Austin schools try out tweeting

Published 10:58 am Monday, May 27, 2013

Austin Public Schools is testing out a new way to connect with parents, students and staff, and it’s going to keep it brief — to the tune of 140 characters or less.

Educational Services Director John Alberts and Community Education Director Amy Baskin started Twitter accounts this month as another way for people to keep in touch with what’s going on in Austin schools. The tweets are aimed at anyone interested in learning more about the district. Teachers may take more interest in a “retweet” of an article on curriculum, for example, while photos from student activities are likely to appeal more to students.

“Something that we talked about for quite some time is trying to get some social media presence,” Alberts said.

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The district has been using the Baldrige process since 2011 as a way to examine its initiatives, policies and practices and find ways be more effective. Part of the latest updates with the process includes using social media to get information out.

“Social media is at that point now,” Alberts said. “Organizations can’t ignore its presence.”

A greater variety of media increases number of people who see the message, Alberts said. For example, some parents may be accustomed to checking Twitter on a regular basis and would prefer to hear about school announcements that way, while others may rely solely on printed news.

So far, Alberts’ twitter page includes numerous photos of this month’s school events, including Al Franken’s visit to Austin High School, curriculum updates for the new I.J. Holton Intermediate School and pictures from student activities like the Band Blast concert.

The district’s introduction of Twitter has been a quiet rollout so far, with about 30 followers total between Baskin and Alberts.

“We’re just beginning to get our handles on it,” Alberts said, adding he expects to slowly get the word out now that he has had time to explore Twitter’s functions.

For now, the district plans to continue to explore Twitter and gradually expand its usage if all goes well. Alberts said the district needs to take care with social media, as a staff member has to handle his or her professional Twitter account differently from a personal account.

There’s also the matter of upkeep; while Twitter is appealing for the relatively short period of time it takes to post a tweet, Facebook can be more time-consuming and also requires someone to frequently monitor other users’ posts for appropriateness. Alberts said the district will continue to explore how useful other social networks would be, but has not yet planned to expand to other networks.