Jan 23, 2012 Amanda Seef Uncategorized
Don’t wait for the TV scroll, or for the “Ws” in the radio’s snow day announcements.
Just check Twitter if you want to know if West Genesee schools are closed.
“I always tell the kids, the first place I’ll post is Twitter,” said Chris Brown, Superintendent of West Genesee Schools, or @cbrownwgcsd, on Twitter.
Twitter was the first place the news broke of a snow day on Friday, Jan. 13. A heavy band of snow came in late in the game — the buses had hit the road and were looking to pick up students. Brown said he tried calling the television stations, but the lines were busy. He put the message on Twitter at 6:30 a.m.:
“Sorry for the very late notice but we are forced to close today due to rapidly changing weather. West Genesee is Closed today.”
He couldn’t get through to the news stations, and he knew students and parents were preparing to get to school. Sixteen retweets later, the word had spread as far as News Channel 9, who picked up the school’s cancellation from Twitter.
“That tells you the power,” Brown said. “It took about 30 seconds to broadcast that message out to a couple thousand people.”
It took news media 15 minutes to get the school’s cancellation on TV, Brown said.
“When you’re talking about buses running, that’s an eternity,” he said.
Brown has been on the social media platform since 2009, looking to study the effectiveness of social media on school districts.
“I called it the Twitter experiment,” he said. “It was slow, we had a few followers. With the first snow day that I announced on Twitter, it exponentially increased.”
Brown has since been recognized by national publications for his use of Twitter in and out of the classroom.
He says he has been using Twitter and his blog, superintendentwgcsd.blogspot.com, to create an open dialogue with students and parents.
“They can see what I’m seeing in my eyes every day in West Genesee,” Brown said.
Brown tweets about items of interest — items on his daily agenda, decisions within the district and photos of what the students are doing in classes as he visits.
“In any school community, you want to be as transparent as possible,” Brown said. “If people want to get close to a decision, before Twitter, you had to hunt a superintendent down. Twitter makes it so we’re not ramming it down your throat, people who want that information are pleased with how it gets out.”
By the end of Brown’s one-year Twitter experiment, he saw the connection between social media and students, parents and residents of the district. He tweets from his iPhone or the web platform at his desk — he recently upgraded to the iPhone for enhanced video and photos.
“The total time I spend writing a blog, on Facebook or on Twitter is under an hour each week,” he said. “I would have spent that much time, or more, answering messages. I don’t see it as an extra thing, it’s an integral part of our communication plan.”
Students are also sending Brown messages on Twitter asking questions about the district.
“They can get ahold of me,” Brown said. “It helps them have an ownership of their school and an ownership of what’s happening [at West Genesee.]”
Students are also seeing a piece of the superintendent’s personality in each post, a refreshing angle, Brown said.
“I try to express a little bit of my personality and show I’m an actual human-being when I write my blog posts,” Brown said. “I think it helps me to come across as a real person, I think people are pleased that they know their leader is so involved.”
Overall, Twitter, his blog and the district’s Facebook page have helped enable open dialogue between the goings-on in the district office and the residents of the district — other administrators in West Genesee’s buildings have picked up on Twitter, too.
“The schools are a big house, a big family,” Brown said. “I learned a long time ago that if you tell the truth to the community, they accept it. They accept that you’ve been open to them in good times and bad. Twitter makes it OK to be transparent, and I want to be transparent. There’s never been a night where I’ve gone to bed thinking I’ve held something back from somebody.”