Better discussion needed throughout the community

Nov. 9, 2006, midnight | By Lois Bangiolo, Merlyn Deng | 17 years, 5 months ago

Chaos over ID policy raises questions about communication

Although much of the fervor surrounding it has dissipated, the ID policy and other administrative decisions remain a mystery to the school's students and parents. While the media-dubbed "student uproar" has subsided, this lack of understanding raises a legitimate concern about the overall communication in all school matters between the administration and the Blair community.

When freshman Eli Barnett walked into Blair and was handed an ID, he thought, "What's the big deal?" For the next few weeks, Barnett joined many other students on SCO to voice his concerns along with the rest of the student body on Silver Chips Online's forums. Despite the deluge of comments on SCO about the IDs, many students and parents remained confused about the many new, and difficult to track, changes that had just taken place in their school.

What Q&A session?

On Tuesday, Oct. 17, Principal Phillip Gainous and SGA President Eric Hysen held a discussion forum during both lunches to address any student concerns regarding the ID policy. Even though SCO had received over several hundred comments since the ID policy's implementation, the poor attendance at the meeting seemed to reflect a startling disparity; were our students just content to complain about the administration? However, the small number of students at the meeting shows the problem: miscommunication. Many students had found out about the meeting just hours before it was held.

One of the students who did attend, Barnett, said that the ID Q&A session alleviated some of his concerns about the ID policy. "Before the ID Q&A session, there was no way I could have [fully understood] about the policy that was implemented," he said.

In light of the student outcry, the parents' concerns and even the local media's attention, the ID policy has been bogged in a quagmire of miscommunication. Instead of giving us a document that, according to Barnett, was "vaguely worded," we students should receive a clear-cut document that explains some of the details that were lost in translation when the initial policy was released, including the additional temporary passes. Certainly, the administration has taken strides to communicate the new changes, although these revisions to the policy were addressed only at the Oct. 17 PTSA meeting, which approximately 15 people attended.

The PTSA loop

Every month, the administration holds a PTSA meeting to address any parental concerns, which included the ID policy at last month's meeting. The PTSA has always served as a conduit of news for the rest of the community. Those who regularly stay in contact with the PTSA are well informed about the constant changes made in our school; however, those who don't attend the meetings or are not subscribed to the PTSA listerv, are left out of the vital PTSA-administration loop.

Even those in the loop have recognized the need for improved communication. During Fran Rothstein's three year tenure as co-president of the PTSA, she found that while the PTSA was kept well informed by the administration, the same level of understanding did not extend to the whole school. "Although Mr. Gainous's communications with the PTSA co-presidents usually met that standard, general communication from the school too often missed the mark," she said. For parents wanting to stay informed, the PTSA is an invaluable source of information, and Rothstein stresses the need for every parent and teacher to join.

While such parental and teacher involvement is an unlikely situation, proper communication between the administration and students, parents and teachers is not an impossible goal.

Call for action

Although many of the problems were caused by the late distribution of IDs, printing mistakes and additional changes, the controversy about the ID policy was exacerbated by the miscommunication between the administration and the rest of the school. While the commotion over the ID policy has died down, the general problem of miscommunication has not been solved.

The burden of communication does not solely lie on the administration; parents also need to improve their involvement. "Communication is a two-way street," Rothstein says, noting that besides joining the PTSA, parents should also talk with their children's teachers and coaches and come into the school to volunteer to stay in touch with the Blair community. To help improve communication, Rothstein believes, Blair needs to create a new comprehensive communication plan that includes channels for input from all groups - parents, students, teaching faculty and administration - and better ways to send news about Blair events, policy and special accomplishments.

Both parents and the administration need to work on improving their communication. The administration should send clear and well-explained updates directly to parents, incorporating the PTSA, but not relying solely on it. They have taken admirable strides to bridge the gap, but there must be more parents and students on the other side to receive them. The PTSA works as an intermediary to relay concerns, but for this to truly work, more parental input and attendance at meetings are imperative. PTSA meetings serve as a place where everyone can gather to improve communications to include the school as a whole, not just parents and administration, but students as well.

Students need to remember that their voices can be heard on equal ground with parents and administration. While many students have complained that the administration does little with the students' wishes in mind, that is not the case. Active student involvement already helped relieve the severity of punishments in the ID policy, and that power should not be ignored. Over the past weeks, we have seen that many students are finely tuned to the happenings in our school, and this activism should extend far past the confines of the internet.

Lois Bangiolo. Lois Bangiolo was born on March 14, pi day, an auspicious date as she is now in the math-science magnet. In addition to writing for Silver Chips Online she runs track and is secretary of the MBHS Key Club. More »

Merlyn Deng. Merlyn (Mer - LEEN) has an unhealthy fixation on Silver Chips Online, the Silver Chips Manifesto, red pens and serial commas. When not editing stories and racking her brain for SCO and its readers, she may be found haunting Blair's hallways or downtown Silver Spring. … More »

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