In our latest podcast episode of Opportunity Thrives, we had a chance to chat with Leslie Lenhart, the Communications Director for Tucson Unified School District in Tucson, Arizona. Leslie shares the district’s strategies to be very intentional and responsive during the pandemic, including many practical tips that others can implement within their own districts.
Tucson Unified School District is the third largest school district in Arizona, serving more than 47,000 students in 89 schools and programs throughout Tucson, Arizona. The diverse district is home to students from 76 countries and 94 languages, and more than 60 percent of the students are Hispanic or Latino.
Because the district serves so many diverse languages and cultures, Leslie discusses the importance of sharing effective communication to meet the needs of their dynamic community.
Pivoting in a pandemic
While the district immediately got the technology ramped up to make virtual learning work in the spring, commination was a challenge. Over the summer, they had time to create a thoughtful reentry plan that included every phase of reopening school in the fall, including the curriculum, technology, required PPE, and the communication plans that needed to be in place.
The district reentry plan became the baseline for communication planning for students and families. With important student services in place, communication needed to be swift, concise and accurate, so it was readily accessible to students.
They implemented traditional programs such as email, robo calls, and having school office staff reach out to families directly to ensure they were reaching as many people as possible. Since TUSD is a multilanguage district, all communications are translated into their six primary languages.
TUSD even created specific informational pages on their website that included the reentry plans. These pages (in six different languages) provided families a single source for the most up-to-date information on safety protocols, how their class schedules were going to change, meal services, etc. These sites were also regularly shared on social media.
And Leslie shared her team’s goal to ensure that all communication is consistent, whether it’s on social media, on the website, in newsletter or via texts.
Engaging district leaders
TUSD recognized that the community wanted to hear from school district leadership to help ease their anxiety, especially as the pandemic unfolded and everything was in flux. One of the ways they’ve been able to accomplish this is through video interviews with their leadership team every other week.
In these videos, leaders share pertinent updates, but they also convey a message of empathy and hope. As a district, and as a community, the goal is to help people feel connected and to know that we are all going to get through this together.
Taking the time to listen
One of the major priorities for the communications team at TUSD is to make sure they really take the time to listen to the community and to the families they serve. They receive hundreds of responses from people when they send out a communication, and their goal is to respond to those questions within 48 hours.
Leslie has people on the team who gather questions and review them to make sure they don’t miss anything. Throughout this exercise, they also look at the consistency of the questions coming in and see if there is a common thread or some area where they are not effectively addressing concerns
Even when they do not have the answer, Leslie’s team will share where they are in the process of finding an answer, and an anticipated date when they will share it. She reiterates that you cannot overcommunicate your message. Right now, more than ever, ensuring your message is consistent and shared multiple times, and on multiple platforms, is one of the only ways to make sure you are making sure you are supporting the community, your students and their families.