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The board plans to host a series of listening sessions this year and improve district communication for families.

The West Linn-Wilsonville School Board focused on communication and how to improve the next listening session during a work session Monday, Feb. 28.

Improving district communication

In the spring of 2021, the district contracted with the strategic communications team at Clackamas Education Service District to conduct an extensive review of its communications with the community.

Communications Director Andrew Kilstrom led a presentation Monday highlighting the district's strengths with communication and areas it seeks to improve based on the review.

Kilstrom said the review consisted of in-depth interviews with stakeholders in the community, a survey that gathered more than 1,600 responses and an examination of the district's website and social analytics to see how many people clicked on communication updates.

For the most part, families are happy with the district in terms of timely communication, according to the survey. However, some respondents said the district needs to improve the accessibility of its website to make it easier for families to navigate.

During the pandemic, the district's social media presence declined dramatically — which was "intentional," according to Kilstrom. The district will hire a digital media specialist to help share highlights on social media and improve the district's online engagement.

"But now that we are kind of winding down, and hopefully getting back to normal life, we will be revamping those efforts and having a team member on board with some of that expertise," he said.

Kilstrom said once someone fills the position, they will work toward ensuring all communication is rooted in the district's mission and vision.

"Having been a student here, way back when, and now an employee — this is, if not the best, one of the best districts in the state. And we want people to think the same thing when they see our communications, whether that's social media, an email or on our website," said Kilstrom. "We do that in strengthening our brand identity and cohesion among all 15 of our schools."

Kilstrom said the review emphasized that the district must listen to the community and include their input in everything it does.

They know what they need and when they ask for something, (we need to) make sure that we're delivering," he said.

Listening sessions

The board recently developed the idea of a series of listening sessions. The intent of the sessions is to hear from community members about how they are experiencing school and hopefully improve relationships with the board. At an Oct. 18, 2021, meeting, board members said they hoped to hold a listening session each academic term.

The school district held its first listening session Nov. 17 and school board members intended to discuss their roles with community members. The attendees diverted the conversation to discuss the decline of student curriculum (from their perspectives) and statewide COVID-19 mandates.

In the Feb. 28 work session, the board brainstormed how to better capture community concerns during the listening sessions.

"Every time (we hold a listening session) it is going to be an opportunity to improve. We took that first step and so now, you learn from that, and how do we take that and improve to the next?" said Vice Chair Christy Thompson.

King said that during the first listening session, she noticed the attendees who spoke were those who commonly email the district or talk during public comment. She prompted a conversation around how they could invite other community members to talk.

"We didn't necessarily hear from voices that we hadn't already been hearing," she said.

The board decided they would hire a professional facilitator to moderate the discussion, which will also allow board members to engage in more dialogue with attendees. At the first session, only King and Thomas were present in order to avoid a quorum, but that created a barrier from other board members hearing community concerns firsthand.

The board plans to have all five members present at the next session.

"I think that if we're all in the room, it could empower some people to voice their thoughts. As opposed to if they feel like one of us is one way or another, they might not voice that," said board member Louis Taylor.

The board also brainstormed how to involve student voices while designing the next listening session. Taylor invited the board to think about students who are not commonly heard from.

"I would love it to be not just students in leadership, like student body president or all these other activities that would be deemed to be on the popular side of things. I'd want to hear from maybe the student that no one speaks to or the student who is on an individual education plan," he said. "I want to hear from those students along with the others."

Taylor and fellow board member Kelly Sloop will take charge of organizing the upcoming listening session. The two board members will reach out to the community and find out what they want the upcoming listening session to entail.

The second listening session has yet to be scheduled, but updates will be given at the April 18 work session.

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