Online chats connect Wake schools chief to parents
Posted May 12, 2011 5:59 p.m. EDT
Updated May 12, 2011 7:08 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — The retired Army general who now leads the Wake County Public School System has a strategic plan to move the school system forward amid big immediate challenges and issues that will shape the district's future.
In his first three months on the job, Superintendent Tony Tata has been on a listening blitz, visiting 91 of the system’s 163 schools and talking with as many teachers – he estimates more than 1,000 – students and parents as he can.
With big immediate issues to deal with, including an operating budget that could be as much as 9 percent less than last year and the implementation of a controversial new student assignment policy, Tata says the feedback is critical.
“"I am trying to listen and learn about this community, and I think I am off on a good foot," he said.
Because he can't be everywhere, Tata also takes to the keyboard in monthly "virtual town hall meetings" – online chats where members of the public can log in from a computer and ask questions.
About 325 people participated in Tata's first hour-long chat on April 1, when he answered about 20 questions. Tata has said he plans to hold the online meetings on a monthly basis, although there is no schedule yet.
"It's just another outlet, another venue. Not everyone can make it to wherever I am going to be," he said. "It gives folks an opportunity to ask me questions and for me to respond, and it becomes a part of the public record."
Rhonda Curtright, a mother of two students, joined Tata's most recent online chat on May 6. She wanted to ask Tata about school calendars and teacher recruitment.
"I also was able to ask a question and have it immediately answered, and that was really important to me," she said. "I think what he's doing as well is building trust."
And with issues still looming, parents like Curtright plan to keep logging in.
"I think it's a wonderful way to really try to understand and be involved in any small way that we can for our school system," she said.
Tata's virtual town hall meetings aren't his only outlets for sharing information with the public. In April, he started meeting weekly with the news media to make himself available for questions. Those meetings are available on WRAL.com every Friday.