Thursday, November 20, 2014

Standing Up for Schools in Cecil County

or "How I used Content Marketing to get a school a track"

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak about some trouble I stirred up in the spring. I won't lie, I was nervous, but it was an honor and a thrill to speak to a like-minded group of parents, teachers, administrators, and students all supporting the work of Cecil County Public Schools.

My comments from that night:

Before this spring, I considered myself a pretty well informed parent--I was PTA treasurer at PES, I attended parent meetings on various topics, and I voted in every election.
Boy, was I wrong--I had--and still have--a lot to learn about how school systems and government agencies interact. But I’ve seen a community working together to make great things happen. By giving people information about a topic they’re passionate about in a way that’s easy for them to digest and pointing them in the right direction, you can create a force to be reckoned with.

It all started with a bare soccer field and a Facebook post.

I saw a Facebook post from CCPS asking for people to attend a county council meeting on March 18 in support of the CCPS budget. I decided to attend that evening’s meeting but I had no idea what I would say. To be honest, I was more specifically angling to talk with someone about the sorry state of our soccer field.

I sent a quick email to our principal and athletic director to ask about any Perryville-specific projects that I should advocate for--and they both responded with track, fields, field house.

Now, I had no idea what a field house was but I’d heard people complain about the lack of one at Perryville and I didn’t know anything about the state of the track--but I could tell you that our fields were beyond bare.

At that meeting, several parents and CCPS employees spoke about the specific needs of their schools--needs that included increased staffing and services--but most glaringly--the needs for maintenance of the facilities. I am not a public speaker and I was terrified to walk up to that microphone but, after hearing the pleas for funding, and the responses of some of the council members, I needed to do my part.

As I spoke to the council, I realized that, just as I had no idea how the county government worked, they had no idea what the facilities at PHS looked like and what our needs were.

And that’s when I decided to bring Perryville High School to them--online. That Sunday afternoon I took photos of athletic facilities at Perryville--then I drove to Rising Sun and North East High Schools, thinking their facilities had to be better than ours--I was wrong again--to my uneducated eye, those schools weren’t faring any better. That evening I posted those first photos on my blog and shared them on my Facebook page.

And by the end of the week, after a blog post that the track at Perryville had been deemed unfit for competition, my little blog that had had only 10,000 page views in 2 years, had 2,200 views in one day! Word was spreading beyond the internet because the Cecil Whig was calling me for a comment on the track!

The next few weeks are a bit of a blur as I started urging people to attend county council meetings and send email to the council and county executive. And I was overwhelmed with the response!

I was spending my spare time learning about the CCPS budget process and then creating blog posts with the information--and realizing that this was much more complex than I’d ever imagined.

You see, CCPS does an excellent job of documenting their work and plans for the future of the school system in their budget proposals and annual reports, unfortunately, that information isn't easy for some of us without sufficient background to understand and act on. I have a saying at times like these, “They’re all English words but I have no idea what they mean.”

So when I attended Dr. Devine's spring budget forum, I asked for "talking points" because I needed something I could easily grasp and re-purpose. Once I had that messaging, I was able to spread the story on my blog and on social media. I posted on Facebook and Twitter to reach the adults and shared some posts on Instagram to reach the teenagers.

A little over 6 months and one new track later, there seems to be a more positive spirit at PHS. New groups are forming to support specific programs or general needs and the students seem just as excited as the parents about making things happen at our school.

As Dr. Seuss said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

What does content marketing have to do with this?

I didn't realize it when I first started blogging about budgets and facilities but I was applying the basics of content marketing by creating and sharing content "to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action." In this case, my goal was driving actions, not profits, and, in order to do that, I had to help the audience--parents, students, other residents--understand what was at stake and how to get involved. Teachers and administrators already knew the needs of the school system but it all came down to funding. Once these groups were speaking as a more unified front, they were able to really get the attention of our elected officials.

It was a busy spring and I consider my efforts a success but a new budget season is about to get underway and the needs of our schools are just as great now as they were in the last budget.
Stay tuned--

Monday, November 3, 2014

WMAR TV report on emergency communications between Harford & Cecil Counties

This evening WMAR posted a story about their investigation into interoperability issues in the radio communications between Harford and Cecil Counties, focusing on an incident on September 15 when an officer with the Susquehanna Hose Company (SHCO) from Havre de Grace (Harford County) was injured fighting a fire in Elkton.

Watch the story

While I'm not a first responder, I am the daughter, granddaughter, and niece of former members of SHCO so this story hits close to my heart. Now a resident of Perryville (Cecil County), I wrote in July about what I perceived to be a breakdown in emergency radio communications. Read it here

I'm hoping this isn't the last we hear of this story.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Paving at Perryville High School--Yay!

Repaving of the Perryville High School parking lot is underway! It's a shame it had to wait for so long but it's finally happening due to Cecil County Council bill 2014-10. Paving at Rising Sun High and North East High are also included in the bill so I'm hoping those school lots are getting some much-needed attention.

Several seats on the county council will be up for election on November 4. These positions are critical in determining the amount of funding our local schools get each year so be sure to vote--and know where the candidate you choose stands on funding public education.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New track at Perryville High School

When I was a teenager with a new driver's license growing up in Havre de Grace, I reached every destination via Tydings Park. It didn't matter if I was heading from home on Weber Street (aka "the project") to work downtown or to the mall in Bel Air, I was going to drive through the park on my way there. By this time in the late '80's, teenagers weren't permitted to loiter, er, congregate in the yacht basin so I'm not sure what my goal was but I still circled the park daily in my dad's El Camino or, later, my AMC Concorde.

With such a track record, it doesn't seem quite so weird that I've been cruising through the parking lot at Perryville High School during the last few months. I've tried to pass through when the parking lot was empty to keep the rumors to a minimum but I have to admit yesterday morning I was surprised to have been seen by several people as I was making a drive-through on my way to work.

Since they broke ground in May, I've been dying to see the new track at the high school. I stopped a few times and all but pressed my nose through the fence to get a better look and checked each entrance to make sure that the track wasn't accessible to the general public. It was even one of the reasons I attended graduation in June.

Tonight I had a few minutes to kill so I took another pass through the parking lot in hopes that the gates would be unlocked--and I was in luck! Four months after I took my first photos of the disintegrating track surface at Perryville High School, I was able to walk on a pristine track! Feast your eyes on these sights!

Our work as a community is far from done but for the moment, let's enjoy the results of this group effort. As one of our parents told the Cecil County Council, our schools are our homes--and our home just got quite a makeover.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reliability of emergency communications in Cecil County

Emailed on 7/9/14 to Cecil County Executive Tari Moore, Director of Cecil County Department of Emergency Services Richard Brooks, and the Cecil County Council

I am concerned about the reliability of the emergency communications system in Cecil County. In the recent past I'd heard rumblings about problems with radio communications but several weeks ago I witnessed a failure of the communications system and it seems that communications issues continue this week. Reliable and interoperable radio communications are imperative for public safety and for the safety of our emergency responders. I encourage you to evaluate the current system and address any issues that create opportunities for system failure.

A few weeks ago, on a sunny and clear afternoon, there was an incident on our street that required an ambulance and police response. Once on scene, an emergency responder attempted to reach communications via his radio several times and eventually resorted to using my cell phone to make the call instead. While this incident turned out to be non-life threatening, it could have been--for either a civilian or a first responder.

Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be an isolated incident. Just this week I've learned that there were county-wide outages on Monday and Tuesday. 

I'm sure you agree that there is little more important than the safety of our residents and of those aiding residents in an emergency. Communications failures have repeatedly been identified as contributing factors to casualties during emergencies and disasters, including 9/11 and Yarnell Hill, and everything possible must been done to prevent such tragedies from occurring in our county.