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Is Your Parent Newsletter the Best It Can Be?

Education World's "Principal Files" principals agree that parent newsletters should be an essential part of every school leader's communication plan. They offer encouragement, ideas, and advice for those who want to start a newsletter or improve their current one.

Whether they produce their school-to-parent newsletters weekly, biweekly, monthly, or "whenever I get around to it" and whether their parent newsletter is photocopied, professionally printed, or sent electronically all the principals of Education World's "Principal Files" team agree on one thing: a parent newsletter is an integral piece of their school-to-home communications plan.

"I have always welcomed the opportunity to communicate to the larger learning community in any way possible," Dr. Layne Hunt, principal at Monroe (Michigan) High School, told Education World. "I much prefer personal communication, but realistically, that is not always possible. Therefore, one of the most practical means of communicating is our parent newsletter."

Hunt's newsletter, which is purposefully called Trojan Pride, "because our mascot is the Trojan and I wanted the title to immediately instill positive thoughts about our school," is published monthly.

Newsletter Tips
From the P-Files Team

When it comes to producing parent newsletters, Education World's "Principal Files" team has plenty of advice -- so much advice that we've created special page to contain it. Click to read Principals Share Tips for School Newsletters That Work.

Deborah Veranth, principal at Bryant Elementary School in Tampa, Florida, sees her school newsletter as a good and positive way to communicate a singular message with the parents of her school's 1,200 students. Her school's award-winning monthly newsletter -- The Pony Express -- is named for the school's mascot. The 14-page newsletter is printed professionally and includes ads from local businesses. A parent volunteer sells the ads, which cost about $25.00 per ad per month. Those ads, which businesses are willing to pay for because they are eager for the exposure to our school's young families, cover the cost of printing the newsletter, explained Veranth.

In addition, the newsletter is posted on the Web at bryantelementary.com. That way, parents can read school news online or send a link to grandparents or to others who are interested in news about the school but who might live far away.

The Mustang, the parent newsletter at Doctor's Inlet Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida, is printed professionally too. "One of our local business partners, a real estate agency, covers the costs of printing in exchange for advertising," said principal Larry Davis.

NEWSLETTERS SERVE MANY PURPOSES

Andrew Torris is principal at Yanbu International School in Saudi Arabia. His school's newsletter, YIS News, keeps the local school community and distant relatives informed. Torris told Education World that he publishes a newsletter almost every week. There are times, however, when he might send a brief note with a few important items in place of a newsletter; and times when he might publish a newsletter more than once a week. "Last year, when our community was experiencing terrorist issues, I sent a daily newsletter. That way, parents were fully aware of what we were doing to keep our school secure. The newsletter refreshed parents' memories about daily school schedules too," he told Education World.

Jill Massa sends home a weekly "purple note" to the Warden (Washington) Elementary School community. The newsletter is so called because it is printed on lavender paper so it will stand out in the stacks of stuff students bring home each day. Parents look for the purple note each Wednesday because it contains everything they need to know for the upcoming week. "It is a simple one-page newsletter printed in English on one side and in Spanish on the other," said Massa, principal at the school. "It will have news of early-release days, progress report dates, and other general news. It also contains a Love and Logic tip for parents since we are a Love and Logic school, as well as announcements about our students' accomplishments and information about the goals we are all working to achieve and our progress toward them.

"The parents love the 'purple note' because they don't have to look for notices every night, it is easy to find because of the bright color, and it has a consistent format. Many parents post it on the refrigerator as a handy reference and reminder.

Join the
Conversation

A principal colleague wants to introduce a parent newsletter at his or her school as part of a plan to improve school-to-home communications. That principal comes to you because s/he knows that you've been doing a parent newsletter for a couple years. As an experienced parent-newsletter "editor," what would be your one or two main pieces of advice to this "newsletter newbie" colleague? Click here to share your thoughts.

You might guess that purple is one of Warden Elementary's school colors, but that is not the case. "We chose purple because we had a lot of purple paper left over from a project two years ago," explained Massa. "The district's middle school prints their newsletter on yellow, which is why that school's newsletter is affectionately known as 'the banana note'. Theirs is sent home on Tuesdays and ours is sent on Wednesdays so parents know when to expect them.

"Our secretary, who creates the newsletter, even wears purple on Wednesdays just to remind everyone that it is 'purple note' day."

"We also have the Warden District News, which is a newspaper that comes out monthly. Warden District News is funded by the school district and through advertisements from businesses around the community. Since we are a small town, we don't have a town paper, so this newspaper is a critical source of information for our community. It includes school-district happenings, but it also includes community news, City of Warden information, photographs of award-winning students, the district's student honor roll, local sports schedules, and a monthly column from each of the school's principals. It is very well done and it is distributed to every box-holder."

PULLING TOGETHER INFORMATION FROM MANY SOURCES

Regular Newsletter Features

Two of Education World's "Principal Files" members publish regular newsletter features that have inspired a new section on our site. Have you seen our new Newsletters 'R Us features for principals? Feel free to cut and paste these features into your parent newsletter.
-- The ABCs of Student Success feature is written by P-Files contributor Addie Gaines.
-- Parent Pointers was penned by principal Marguerite McNeely. (This feature will debut after all 26 entries in the ABCs of Students Success have been posted.
--- Math @ Home, a series of 36 ideas to help parents reinforce students' math skills at home.
-- Caught On the Net, which each week shares a Web site that parents and children can enjoy together.

These features will make nice additions to your school's parent newsletter. They're all free and print-ready. Just follow the easy instructions to copy them from our site and paste them into your newsletter.

So where do principals find the information to fill their newsletters' pages?

"I keep notes of important information and success stories from our morning announcements," said Marguerite McNeely, principal at Hayden R. Lawrence Middle School, a grade 4-5 school in Deville, Louisiana. "Our newsletter, which includes a school calendar for the month ahead, goes home the first Tuesday of each month.

At O.C. Allen School in Aurora, Illinois, principal Karen Mink keeps notes all month too. Each month she asks a different grade-level or special-area team to write a brief article about special things happening in their area.

Principal Tim Messick is a note keeper too. In addition, he solicits articles from the school nurse, counselor, and master teacher at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina.

At Silver Sands Middle School in Port Orange, Florida, principal Les Potter sends out a newsletter once each month. "Any staff member can contribute," he said. "They email their contributions to a teacher assistant, who collects and types them. I review all contributions for typographical errors or factual inaccuracies."

Debi Veranth sends out a monthly call-for-contributions email. "Everyone who contributes uses the same software," noted Vernath. "That makes it a breeze to edit and format our newsletter."

"I keep a folder on my computer with email messages, articles, photos, and other information," added Andrew Torris. "I pull together those bits of data to construct my 2- to 3-page newsletter."

At Kirbyville (Missouri) Elementary School, KES Express, the weekly newsletter, is composed mostly of current school events and digital photos. "Sometimes classroom teachers email me digital photos that they want included or descriptions of events, but mostly I dig up my own news," said principal Addie Gaines. "I always seem to have plenty going on to report upon."

At Doctor's Inlet Elementary in Middleburg, Florida, "our PFA [Parent-Family Association] president does our newsletter," reported principal Larry Davis. "She solicits from each grade level and has a space in the newsletter to promote the PFA's events."

At Neepawa (Manitoba, Canada) Area Collegiate Institute, principal Phil Shaman keeps notes about special events, community-service announcements, special school-wide events, community supporters, student achievement, and more. His newsletter goes home monthly with the school's grade-7-to-12 students. "I personally deliver newsletters to every class, and we post our newsletter on our school Web site too. In addition, our local newspaper picks up articles from the newsletter for their publication."

Layne Hunt publishes a wide variety of news about events, activities, and student and staff accomplishments. " I encourage anyone on our staff to submit to the assistant principal in charge of publishing the newsletter any timely and newsworthy items. My role is to review and edit them to ensure that the final product presents a positive and productive image to our learning community."

"A MESSAGE FROM THE PRINCIPAL"

More Regular Features

What kinds of regular features do principals include in their school-to-home newsletters? Here are some of the features our P-Files principals include in theirs:
--- up-to-date school calendars
--- photographs of students who earned "excellence awards" and other recognitions
--- news from school organizations such as the School Council, the PTO
--- timely safety information (for example, bike safety in the spring and sun protection safety in May or June)
--- information of importance from our district's central office
--- information about standardized testing; then, later in the year, a review of the results
--- information about and from the school to which our students will transition
--- news of a community clean-up
--- Read-a-Thon information --- notes from each class
--- a list of the school's business partners
--- student writing and student art
--- new books added to the library (perhaps with reviews of those books written by students)
--- health tips when issues arise at school -- for example, cold prevention tips during cold season --- a school-wide plea to think about the litter problem --- reviews of school policies and procedures (for example, the car parking policy)
--- humorous quotes or jokes
--- articles from national organizations (the National Middle School Association or the national PTO, for example)
--- volunteer recognition
--- a CARE corner that highlights activities related to the school's character education initiative
--- spotlights on staff and students

Most principals we talked with include some kind of "message from the principal" in their parent newsletters. The content of those messages can be wide-ranging.

At The Wellington School, middle school principal Ken Rogers focuses his newsletter messages primarily on child development, parenting advice, and the importance of a positive parent-school partnership. Other themes have included topics families could discuss at the dinner table such as the legacy of learning passed down in the family, current events, goal setting, and acknowledgement of events such as Teacher Appreciation Week and TV Turnoff Week.

"I usually start with a humorous story or metaphor and then lead into the more didactic part of the article," Rogers told Education World. "For example, when I moved to Ohio from another state, I had to get a new driver's license. I told that story and discussed ways parents could help their child deal with test anxiety. I try to keep my messages folksy and funny. I try not to be too preachy."

See Rogers' newsletter message on test anxiety.

"A good formula that always seems to work for me is, 'This happened to me the other day and it made me think of school [or education or children or teaching]'"

Like Rogers, principal Andrew Torris always tries to include a personal story related to the subject of his messages. "I usually try to provide a personal message focusing on a school-to-home or home-to-school concern -- for example, parent conferencing tips, information about student sleep habits, tips for helping children with homework, and ways to effectively communicate with teachers."

Brian Hazeltine, principal at Airdrie Koinonia Christian School in Airdrie, Alberta (Canada), focuses most of his "Principal Points" on child development and education too. Past topics have ranged from backpack weight to Bible study and body piercing.

Karen Mink uses space in her newsletter to reflect on a variety of events and issues. "In one recent month I wrote about the end of the spring fundraiser, the addition of a new bicycle rack, and new parking procedures," she said. "The previous month, I wrote about how parents could help students prepare for our state assessments by making sure they ate a good breakfast, got plenty of rest, and came to school with a snack."

Brenda Hedden, principal at the Park City (Utah) Learning Center, devotes her newsletter space to recent and upcoming events and tips for dealing with teens. "The tone of my message is always very positive," she told Education World. "I make a point of thanking parents for sharing their children with us. In many cases, we spend more time with our students than they spend with their families at home, and we enjoy having the opportunity to create a 'family atmosphere' in our school."

Debi Veranth has devoted past columns in The Pony Express to the issue of testing, and she has also devoted space to character education. For example, during a.m. announcements, she shares with students some of Ron Clark's Essential 55: Rules to Last a Lifetime. Then she follows up by devoting newsletter space to Clark's 55 behaviors every successful student -- no, every successful person -- should possess.

Following are a few examples of Clark's rules:
  • Make eye contact. When someone is speaking, keep your eyes on him or her at all times. If someone makes a comment, turn and face that person.
  • If you win or do well at something, do not brag. If you lose, do not show anger. Instead, say something like, "I really enjoyed the competition, and I look forward to playing you again," or "Good game," or don't say anything at all. To show anger or sarcasm, such as "I wasn't playing hard anyway. You really aren't that good," shows weakness.
  • If you are asked a question in conversation, you should ask a question in return. If someone asks, "Did you have a nice weekend?" you should answer the question and then ask a question in return. It is only polite to show others that you are just as interested in them as they are in you.
  • In the past school year, principal Addie Gaines used some of her space in weekly newsletters to provide information about a local school bond issue. "I wrote a 6-week series on the history of our school and its various additions, an explanation of building needs, and a description of the proposed addition," she told Education World. "I included graphics such as blueprints, architect's drawings, and photos of the parts of the buildings that needed to be replaced."

    Apparently, that approach of providing 'bite-sized' information worked. "I am pleased to report that the bond issue passed with an 82 percent approval, and demolition has started," said Gaines.

    When bullying became an issue at Neepawa Collegiate Institute, Phil Shaman used his newsletter spot to address the issue. Both parents and students had prior information about the circumstances surrounding the bullying, but they did not share it. Shaman raised that concern in his message. "Assumptions should not be made that the school administration knows everything that is happening," he told parents. "We all share the responsibility for ensuring that all students are respected and that student safety is assured."

    As the instructional leader at Monroe High School, Layne Hunt uses his monthly message as a forum for critical conversation. "I believe it is vitally important that all stakeholders have a clear picture of where the principal stands on educational issues," Hunt explained. Recently, he has written on themes such as accountability (everyone in our learning community has responsibilities), challenges facing public education, integrity, respect, and pride.

    By sharing his thoughts, Hunt hopes to provoke critical conversation. "I have, oftentimes, been approached by parents and community members regarding my messages," he said. "Whether they agree or disagree with my point of view, I welcome the feedback because it gives me perspective on the community I am privileged to serve."

    Not all principals present a "From the Desk of the Principal" message. "I recently read that a school newsletter should not have a 'message from the principal'," said Deepi Kang-Weisz, principal at Edenrose Public School in Mississauga, Ontario (Canada). Instead the principal's message should be captured under a catchy title, one that is sure to attract the attention of readers. "Since reading that article, I have changed the format of my newsletter," Kang-Weisz added.

    SPECIAL FEATURES SERVE MANY PURPOSES

    Kang-Weisz often devotes space in her school's newsletter to topics of student safety. A typical topic might be the procedures for dropping off students in front of the school building. "We have strict guidelines recommended by the local Traffic Safety council, and we publish frequent reminders of those procedures," said Kang-Weisz. At other times we focus on keeping children safe in and around storm sewers and waterways, bicycle safety, and nutrition.

    See an attached sample of an an insert on healthful eating that was included in a recent edition of Kang-Weisz's The Edenrose Edior.

    Kang-Weiscz likes to know who's reading her school newsletter, so every issue contains a cut-and-clip coupon that parents can fill out. Parents return the coupon to school and their names are entered in a monthly prize drawing. Prizes vary from month to month too.

    Can you find the coupon in that attached sample of Kang-Wiesz's newsletter, The Edenrose Editor?

    At Allen Avenue School, Karen Mink must plan ahead to be sure her newsletter content remains timely. "My monthly newsletter goes out in English and Spanish. That means I have to send it to a translator before I send it to the service center to be printed," she explained.

    Newsletters are a great place for gathering feedback from parents too. Have you ever thought of including a survey in your newsletter? "About four times a year we survey parents about issues," said principal Brian Hazeltine. "Most recently we asked their views of the four Parent-Teacher Fellowship [equivalent to a PTO] nights we held this year."

    ARE YOU READY TO GO E-LECTRONIC?

    We've mentioned several schools that are posting their newsletters or principal messages online. But are you ready to go all the way and do a strictly e-newsletter? Bridget Braney, principal at Orchard Hill Elementary School in South Windsor, Connecticut, has done just that. "I used to send home 500 hard copies, but now I have just a few copies available in the lobby and I post our monthly parent newsletter on the school Web site."

    "In a recent survey I gathered information about the number of families that had Internet access at home," explained Braney. "Ninety-eight percent have access. So, I post a hard copy in the lobby and leave a few for the taking."

    Either parents are reading it online, or they're not reading it at all, added Braney. "Actually, families refer to the newsletter often enough that I know they are accessing it."

    Tim Messick sends out his newsletter as part of the Providence Day School's "Thursday Envelope." The "envelope" consolidates all the important school-based communication into an electronic newsletter. "Teachers still send home an occasional flyer or note as needed, however the bulk of information is sent home on Thursdays," explained Messick. "In fact, no other communication can go home on Thursdays in order to promote the electronic information. All of the Thursday Envelope material is actually posted on the school Web site. The electronic message to parents is simply a reminder that the Envelope has been posted.

    "We only have about 12 families that have requested hard copies of the information, so they do get an actual envelope. But I anticipate we will soon be 100 percent e-delivery."

    Are you wondering what kind of advice Education World's "Principal Files" team would give about creating school newsletters? Our principals had so much excellent advice that we've actually created a second article this week. See Principals Share Tips for School Newsletters That Work for our principals' advice and for a list of online school newsletters that you might use to gather ideas for developing or expanding a newsletter of your own.

    Thank you to the 17 "Principal Files" principals who contributed to today's articles. Click to see a complete list of article contributors. Then click to learn how you can join the "Principal Files" team or to view a complete archive of Principal Files articles.

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