SMMUSD HDQTRS — The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District might be one of the best organizations of its kind in the state but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t use some help in communicating that assessment.

That’s according to a recent audit of the district’s communication practices, techniques and approaches, finding that while there isn’t necessarily a problem with the way officials are disseminating information and keeping its employees and community in the loop, there are plenty of opportunities for improvement.

The audit, which is expected to lead to a new communications policy for the district, was presented to the Board of Education on Thursday.

“One of the areas I felt was important for us to address was overall communication not only internally but externally here in the district,” Superintendent Tim Cuneo said. “This was the first portion … in looking at our internal communications as an organization and also with our community in how we gather information with communication and bring it back to the district.”

Tom DeLapp of Communication Resources for Schools, which conducted the audit, recommended that the district hire a communications officer to not only disseminate releases to media outlets, but to serve as the point person for information between district employees, making sure that everyone is on the same page.

“It is somebody whose job hinges on communication, community relations and accountability,” he said.

The study found that there is general uncertainty about the communications duties of employees and who is the responsible staff member for talking about certain issues.

He met with more than 120 parents, classified employees, teachers, principals and administrators over three days to gauge their opinion on how effectively the district communicates, finding that the community is generally engaged and well-informed about the schools.

“You are perceived as a good to excellent school district, serving your students well and you can and should improve to stay competitive,” DeLapp said.

He called communication the “hydraulic fuel” of the school system, which enables other parts to work.

“The district has the tendency to do point and shoot communication work and follow the issue when it’s broken rather than get in front of issues,” he said.

DeLapp added that there is potential to improve communication through the district’s Web site, making it more of a place where parents could get their questions answered. The Web site was renovated just a few years ago.

The study also recommends the district conduct customer relations training for employees who come into contact with the community.

“Understand that customer service is the front line of communication,” DeLapp said.

School board member Ben Allen said that the district can’t be “cheap” on communication, noting that neglecting it would be dangerous on many levels.

“We let ourselves stretch way too thin and we are not putting forward our most professional put-together voice in the community,” he said.

melodyh@smdp.com

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