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'Public Square' Website Solicits Parents' Insights

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How can communities take the pulse of parents about the education of their children?

In Palm Beach County, Fla., civic leaders are trying a cyber-solution via a website called YourPBC.org. Created by the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties in 2009 with a grant from the James S. and John L. Knight Foundation, the site's goal is to provide "an online public square for people to discuss issues," says Marlene Passell, communications specialist for YourPBC.org.

"Recently, they decided to do a quarterly issue so the data can be collected to share with policymakers here and in the state capital, on issues involving education," said Passell. Parental involvement is the first issue the group is tackling.

One featured article on the site, What Can Parents Do to Influence Schools More? begins with:

Earlier this month, Palm Beach County School District lost its coveted "A" mark on its annual report card for the first time in eight years.
The district's drop to a 'B' rating was mainly blamed on the state making the scoring system much tougher.
Still, we wonder: What could parents have done to prevent this drop in the rating?

To advance discussion of parental involvement, an "Issue Panel" was created, involving 11 people interested in the subject, including a representative of the Florida House of Representatives, a college associate dean of education, an educational consultant, a PTA president, a high school student, and the leader of a home-schooling group. In addition to being involved with chats and decision making, the panelists advance the site with their constituencies.

"That way, it's not all coming 'from a website,' but 'from people they respect,'" explains Passell.

A variety of subjects are covered in a number of articles:

"Issue Overview/Parent Involvement:"

How Can Schools Encourage More Parent-Teacher Interaction?

Why Do Parents Reduce Involvement When Their Kids Reach High School?

When Are Parents Too Involved in Education?

How Can Fathers Become More Engaged in Their Children's Schoolwork?

How Can Single Parents Be More Active in Their Children's Education?

Research Overview

In addition to the articles, the parental involvement focus includes surveys on the homepage, public comments and tweet chats at specific times to get the public to weigh in on the subject, with experts on the phone to respond to them. Google Analytics are used to ensure that survey responses are counted only when they come from Palm Beach County.

Over the past two years, Palm Beach County parents used social media in a campaign to remove long-time Superintendent Art Johnson, who eventually resigned under pressure.

The parents' online activism was one of the reasons the "civic involvement" website's leaders identified parental involvement as the first issue to tackle. To measure outcomes, the site's leaders will evaluate how many people view the pages, how many new people visit the site, how many click "like" and how many items go viral, Passell said.

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