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« Time Magazine cover story: “How to Build a Student for the 21st Century”

This morning, we noticed an article about a school district in Katy, Texas using a web site to fight back against community rumors about outlandish material costs during a school construction bond process. Apparently some folks had been convinced that Katy ISD had been importing Italian tile flooring for Seven Lakes High School. To respond to the rumors, the district created a “Fact or Fiction” page on their web site to take a proative step forward:

“You’ve got people with text messages, e-mail, BlackBerrys — it doesn’t surprise me that the rumor mill is so active and so fast,” said Kris Taylor, director of communications for Katy ISD. “What we have to do in schools is to use those same tools to counteract them.”

Is such a tool risky? Apparently, it was risky enough for the district to not fully use the tool for nearly 2 years until a recent bond election failed:

The venture is a bit risky, say those running the sites, because posting the rumors for all to see could lend them credibility and make the mill churn faster.

On the other hand, widespread untruths can damage a district’s image, contribute to the demise of some new program or sway the results of a bond election, said Rich Bagin, executive director of the National School Public Relations Association.

“Rumors can kill things,” he said.

Of course, no one knows for sure why Katy voters rejected a $261.5 million bond issue in May.

But Taylor said rumors about the district’s construction habits didn’t help.

Though the district had set up an anti-rumors page about two years earlier, Taylor said she initially was leery about using it. The bond defeat changed her mind.

But failed bond or not, was something more vital missed in this story?

  • Instead of a “Fact or Fiction” rumor web page being created after the fact, perhaps an active and collaborative “design blog” could have been kept throughout the process leading up to the bond eletion.
  • Perhaps technology could have been used during the design/schematic phase in a way to share information with all stakeholders in the community.
  • Perhaps a two-way conversation between the district and the voters could have become a natural extension of the design process through a project blog where questions and comments could be left in alignment with sharing of unfolding project details.
  • In addition to fighting inaccurate rumors, perhaps what might have also come out of it would have been a community conversation…and ultimately buy-in on the elements most geared towards success for generations to come.

While K-12 school design project blogs are still rare, DesignShare is happy to be working with a design firm and school district in the creation of a case study of just such a blog project they undertook. Look for the case study to be published in early 2007!

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