Gail Pinsker is used to waking up at 6 a.m. to review a software company’s scans of topics related to the Santa Monica-Malibu school district: school sites, board members, current issues and other keywords.
It’s one of the ways she monitors how the district is being covered in various media — and how its messages are being dispersed.
Pinsker, who was hired in 2015 to spearhead public relations and communications for SMMUSD, gave a presentation on her work and heard from local Board of Education members about related topics during the June 29 meeting at district headquarters.
“We’ve struggled as a district with communications,” board member Oscar de la Torre said. “You’ve definitely had a lot of activity. It’s amazing to see how much work has been done throughout the year.”
Pinsker was hired amid a storm of controversies in the district, including chemical testing and cleanup at Malibu schools, the implementation of a centralized fundraising system and efforts to close longstanding achievement gaps.
“Everybody is watching the Santa Monica-Malibu school district,” she said.
Pinsker said she has tried to improve communications within and beyond the district over the last year and a half. This past school year, she received hundreds of phone calls and emails from local, regional and national media agencies and also sent out scores of press releases and invitations to media to cover school events.
But Pinsker said she spent as much as 30 percent of her time in some weeks on public records requests, which several board members said should probably be handled by someone else.
“You’re doing an amazing amount, and I don’t think we were aware of all of it,” board president Laurie Lieberman said. “You’ve done a phenomenal job.”
Pinsker said websites for the district and individual schools can now be translated into Spanish and many other languages using Google Translate. The district contracts with Maryanne Solomon to run nearly all of the school websites, while Malibu High School handles its own page.
“It’s not the best thing on this earth, but it’s better than nothing,” Pinsker said of the software, noting that it doesn’t translate attached documents. “It’s a pretty amazing tool that’s on each of our school sites and our district website. …
“We have a growing number of students who speak Farsi, students who are Korean, and this way parents can get basic information. I’m making sure things that go out in district communications are translated. I’m insistent that, ‘I’m not sending this out until I have a Spanish translation.’”
Some 3,700 notices were sent out through Blackboard, a communication software, including more than 200 from the district office. An associated mobile app allows teachers to connect directly with families, helping them to provide updates on emergencies, delayed field trips and other issues.
Pinsker said the district is also working with Constant Contact, an email software, to make sure information reaches the appropriate audiences. People who are interested in the work of the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, for example, could sign up to receive updates on fundraising.
“When I have a particular press release … I can target the press release to those people who are interested in that topic,” Pinsker said.
Traffic on the district’s website was strong towards the end of the school year, according to Google Analytics data compiled by Pinsker. About 29,000 users viewed a combined 184,000 pages during the month of May, with an average session of more than 2 minutes. The most popular pages included schools, calendar information, human resources, Illuminate information services and food services.
The district recently launched an official Facebook page and has gained more than 1,600 followers on Twitter with a little more than 500 tweets.
Pinsker emphasized the role of the Internet and social media in reaching more district stakeholders.
“This is the way that people want to get their news and information,” she said.