New Johnston County Schools Superintendent Ross Renfrow has said he wants to be a good communicator regarding the school system he now leads. That means a lot of things and we trust that Renfrow is aware of the many aspects that come with truly good communication.
To his credit, he has established a series of town hall-style meetings around the county to meet with those who have an interest in the schools – parents, teachers, school boosters and so on. To be sure, he will hear some ideas that, for one reason or another, simply aren’t practical. But we hope he will follow up on those ideas that do have merit, keeping in mind that people inside the education system don’t have a stranglehold on all the good ideas. It’s best, in these situations to look for reasons why something can be done rather than to look for reasons why something can’t be done.
But good communications requires more than just a whistlestop tour of the county. It requires an insistence by the superintendent that school system officials, including principals and central office staff be responsive to communications from the public. It means that, whether the news is good or bad, Renfrow will be out front in discussing the issues and explaining them in layman’s terms so that the general public that isn’t well-versed in educationese can understand the subject matter.
It means insisting that public information officers issue news releases in a timely manner and that those press releases be more than cryptic admissions that the school system is aware of some unspecified situation at this school or that school. It means that Renfrow directs his staff to make top level administrators accessible to the public they serve to answer for their actions and explain the work they do.
And, finally, it means not hiding behind the public information officer when news is truly bad and declining to explain actions he’s taken.
All those things are mistakes Renfrow’s predecessor made. Renfrow is a smart man. We’re sure he sees the public relations nightmare his predecessor brought upon himself by not making himself available and by not allowing those with direct knowledge of issues speak to the matter themselves. And we’re sure he doesn’t think the people he serves are as dumb as his predecessor thought they were.
If Renfrow is successful in his goal to be a good communicator, he will seem to be everywhere all the time. That’s demanding and we get it. But it’s absolutely crucial in building the public trust.