Why the school district should change its name

April 11th, 2016 by Ken

In 1983, I was hired by John Gott, superintendent of the North Thurston School District, to be the first full time community relations director.   While I had many responsibilities, my main duty was to get the annual school maintenance and operations levy passed.   This is never specified as the duty and we were always careful to separate the duties from the legal responsibilities – – but it was understood – – my job was to get the levies passed.

North Thurston had a spotty record on passing school levies.   Some had failed once and passed a second time.   Once, we even had a double levy failure.   Our levies seldom passed with much more than the bare 60 percent approval required at that time.   The district often looked at the adjacent district of Olympia and marveled at how the voters in the city supported the levies overwhelmingly.

The first thing I realized upon being hired was the fact the district had the complete and full support of the parents and the staff of the district – – but support from the Lacey community was lacking.   The district had been unable to get those who had no active stake in education, to support the levies.

The first thing I did was get access to the residents of Panorama City.  This is and continues to be, a large voting bloc.  In the past the residents had not supported the levies and were worried about the cost and their rates increasing as a result.   We appealed to them to think about their children and their grandchildren – – and we made it possible for more of them to volunteer to work in their local school.    We created the “Gold Card” which allowed seniors to get into school sporting events – free of charge, as a thanks for their past support of money for education.   Understanding and communications were the significant tools to get support from the residents of Panorama City.   Now, Panorama residents are firm and committed education supporters.

Next, I worked to get the school district involved with the business community.   We joined the Lacey Area Chamber of Commerce and immediately took on leadership roles.   Some in the education community thought it was a waste of time and that educators time could better be spent with the kids.   When the levy came up in 1984, the Lacey Chamber supported the levy for the first time.  We also supported membership by district employees into local service clubs.

We tried to find ways to get the message of education out to the Lacey community.   We started the “Key Communicator” program.   We identified those people in the community who talk and interact with people on a regular basis.   This could be ministers, barbers, beauticians, scout leaders and home owner association presidents.   We came up with more than 200 names.   We put them on a list and asked them to be a key communicator.   We brought them to the district to meet with the superintendent and we kept them informed of school issues – – often before they became public.

In the end, we realized that the school district had become distant from the community in which it operated.   We moved to bring that isolationism to an end and become part of the community.

We passed our next maintenance and operations levy by 82 percent – – the largest percentage ever.

The moral is simple.   The school district must become part of the community.   Sometimes it takes a great deal of effort.   Some times its as simple as taking on the name of the community it represents.

Posted in Government, History, The Real News

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