Schenectady City School District Superintendent Laurence Spring answers questions

Q: One of the first things you wanted to do when you came here was to get on Twitter and make that a priority.  Why is that?

A: I just think social media is an emerging way to communicate with the community, the parents, the kids, with staff.  So Twitter is a neat way to put little blurbs of information out there, to connect ideas with other folks, just to begin talking with people that you might otherwise not be able to have a conversation with.

Q: Talk about how social media allows people to have a conversation with their superintendent:

A: Certainly I tweet a lot about things that might be in the realm of education policy, but I also tweet things once in a while that helps folks realize I'm a human being, I'm just a guy.  So if I have a long run on a Sunday, sometimes I'll tweet that.

Q: As a district, what are you using social media for?  It's no longer backpack mail, how has that evolved?

A: Social media has not completely replaced the backpack stuffers, we've got 10,000 kids in the district and we want to make sure something gets into every home.  We've got 400 folks following me on Twitter, we've got close to 2,000 on the Facebook account, but that's still not everybody.  The social media right now is filling this other niche, it's a supplement, it's “communication in addition to”.  It's a way to reach other folks, folks that are interested in what's going on with the school but might not necessarily receive a backpack stuffer.  These could be aunts and uncles, these could be people in the community that care about the school and who are interested in what goes on.  It gives us a way to put additional information out, to keep a dialogue going, to keep people informed and interested in what is happening, without it necessarily being a newsletter.

Q:  Do you think we'll ever go that way completely?

A: One of the things we need to be really mindful of, is not everyone has universal access to online communication.  Recognizing that we have families who do not have internet access in the home is important.  We have to think about that when we choose what we send home for homework.  One of the strategies we are using for that is doing some planning with the county library system.  Using the libraries computers is one of the community's biggest needs.  I think it will evolve, I think it will change what kinds of things we send home, but I don't think it will ever completely replace that paper communication that goes home with kids.

Q:  Talk about the importance of having that supplement and not ignoring that it exists, because a lot of people do communicate that way.

A: It does add a completely different dimension to the dialogue that is going on, it allows people to have a much richer dialogue.  What are the issues affecting public education right now, what are the issues affecting Schenectady schools right now.  We could not the depth of information about our funding situation in a newsletter, there's just too much of it.  So we have our ability to use Twitter, our ability to use Facebook and we're also pretty big users of YouTube.  There's just no way we could cram all of that information in a newsletter and expect everyone will read it.

Q: Are there any downsides or challenges to having these multiple platforms to communicate across?

A: It's more things to pay attention to.  It took me a while to get into a habit of tweeting multiple times a day, sometimes I would set the alarm on my phone to remind me to “Tweet! Now!”  I don't think if it's more difficult having those additional options and having to do that additional thinking.  Having more strategies is a nice option, it's really powerful.

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