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Communication During Distance Learning

Communications & Community Engagement: Bridging the distance

In times of crisis and uncertainty, clear and timely communication is of paramount importance. The COVID-19 global health pandemic has necessitated that Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) prioritize communications for the digital sphere, leveraging the speed of technology to reach all members of the PGCPS community. Since the initial announcement in March 2020 of the statewide school closures, the school system has focused on transparency while managing expectations, addressing urgent issues, and connecting stakeholders with community partners and government resources.

As PGCPS plans for the reopening of all schools and administrative offices, the Office of Communications and Community Engagement will coordinate efforts that reflect our commitment to empower all members of the PGCPS community with information — delivering timely communication at every stage that achieves our overarching goals of safety, equity and excellence.

PGCPS Community

As the nation’s 18th largest school system and second-largest in Maryland, Prince George’s County Public Schools serves an exceptionally diverse population, notably the highest concentration of students of color and those with limited English proficiency. System-wide communications are distributed in English, Spanish and French. Meetings and events are made accessible to linguistically diverse families through interpretation services in over 20 languages.

Demographics:

  • 136,500 students
    • 57% African American
    • 34% Hispanic
    • 4% White
    • 4% Asian/Pacific Islander/Other
    • 21% English language learners
    • 164 languages spoken
    • 155 countries represented
  • 20,000 employees
    • 10,500 educators
    • 1,200 administrators and central office staff
    • 7,300 support staff
    • 1,000 temporary employees
  • 208 schools
    • 122 elementary schools
    • 37 middle/K-8 schools
    • 30 high schools
    • 12 public charter schools
    • 4 early childhood centers
    • 3 special centers
  • Prince George’s County — 499 square miles
    • Suburban, urban and rural areas

Communications Tools

In addition to automated email, text messaging and robocall systems, the Office of Communications and Community Engagement generally uses four tools to reach audiences:

Organizational Structure

Under the direction of the Chief of Staff, the Associate Superintendent of Communications and Community Engagement leads the school system’s public information, digital media, language accessibility and community partnership initiatives. Using a three-tiered structure, the Office of Communications and Community Engagement works collaboratively across schools, departments and divisions to support the school system’s diverse needs:

  • Communications
    • Public Information
      • Media Relations Director
        • Specialists (3)
    • Digital and Visual Communications/PGCPS-TV
      • Digital and Visual Communications Supervisor
        • Specialists (5)
    • Web Services
      • Web Services Supervisor
        • Specialists (3)
  • Interpreting and Translation
    • Language Access and Engagement Supervisor
      • Coordinators (2)
      • Translators (6)
        • On-call interpreters (102)
  • Community Partnerships
    • Partnerships Officer
      • Specialists (3)

Communications and Engagement Strategy

Key messages

  • With Prince George’s County as the epicenter of this public health crisis, our commitment is to reopen schools responsibly with safe learning and working conditions. The health and wellbeing of students, teachers and employees remains our highest priority.
  • Our guiding pillars as we develop reopening plans are safety, equity, excellence and communication.
  • We will equip all students with the tools needed for success while working to bridge the digital divide.
  • We will continue to seek guidance from state and local health experts, government partners and the Maryland State Department of Education and adhere to directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Extending distance learning through the start of the new school year presents an opportunity to enhance virtual instruction towards a rigorous 1:1 model district-wide.

Tools

As we continue navigating this public health crisis, Prince George’s County Public Schools will use multiple means to communicate proactively and consistently with families, employees and community members. These include:

Reopen PGCPS webpage: Building on the strengths of the school system’s dedicated COVID- 19 webpage, the Reopen PGCPS webpage (www.pgcps.org/reopen) provides a central site for learning more about the reopening plan, resources and the latest news and information.

PGCPS en español features an identical companion site, Reapertura de PGCPS (www.pgcps.org/es).

  • Video gallery — CEO announcements, informational videos, media interviews
  • Reopening plan announcement — community message, news release, virtual town hall recording
  • Reopening plans and presentations — full and summary versions, Board of Education presentation
  • Stakeholder survey results
  • Summer virtual learning opportunities
  • Online school registration portal
  • Supporting information for plan pillars: Equity, Safety, Excellence, Communication — PGCPS equity policy statements, MSDE reopening guidance, state and county health department resources, media announcements, COVID-19/PGCPS timeline 

#ReopenPGCPS social media: Reopening-related news and information across social media platforms focuses on key dates, technology set-up and assistance, and additional resources for families (e.g. meals, family support centers, distance learning hotline). News conferences are live-tweeted and live-streamed on various platforms.

Reopen PGCPS/Reapertura de PGCPS digital newsletter: Launched in August, the weekly newsletter focuses on important information about reopening and the upcoming school year. Sections include a top story, parent resources and recent media highlights. The newsletter will be phased out after the first week of school with related content integrated into the weekly Engage PGCPS/Acción PGCPS family and community newsletter.

PGCPS-TV: The onset of distance learning revitalized viewership on the school system’s TV channel as students and families used it for pre-taped lessons. Public service announcements and other highlights were available on cable and video-on-demand, accessible from the PGCPS website.

Media relations: Regular story pitches to local news outlets will keep stakeholders informed about the reopening timetable, distance learning and student/family supports while op-eds and national media appearances will provide the opportunity to share our story of progress and challenges in addressing the digital divide.

Digital advertising: Radio and social media advertising will amplify our messages around our response to the pandemic, distance learning opportunities, commitment to safety, parent resources and technology access

Employee communications: Customized messages to employees are delivered through the weekly PGCPS Express newsletter and updates from the CEO. Virtual town halls will provide an opportunity to reinforce important messages around safety protocols and returning to work sites and address staff questions and concerns.

Community engagement: Virtual town halls will provide families with answers to distance learning questions and information about resources. Collaborations with business, faith-based and nonprofit partners will continue virtually to secure volunteer services and resources that support the needs of students, families and the school system. Major updates will be shared through the Partner PGCPS newsletter.

Timeline

Fall

  • Deliver key information and updates in back-to-school communications.
  • Provide communications guidance and notification protocols regarding COVID-19 positive cases.
  • Launch revamped PGCPS website with new, more user-friendly content management system.
  • Host virtual town halls with Chief Executive Officer in collaboration with the Department of Family and School Partnerships.
  • Continue to regularly pitch stories about reopening strategies to local and national media.
  • Roll out new e-messaging platform for better synchronization with school-based staff.
  • Continue to utilize PGCPS-TV to fill technology and language access gaps.

Winter

  • Distribute stakeholder survey on hybrid and distance learning plans.
  • Continue virtual town halls for employees, families and community members.
  • Provide social-emotional learning resources in preparation for returning to school.
  • Host virtual and media tours to preview new classroom structures, school bus protocols and related information.
  • For delayed openings, early dismissals, etc., for emergencies or inclement weather please refer to the following updated Administrative Procedures:

COVID-19 Notification Protocols

Employees are required to notify supervisors of a positive COVID-19 test. When such incidences occur, a system of protocols are in place for appropriate notification to supervisors and colleagues as described below.

Central office employee

  • Supervisor notifies the division chief of a positive test.
  • Division chief notifies (1) appropriate employees of potential exposure and (2) building administrator, Chief Operating Officer, Chief of Staff and Chief Executive Officer; and (3) logs entry to Prince George’s County Health Department.
  • Building administrator sends appropriate notification and updates to relevant employees as necessary.
  • Before returning to work, the employee must submit a negative test result to the Chief of Human Resources and notify their principal/supervisor of their physical return to work.

School employee

  • Principal notifies Instructional Director of positive test.
  • Instructional Director notifies Associate Superintendent and Chief of School Leadership of positive test results.
  • Division chief notifies (1) appropriate employees of potential exposure and (2) building administrator, Chief Operating Officer, Chief of Staff and Chief Executive Officer; and (3) logs entry to Prince George’s County Health Department.
  • Before returning to work, the employee must submit a negative test result to the Chief of Human Resources and notify their principal/supervisor of their physical return to work.