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Schools communications chief hopes to improve information flow

By Jonathan J. Cooper

Sept 9, 2006

Having lived in the Kyrene School District for the past decade, Jennifer Grentz knows what’s been going on in one of the Valley’s most respected school districts.

She’s heard the calls for improved communication between the district and parents.

Now it’s her job to facilitate that improved communication as the district looks to leave behind a bitterly contested recall election for a Governing Board member and move forward under the leadership of newly hired Superintendent David Schauer. 

From the first day of her new job as director of community relations and marketing, Grentz was thrown into the fire to quickly learn the ropes at Kyrene.

She began her employment with Kyrene the day before the Governing Board voted to expand the district’s sex education curriculum to include more information at a younger age.

“I actually liked that my first few days were really busy,” she said, seated at a conference table amidst a few sporadic boxes and paperwork strewn about her still largely-empty corner office on the second floor of Kyrene’s central administration building.

“I got to connect. I got to meet people right away and learn the systems that are in place.”

With the sex education media storm behind her, Grentz can now unpack her boxes, settle into her office and begin to look at the best ways to improve Kyrene’s communication weaknesses and maintain its strengths.

An October 2005 communication audit found that Kyrene struggles with creating a “two-way flow of communication.”

Grentz said she has reviewed that report and that it has “a lot of really good things that need to be implemented and looked at.”

But she also said the district’s communications troubles may sometimes be exaggerated.

“I don’t think (communication) is a huge issue that’s been the downfall of the district,” she said, but acknowledged there’s room for improvement.

“Although the information is out there, we need to be more proactive in getting it to (parents).”

She said one of her first goals is to find out from parents “what they want to know that (the district) hasn’t been informing them about.”

Based on her initial observations, addressing community concerns is one of the district’s communications strengths, Grentz said.

“If someone has a question or a comment or a concern I think (district staff) a really good job of communicating with their constituents,” she said.

She said she wants to explore new and unique ways to get information to parents.

“It’s not always just a newsletter,” she said. “There’s a lot of other ways to communicate with people.”

She declined to offer too many specific suggestions for novel communications methods, saying she hasn’t yet fully explored their feasibility and doesn’t want to throw around ideas that may not be possible. She did say, however, that she’d like to create an RSS feed of district news.

An RSS feed is a periodically updated list of headlines delivered directly to a user’s internet Web browser. When the district adds news to the feed, the user would see that news on his or her computer, allowing online news to be delivered to users without having to actively search for it.

She said she’d also like to hold parent focus groups to hear suggestions and concerns. She said it’d be important to hold the forums in the evening at the schools in parents’ own neighborhoods to maximize convenience.

Interviewed by Wrangler News just a week after beginning her job, Grentz said she did not yet have enough experience or knowledge of Kyrene’s internal communication methods to speak very specifically about its strengths and weaknesses or a plan to improve it.

Schauer, the district superintendent, said he's enthusiastic about Grentz's new role.

“We’re really pleased to move forward with filling this position because we have had this need for quite a while,” Schauer said. “It’s a long time coming and we think its going to be very helpful to the organization in terms of making sure that people are familiar with the work that we are doing and educated about the issues that are facing the district. 

“And Jen’s the person to get that done for us.”

Her other responsibilities include media relations, advertising and website content.

She said one of her primary media goals is to get positive news out to the public, “helping people understand that good education is happening” in Kyrene.

She also hopes to implement more consistent messaging and branding across Kyrene’s marketing and public relations materials, as was suggested by the communication audit.

A long-time Arizona resident, Grentz grew up in Scottsdale, graduating from Chaparral High School before earning a degree in English from Arizona State University.

After stints with Fiesta Mall and Mesa Public Schools, Grentz worked in marketing for the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering at ASU before accepting the Kyrene position.

She said her experience at ASU blends well with her new job.

“This is the foundation for those kids,” she said. “A lot of them will be going to ASU in the future.”

She said her 10 years living in the Kyrene Corridor before coming to Kyrene will be beneficial in her job.

“I think it’s helpful because I have some background of the school system,” she said.

“You have an appreciation when everyone pretty much loves the school system, where everyone is pretty much trying to move into the district.”




Photo by David Stone


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