COMPASS session next week to focus on public communication

Problems ‘obvious’ to board in communicating, Diehl says

By BURKE WASSON

Before Mehlville School District officials can implement plans to improve the district, they realize they first must upgrade one key area — public communication.

With that in mind, the district will present a status report on its communication with the public at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road.

The session is part of the district’s public-engagement program, COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

The report will be presented by Kathleen Woehrmann, director of communications for Cooperating School Districts. She previously has worked in communications for the Parkway, Pattonville and Rockwood school districts.

COMPASS Facilitating Team co-chair Dan Fowler said Woehrmann will present 10 to 12 “key characteristics” of school districts that are deemed “high-performing” in public communication.

A comparison of Mehlville and other local school districts to those 10 to 12 characteristics also will be presented.

Fowler said while district officials actively are working to enhance the district’s capabilities and student performance, any such plan “will fail” unless communication with the public is improved.

“I believe we can come up with all the great ideas of moving our school district forward,” he said. “But unless we do a better job with communicating, we will fail at that. So communications becomes a key element in moving the school district forward. We’re always going to have critics. We’re always going to have great supporters. We just need to do a better job of communicating.”

The school board last summer took steps to improve communication by adding services to a contract with UNICOM•ARC.

The consulting firm had been hired in November 2006 to organize and assist the district’s public-engagement program, which eventually became COMPASS. The board voted unanimously in August to pay an additional $77,000 to the firm for assistance and guidance in the district’s public-relations department through June 30.

Between its services for COMPASS and the public-relations department, UNICOM will be paid a total of $132,000.

That’s on top of the $73,618 salary being paid to Director of School/Community Relations Patrick Wallace this year.

Fowler said once UNICOM officials present a communications audit of the district, he believes residents will be “pleased” with the firm’s recommendations to improve public relations.

“I think that the community is going to be pleased with some of the ideas that UNICOM has come up with regarding communications in the Mehlville School District,” Fowler said. “This is what they do for a living. If you’ve noticed over the last school year, there’s been a dramatic improvement in communications. And I think you’ll see that continue.”

Also, board President Tom Diehl said a number of changes to enhance communication are under way, including continuing to schedule public forums and Saturday Morning Café sessions and making improvements to the district’s Web site and newsletter, the Mehlville Messenger.

“It’s been obvious to members of the board that we’ve had problems communicating with the residents of the Mehlville School District,” he said. “And we’ve been working over the past couple of years to make improvements. But we realize we have a ways to go before people have sufficient knowledge to understand and trust what we are trying to do for public education.

“I believe that if people were able to get the facts about how well our students perform, the qualifications and the dedications of our teachers and the great work that our kids do with service projects and other activities in the community, the residents of south county would take pride in the Mehlville district,” he added.