Medium 9781475823745

Jspr Vol 24-N3

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The Journal of School Public Relations is a quarterly publication providing research, analysis, case studies and descriptions of best practices in six critical areas of school administration: public relations, school and community relations, community education, communication, conflict management/resolution, and human resources management. Practitioners, policymakers, consultants and professors rely on the Journal for cutting-edge ideas and current knowledge. Articles are a blend of research and practice addressing contemporary issues ranging from passing bond referenda to building support for school programs to integrating modern information.

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Notes From the Editor

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THEODORE J. KOWALSKI

Recently, school administrators in and near Toronto had to deal with an unexpected situation—Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). This mysterious and highly contagious disease was another crisis that required officials to communicate effectively and swiftly with multiple publics. The first article in this issue contains an interview with Brian Woodland, director of communications for Peel District School Board in Ontario, Canada, and member of the Journal’s editorial review board. Brian shares his experiences and offers timely advice for practitioners.

The next two articles address aspects of public opinion. The first looks specifically at home schooling. Authors Suzanne McLeod and Karen Osterman identify and discuss child-based and organization-based sources of dissatisfaction with traditional schools among parents who have engaged in home schooling. The second article looks at what parents, students, and educators are saying about schools. Written by William Banach, a well-known consultant, this article offers a road map for change and for improving school–community relations.

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School Public Relations and the SARS Epidemic in Toronto: An Interview With Brian Woodland

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MICHELLE CHAPLIN PARTLOW

Why should U.S. school administrators, especially those with responsibility for internal and external communication, be concerned with medical emergencies like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)? After all, this was a mysterious pneumonia that hit Asia. The closest it came to the United States was Ontario, Canada. On March 26, 2003, the premier of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (2003) declared SARS a provincial emergency. By April 10, the Canadian health officials were taking no chances with the deadly disease and shut down two Toronto schools ( Ontario Shuts Schools , 2003). By May 17, the premier lifted the provincial emergency (Ontario Ministry of Health, 2003). Then on July 20, a 58-year-old Canadian woman died of SARS in Toronto. She was the 41st SARS victim in Canada (Cockburn, 2003). Of the four exposure sites listed by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care on July 7, 2003, only one school was listed, Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Canada (Ontario Ministry of Health, 2003).

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Leaving Public Schools for Home Schooling: Implications for School Public Relations

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SUZANNE E. MCLEOD
KAREN F. OSTERMAN

Lack of confidence in public schools can lead parents to remove their children and select alternative schooling. This article addresses sources of dissatisfaction that arose from a recent study on home schoolers who had removed their children from public schools to begin home schooling. These sources fell into two categories: child-based issues, including individualized educational needs and peer relationships; and organizational issues, including scheduling, time commitments, teacher quality, curriculum, and instruction.

Implications for public schools relations and practice specifically focus on three areas of greatest concern: public school student grouping practices, peer relationships, and the extension of the school day via homework. Utilizing the home schoolers’ concerns, public schools can readdress their mission in the face of the explosive growth of alternative forms of schooling.

Criticism of public schools is an acceptable pastime in the press and in political campaigns. It has transferred into the American conscience a basic acceptance that the public school system is deserving of criticism. Focusing solely on the manner in which public schools affect children, the criticism takes numerous forms: negative socialization processes (McGraw, Bergen, & Schumm, 1993; Prystowsky, 1995), the quality of available academic programs (Kearney, 1984; Leistico, 1995; Rose & Gallup, 1998), watered-down standards (Kantrowitz & Wingert, 1998; Leistico, 1995; Lemann, 1998; Nelsen, 1998; Raywid, 1979; Rose & Gallup, 1998), school personnel who may not have the best interests of the children at heart (Leistico, 1995; Nelsen, 1998; Prystowsky, 1995), the structure of the public school day (Kearney, 1984; Leistico, 1995), changes in society reflecting a rising level of dissatisfaction with government agencies (Beechick, 1998; Nelsen, 1998), a perceived high level of violence in the schools (Kantrowitz & Wingert, 1998; Leistico, 1995; Lemann, 1998; Nelsen, 1998; Rose & Gallup, 1998, and changes in the American public regarding choice (Kantrowitz & Wingert, 1998; Lemann, 1998; Nelsen, 1998; Raywid, 1979).

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What Students, Parents, and Staff Are Saying About Schools

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WILLIAM J. BANACH

Thousands of survey responses have been reviewed to identify the likes and dislikes, wants and needs of students, parents, and school staff. The findings reaffirm many things that we know ( Students and parents like most teachers .) while making us question why we stumble on fundamentals ( Half of students say that their teachers never make comments about their work or give suggestions for improvement; half of parents say the same thing .).

The survey results discussed in this article provide insights into school policies and procedures, leadership, teaching methodology, and the quality of instruction offered by schools. The findings also provide a road map for change and improving communication with those most involved in the educational process.

If you think that all students like school, you’re about two-thirds right. If you think that parents dislike teachers, you’re more than 90% wrong. These are the findings from over 20,000 student, parent, and staff surveys conducted by all categories of K–12 schools—public, parochial, private, rich, poor, urban, suburban, and rural. We do not pretend that the survey results presented here are representative of the nation’s thinking. Nor do we claim that the results mirror student, parent, and staff opinion in your community. Nonetheless, the thinking of 20,000 respondents generates a sizable blip on the radar screen, one that is certainly worth watching.

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Advice for Retaining Legal Counsel: Guidelines for Superintendent and Board Members

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EDDIE W. HENDERSON

Due to the significant legal issues that arise with increasing frequency in the educational environment, a school district’s governing board and administration will undoubtedly have occasion to retain legal counsel. Such a decision is usually accompanied by strong community interest in the pertinent facts and circumstances. State open meeting laws and the media intensify the public’s curiosity. Under these conditions, the selection and retention of legal counsel are decisions that have political and economic ramifications.

Whether retaining an attorney to represent the school district in connection with a specific legal dispute or maintaining an ongoing attorney–client relationship, the objective should be to obtain high-quality legal services at a reasonable price. However, many school board members and superintendents may feel inadequately prepared to manage this task. Either they have not had regular contact with an attorney or they lack specialized knowledge necessary to determine and evaluate the services they require. A survey of middle-income people seeking legal representation for their legal needs found that more than one-fourth of Americans admit that their selection of legal counsel is limited by an inability to compare information about different attorneys and being intimidated or confused by the whole process. Another fifth assert that a lack of resources and information hampers their ability to research options for choosing a lawyer (Berensen, 2001).

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