Powerful PR May Prioritize Private Schools - Gilroy Dispatch: Schools

Powerful PR May Prioritize Private Schools

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Posted: Thursday, August 24, 2006 12:00 am

Gilroy – When the news that thousands of parents are choosing to send their children to private institutions rather than take advantage of Gilroy's public schools, officials mentioned that a serious public relations make-over may be the cure.

"We feel like we need to market what we offer more widely and aggressively," said Gilroy Unified School District Superintendent Edwin Diaz.

To begin filling that communication void, the district hired Teri Freedman. The longtime Gilroyan – she moved to the area in 1979 – is covering double-duty, in charge of both public information and grant writing.

"It's kind of fluid because it is a new position and both things are in the job description, but we're just going to live with it for a year and see how it evolves," Freedman said.

After conducting a communications audit – she compared the national standards for educational communication to the district – Freedman spent six weeks compiling a manual for the district.

Through the audit, the former teacher learned that the root of the district's communication is internal. And internal miscommunications end up scrambling what's passed along to the public, she said.

Freedman, who spent 20 years working in the GUSD as both a teacher and administrator, said she knows the district can improve.

"What has always driven this district is research and data and I think that's a really solid way to operate," she said.

Freedman is also in charge of sending out press releases and other information to the media.

The grant writing process, the second tier of her job description, is also an area the district has been looking to revamp. And creating a position specifically to scout out grants has been an on-again-off-again topic of discussion since Diaz slipped into the superintendent position six years ago.

Although the school district has the opportunity to tap into billions of dollars worth of grants, it's not that simple. First, administrators must decipher whether the grant is appropriate and workable and that requires research. Also, applying means dealing with deadlines and all grants carry expiration dates.

Before Freedman came on board, an educator who found a funding source would research the grant and take it through the board approval process. Freedman will research the grants and decipher whether they're worthwhile before disseminating the information to staffers.

The grant writer will then work with other district employees and fill out the applications. Freedman is planning to create a grant database complete with reminders so the district will know when the grants are up for renewal.

Freedman taught English at Gilroy High School and also served as the high school assistant principal before leaving the district and spending five years as assistant principal in San Jose and Salinas.

Diaz said he knows the public tends to frown on the creation of new district positions but the superintendent said the plan is that the grant money will offset Freedman's salary. The decision to create two new administration positions – the district also hired a director of assessment – was made in response to both the priorities established by the board and the final budget.

Also, Boardmember Jim Rogers pointed out both positions existed in the past but were cut when money was tight. The director of assessment position, now filled by Gail Donovan, was axed two years ago when the staffer left the district.

"So that definitely was an area that we said 'when we get money back we'll reinstate (it)' " he said.

The district had a public relations officer many years ago and talk of hiring a grant writer has been going on for awhile, Rogers said. When they found Freedman, a former English teacher with writing skills, it seemed to be the perfect fit.

"I think it fit to combine those two and they found her," he said. "From the board's point of view if we can't add the need positions in the year that we have money we'll never be able to but it appears that we're in good shape … I think that all of them certainly are justified. I don't have any problem with it. I think that they're (Freedman and Donovan) very dependable."

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