project between Guilford County Schools and A&T. It is the second early college the district has on the A&T campus. The school opened with 50 ninth-grade students and has added 50 each year (maximum enrollment 200). Students finish their state-mandated high school credits in two years and spend the next two years on college coursework. By the time they graduate — and almost 100% are on track to do so — they will have a high school diploma and up to 60 hours of college credit.
Given the high cost of college tuition, the move toward early colleges is taking off. Guilford County, the third largest district in North Carolina, has the most early colleges in the nation.
For more photos, go to my Facebook page here.
Another magazine article published: "Electronic School: Testing Goes Digital," the first in a series of columns focusing on school technology issues, looks at the challenges districts face as they work to implement the Common Core State Standards.
Check out this story and other freelance pieces at http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.
In addition to photography and blogging, I also write freelance stories for a number of national organizations. Two of my most recent pieces have been published in American School Board Journal and ASCD's Education Update.
The stories are:
• Money Matters: Construction Funds: Published in the September-October issue of ASBJ, my fifth "Money Matters" column looks at how a Delaware school district simultaneously built a $114 million high school while successfully turning around low student achievement.
• Making Exceptions: The Challenge of Educating 2e Students was published in the August 2014 issue of ASCD's Education Update newsletter. This piece examines the difficulty schools have in educating twice-exceptional students, those who are considered academically gifted but with a disability that can impact their ability to learn.
You can find more of my 2014 articles — 14 have been published so far this year — in the Freelance Articles & Columns section of this website.
Several freelance stories that I’ve been working on have seen the light of day in two national education magazines and a university’s twice-annual publication.
• Five freelance stories — including four alumni profiles and a trend feature focusing on efforts to increase graduates in the booming computer science, computer engineering, and information technology fields — are featured in this edition of the University of South Florida’s magazine enVision. The publication is produced twice annually by the USF’s College of Engineering.
• “Harassment vs. Free Speech: The Blurred Lines of Social Media” is the cover story in the May 2014 issue of ASCD’s Education Update newsletter. This piece focuses on how murky laws are making it difficult for teachers and administrators to fight back when they are harassed online.
• My latest Money Matters column, “Snow Days,” appears in the current issue of American School Board Journal. The story looks at how this past horrible winter has wreaked havoc on school schedules, maintenance, and student achievement.
You can access the stories by going to my Freelance Articles & Columns section.
Last month, everywhere I looked during NSBA’s annual conference, officials from Missouri’s Joplin Public Schools were talking about Bright Futures. The district won the Magna Award grand prize for its program, which works to build partnerships between schools and community agencies to serve students in need.
Today, the immediate future is not looking as bright, and the entire Joplin community is in need.
On Sunday, a massive tornado struck this town of nearly 50,000, killing at least 116 people and injuring more than 1,100. It is the highest death toll from a single tornado since 1953.
The event was the latest in a series of devastating spring tornados that have pounded communities across the Southeast and through the Midwest. Just four weeks ago, 315 people were killed when a series of tornadoes struck in five states — Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia.
According to news reports, the late afternoon twister destroyed three schools, leaving two others and the central office seriously damaged as it ripped through the middle of this city 160 miles south of Kansas City. Graduation ceremonies for Joplin’s Class of 2011 were wrapping up at Missouri Southern State University when the tornado struck around 5:30; the high school itself was destroyed.
The stories from Joplin shook me.
Thirteen years ago, when we lived in Rockingham County, N.C., a tornado ripped through the small town of Stoneville. Two people were killed, including a young teacher, and 27 were injured.
At the time, I was the school district’s public information officer, just 18 months on the job, with a 14-month-old daughter and 3-month-old twins at home. Jill was working as a school counselor at Reidsville Middle.
The storms throughout that spring of 1998 were fierce. We were in a weather pattern much like the one we’re seeing now in the Southeast and Midwest. Severe thunderstorm warnings, almost every afternoon, came over the weather radio that we monitored. At one point later in the year, we had a hailstorm that was so bad my car was considered totaled.
Late on the afternoon of Friday, March 20, we got word of a tornado warning in western Rockingham County. Buses were on the streets, with children having been let out of school just an hour before.
Starting around 3:25 p.m., the tornado touched down and left cut a 12-mile path, missing four of our schools by less than 100 yards. The town of Stoneville was devastated. The teacher, Beth Mitchell, was killed just blocks from Stoneville Elementary; her mother, a library aide at the school, was seriously injured.
That Saturday afternoon, I was sent over to assist in coordinating the press coverage. It was trial by fire because I had no training in handling crisis management. I decided to treat reporters the same way I would have expected to be treated when I walked in their shoes. For the most part, they were respectful, although one tried to attend the teacher’s funeral despite requests from the family that it be kept private.
The staff, many of whom lived in the town, was shell shocked. School was cancelled until that Wednesday, and Jill and other counselors were on site when students returned.
The rest of that school year is a blur, glazed by mourning. The staff’s bond was so tight, but you could see transitions coming. It was hard on everyone involved.
Thirteen years later, I remain proud of the work of the staff in Stoneville, and of the board’s response to the crisis. It showed me how communities can come together in the times of greatest stress, a life-affirming message in the wake of a horrible tragedy.
Honoring the winners of the Magna Awards — the magazine’s biggest event at NSBA’s conference — is one of the favorite parts of my job. The program, sponsored by ASBJ and Sodexo School Services, recognizes school boards and district-level programs that go above and beyond the call to improve student achievement.
Another highlight is talking to board members from around the country and learning more about their work. Each year, it seems, I meet someone new at the start of the conference and then continue to bump into that person at odd moments throughout the event.
This year, that person was Joplin board member Randy Steele; by the end of the conference, we had seen each other so often that it had become a running joke.
Bright Futures, the program Joplin won for, is no joke. The 7,747-student district received the grand prize in the 5,000-to-20,000 enrollment category for a community engagement initiative that has helped reduce its dropout rate by more than 50 percent. Bright Futures also has resulted in the development of more than 230 community partnerships, and brought in more than $300,000 in cash and in-kind donations.
One unique aspect of the program is its use of social networking — primarily Facebook — in a “rapid response” system designed to meet the basic needs of students within a 24-hour period. The Bright Futures group has 4,800 people who “like” it; the district’s Facebook page has almost 3,000.
“Whether it is providing comfort to homeless students, eating lunch with children of incarcerated parents, tutoring struggling students, or buying a pair of shoes for a child whose family can’t afford it, every single need is being filled as it is identified,” Superintendent C.J. Huff said in the district’s application.
The needs are far greater today in Joplin, and in other districts and communities that have been devastated as well. Fortunately, the district has the infrastructure in place — an infrastructure that was being leveraged just hours after the tornado.
Communication always is a struggle when disaster strikes. Phone lines are jammed or down. E-mail is non-existent. In the wake of such a devastating event, the greatest struggle can be just locating people amid the rubble.
We have not spoken to the superintendent, or to Randy Steele. Reaching people in the district via traditional methods has been impossible almost all day.
Except through Facebook.
Throughout the day, postings gave the district’s status on the Joplin Schools page. One, noting that the district was “in the process of accounting for the safety of our students, faculty, and staff,” had more than 275 comments in just six hours.
“I can’t dial out, but I’m safe,” said one.
“I pray for the safety of the rest,” said another.
“Thanks for checking on everyone,” a third said.
As the day progressed, postings were added to the Bright Futures page — requests for clothing, shoes, non-perishable food. A community conversation, in the middle of a town devastated, was starting anew.