The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

MCPS rolls out new methods of public outreach

Photo courtesy of MCPS
“To the Point” host Aisha Mbowe discusses the operating budget on the first episode of the show post COVID-19. Many MCPS-TV programs went on hiatus during the pandemic and are now being brought back.

From emails to live streams, phone calls to social media posts, MCPS has many methods of communicating with students, families and staff. But after several policy changes, controversies and school closures, MCPS’ ability to communicate with the public has gone under increased scrutiny. As such, MCPS continues to look for new methods of community outreach.

Integral to MCPS’ communications is MCPS-TV. First established in 1986, MCPS-TV is the collection of cable television channels that communicate MCPS related news, press releases and educational programming. However, MCPS-TV’s social media statistics show very little interaction with the service, with posts and announcements only garnering a few dozen impressions at a time. Like many of his peers, WCHS junior Lawrence Wu does not pay much attention to MCPS-TV content.

“I do not watch the MCPS provided programs,” Wu said. “I mostly have not watched due to a lack of promotion. For example, I have never seen [those] programs advertised in MCPS provided emails. In addition, I have not found the need to watch those programs, usually reading the emails in my own time.”

Emails are another major medium MCPS uses to communicate. For the past decade, MCPS has utilized emails, sent from both the county and individual schools, to inform the public about policy changes and upcoming opportunities. Wu acknowledges that emails are an adequate method of communication, but believes that for some information, like policy changes or safety measures, a more effective method of communication could be useful.

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“I think that MCPS could more effectively communicate during upcoming policy changes and safety policy changes,” Wu said. “I think that emails are okay at communicating the basic gist of the information, but [other] changes could be on a need-to-know basis for some people.”

School closures are another area where emails can be inadequate to inform the public. Due to the rapidly changing nature of weather, as well as the stringent protocol MCPS has to follow before it makes a decision on school closures, information on weather emergencies can often be released at the last minute, causing confusion for many across Montgomery County.

“I have some confidence that MCPS can inform me of school closures, delays and other emergency events,” Wu said. “But I think that since many of the decisions are last minute, it can be an issue in terms of timing. Recently, when the two-hour delay [because of snow] became a day off, I had not realized that [school] was canceled and nearly walked to the bus stop.”

MCPS director of news and information, Aisha Mbowe, acknowledges the inconvenience of the snow day communications, but says the immense challenge of making accurate weather predictions delays communication until a definite decision is made.

“With operational changes, especially with the weather, it is a fluid situation,” Mbowe said. “What maybe the average student may not realize is that we actually have folks that go out to see how the conditions are. Once a decision has been made, we have different channels that we have to communicate that information with students, staff and families, whether that’s social media, alert summary, emails, texts or calls.”

MCPS has recently made attempts to expand those communication channels, with new social media efforts aimed at more effectively informing students of important news. According to MCPS’ Strategic Technology Plan, the school system is actively seeking the integration of technology in improvement initiatives. Part of that is expanding MCPS outreach efforts to new platforms.

“Not everyone consumes information the same exact way, and we understand that,” Mbowe said. “We have tried to revamp our Instagram, for example, because we’ve noticed that that’s where a lot of our students are online. We try to put a lot of effort into our Instagram to make our content there more engaging, so that when we do have information to share with students we can put it in the stories because we know kids are watching the stories.”

Another way MCPS is aiming to reshape its communications channels is through the integration of the Remind app. Already utilized by some schools, the app gives teachers the ability to directly send messages to entire classrooms, or even certain students. Mbowe says that MCPS is currently testing the platform for potential use in the future.

“If we adopt the Remind app fully, kids that are 13 years or older, [will] be able to receive that information via text straight to [their] phone,” Mbowe said. “That is not an ability that we have right now, as a system we use ConnectEd, which goes to [students’] emails, but if the district does adopt Remind fully, students can sign up to receive notifications on [their] phone.”

Whether it be school delays, policy changes or opportunities for students, informing the general public can be a daunting task. The challenge of communicating with the Montgomery County community also causes many complaints and criticism, which is why MCPS has been attempting to educate the public on how decisions are made.

“The goal is always to be transparent, as much as we can, and to utilize whatever channels we have to share as much information as we can,” Mbowe said. “There’s a lot that goes into the [decisions] which is why there’s been a continuous effort to educate more people on how the [decisions] are made exactly.”

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About the Contributor
Isar Uslu
Isar Uslu, Assistant News Editor
Isar Uslu is a junior and the Assistant News Editor of the Observer. In his free time, he likes to play board games, cook and watch YouTube videos.

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