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Pasco school district looks to break silence on Twitter

LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County school district opened its Twitter account in 2009.

Two years later, 163 followers await the first tweet. The only message so far: "@pascoschools hasn't tweeted yet."

That's soon to change.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino convened a group of communication and technology staffers this week with a goal of jump-starting the district's social media presence.

"We are in the process of exploring how we can best use social media to promote a positive image of our district," said spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli, whose job will expand to include tweeting and posting on Facebook. "We are interested and looking forward to having it running shortly."

It's about time, said School Board Chairwoman Joanne Hurley.

"I do think that when you're trying to reach the public, you have an obligation to go to the public in whatever forms of communication they are using," said Hurley, who has never used the site herself.

She likened the adoption of social media to putting out memos in multiple languages and to sending out news via voice mail and text messages.

"The whole goal is to reach as many parents as you possibly can," Hurley said.

Pasco has taken some baby steps into this online world.

Some schools, departments and teachers have launched Facebook pages, and the district has blessed a controlled site called Connect Pasco for educator blogging. Many teachers also use Moodle, a password-protected network for online conversations about lessons.

But when it comes to public outreach, the district's efforts have not flown far, with a mobile version of the district's website being the most notable foray.

Pasco lags well behind many other Florida districts, many of which urge people to find them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter on the front pages of their websites. It's easy, officials said.

"We've not found it to be a drain on time," said Marsy Smith, spokeswoman for the Broward County school district, which has 4,717 Twitter followers and 555 past tweets. "We just view it as another vehicle to get the word out."

Linda Cobbe, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County school district, said she keeps the Twitter application on her iPhone so that she can quickly post alerts about events such as school lockdowns. For a while, she said, the district's Internet filters blocked the website for use in her office.

But the district disabled the blocker, so now the public information office — along with schools that have begun using Twitter in classrooms — has full access.

"We use it for information we want to get out to parents," Cobbe said. "There are a number of parents following us."

Hillsborough's Twitter account, opened at about the same time as Pasco's, has 1,823 followers who have received 141 tweets, most recently on Aug. 29.

Romagnoli said Fiorentino has pressed the staff to move quickly after two years of inaction. Some technical issues need resolution, she said, but the goal is to have the district twittering away within a month.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. He's also trying to tweet, @JeffSolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Pasco school district looks to break silence on Twitter 09/02/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2011 8:53pm]
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