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Alone With J — Tout it, and they will come?

May 29, 2014

By J SWYGART
    On Sunday, hundreds of Adams County seniors will receive their sheepskins, culminating their long and challenging high school careers. They will head off into the world of adult-dom, pursuing gainful employment or taking a few months off before hitting the books this fall at the institution of higher learning of their choice.
    These graduates have accomplished much — as evidenced by the mountain of awards and scholarships that were bestowed on the best and the brightest of the bunch earlier this year.
    And while those accomplishments have for the most part been publicly noted, giving both the students and their home schools the recognition they deserve, North Adams Community Schools has decided to up the ante in the area of self-promotion ... and recruiting.
  Earlier this month the NA school board voted to create a new administrative position — that of communications director — for the vague purpose of bringing in new students and retaining current ones at North Adams Schools. Oh yeah, add “fundraising” to the curious job description that has yet to be formally set in stone.
    “The state has forced schools into being a marketplace,” board member Tim Ehlerding said at the board’s May meeting. “North Adams needs to upgrade how they communicate.”
    We’re uncertain exactly how the state is the villain here — except that it’s always easy to pass one’s problems on to a higher authority — but that is neither here nor there.
    Superintendent Brent Lehman said the new position “should pay for itself” by producing enrollment numbers “that bring more funding to the school system.”
    And it’s at this point we’re forced to part ways with the thinking of the North Adams board and administrators.
    While it’s been several months since we last sat in on a school board meeting, the “recruitment” theme had — as much as a year or more ago — become firmly entrenched in the minds of some board members. Dwindling enrollment figures were a cause for concern, and board members convinced themselves that if only persons outside Adams County could learn about the wonderful and innovative things being done at North Adams schools, those numbers would, in time, reverse themselves.
    We didn’t understand that line of thinking then, and we understand it even less to today after seeing the district put its proverbial eggs in the sole basket of a communications specialist.
    At this point, we’re still curious as to just how — and where — this new individual is going to spread the word about North Adams schools. Asked that very question, one school employee answered, “Put stuff in the Democrat, I guess.”
    But that’s preaching to the choir. Granted, while there have been a few “defections” from the North Adams district of students who now attend Adams Central, a little public relations effort locally is not likely to change any minds here or farther away.
    So, then, does the school send press releases to news outlets in adjoining school districts in an attempt to lure new students? That’s an option, we suppose, but it’s doubtful the news would fall on interested ears.
    The North Adams school board is well within its rights to try a new and innovative approach in an attempt to bolster enrollment figures. And any increase in the sporadic amount of “news” that currently comes from the school to this newspaper would be greatly appreciated by our readers.
    In the final analysis, however, we believe the words of board member Al Converset will be the most prophetic. During the conversation leading up to the new communications director slot, Converset said, “If this position isn’t paying for itself or being profitable after three years, the board has either hired the wrong person or created the wrong position.”
    The pressure, it now seems, will be placed heavily — and unjustly — on this new employee to perform miracles. That said, we think the new position will fall short of stated expectations.
    Then what? Will the board admit it “created the wrong position?”
    Hopefully we’re wrong on this one.
    Time will tell.

    The writer is the managing editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.
    
 

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