OPRF recently commissioned a study of its communications strategy. A perfectly reasonable project at a modest cost for a key institution with a complex story to tell to a variety of stakeholders.
The good news is that parents of current students are well pleased with their perception of the school with 77% seeing it as excellent or above average. A still healthy 61% of faculty and staff agree with that assessment. The genuine challenge is that only one-third of Oak Park and River Forest residents who do not have a student in the school rank it so highly.
The report notes that most in that group rely on Wednesday Journal for their news of the school and come away with a more critical view. We’ll stand by our news coverage with both its hard news aspects and our frequent features on successes at OPRF.
The most complex finding to us — and we imagine to school officials — is the frustration of both parents and staff (and the wider community) at the lack of immediate and full information from the school when a troubling incident occurs at the school. Could be a fight in the hallway that turns up almost instantly on social media. Could be concerns over allegations of sexual harassment between students or, rarely, involving faculty.
The school rightly has a responsibility to protect the privacy of its students. But worried parents and faculty frustrated that they learn details of incidents from either an online Journal report or on social media have valid concerns.
Threading the needle of being intentionally more timely and forthcoming when trouble happens while protecting both privacy and potential police efforts to sort out events, is a true challenge. But in this sped-up cycle of social media chatter and online news reporting, the plan has to change, the mindset needs to be updated.
Good for OPRF for acknowledging these communications challenges. They are real, they have impact, and the solutions, while imperfect, need to be taken on with enthusiasm.