MHS enters Twitter realm

Like with town, no dialogue planned

Milton High School senior Ben Gilbert shows off the school’s new Twitter feed on his iPod Touch. Students and teachers hope the account gets more followers. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

Britney Spears does it. Arnold Schwarzenegger does, too. Even the Pope is on Twitter, and now, so is Milton High School.

With its handle @MiltonHSchool, MHS became one of 140 million users of the social media platform that allows members to post thoughts, pictures and links in 140 characters or less. The succinct messages are known as tweets.

English teacher Lynne Manley and guidance counselor Matt Rector started the account on November 14 as a means to send students reminders about test and college application deadlines and other events.

“It just seems like a quick, efficient way to communicate to parents and students who follow you,” said Rector, who doesn’t use Twitter personally, though he reads tweets. Manley, who uses Twitter already, will moderate the account.

The official Twitter account will only cover MHS; the middle and elementary schools aren’t included, Manley said. The account had 42 followers at press time, mostly students, the account’s intended audience.

“There are a few tech-savvy parents that are on there, but now I think all the parents are on Facebook,” Manley said. “Now the kids are starting to abandon Facebook for Twitter.”

MHS senior Ben Gilbert, 17, checks his Twitter feed multiple times daily. He estimates about half the MHS student body tweets. Celeste Gander, 15, an MHS sophomore said tweeting is her default activity: “Whenever I’m home, if I’m not doing anything, I check Twitter,” she said.

The students were pleased the school joined Twitter; both follow the account.

“I definitely hope more people will follow it, because I think it will be helpful,” Celeste said. “Because everyone checks Twitter. Through class, the people who have their smartphones and take them out, they’re checking Twitter.”

The district recently removed the social media site from its list of blocked pages; Facebook still remains blacklisted. Manley anticipates she’ll spend about 15 minutes per day updating MHS’ account.

But just like the town, Manley doesn’t plan to use this social media for socialization and dialogue. The town’s social media policy says its Facebook and Twitter pages are for limited interaction. The school district doesn’t have a social media policy, but Manley largely agrees with the non-social aspect of the town’s.

“I don’t see Twitter as a forum for answering questions in detail, and I think a lot can be left out of a text message or a tweet,” she said.

Many organizations – including the Milton Independent – use Twitter and Facebook for important announcements. But Manley said unless she’s directed, she can’t use the Twitter account for official district statements, like, for example, when school closed early for a water main break three weeks ago.

The district has the Alert Now robocalling system for that purpose, Manley said, though she acknowledged students don’t always get those messages in a timely manner.

Manley said an internal mandate prohibits her from such communications. Though the policy, emailed to all district staff in October, before the MHS Twitter account was created, doesn’t specifically address social media, it advises employees that only the superintendent speaks for the schools.

The account is “just to push out information that’s useful,” Manley said. “It’s not for anything political or any other means.”

Superintendent Ned Kirsch of Franklin West Supervisory Union, which covers Georgia, disagrees; a prolific Twitter-er himself, Kirsch thinks Twitter has many uses, including connecting teachers to others all over the world.

With its @FWSU handle, the district hosts weekly “ed chats” where teachers share ideas and links to articles or studies, Kirsch said, noting he’s yet to see any Milton teachers participate. He doesn’t think the 140-character limit is exactly limiting.

“You really have to think about what you want to say and what you want to communicate,” Kirsch said, adding that a parent once told him the district’s newsletters should adopt “Twitter style”: concise and understandable.

Manley says she hasn’t created an official policy governing what she’ll post; she’s waiting to see what comes her way. She says she won’t post photos of students.

FWSU takes a different tack: Natasha Wheel, Kirsch’s assistant who moderates FWSU’s social media, posts links to the schools’ blog, which often include photos from student plays, presentations, fundraisers and more. Parents first sign a permission form; none have declined, Kirsch said.

“It’s easy just to say, ‘Come on down to an art show at the school,’ but most parents can’t do that,” he said.

Instead, social media engages parents in a new way – and shows them school is about more than test scores, Kirsch added. Once FWSU started adding photos of student art and events to its Facebook page, its followers quadrupled, he said.

That’s the whole point, Wheel said: “We try to be as interactive as possible.

“That’s the goal of Twitter is to create an informative mechanism where people can contact you and you can receive a quick answer and to engage in dialogue,” she said.

Despite her hesitancy to do just that, Manley thinks Twitter can fill a void in district communication – the official website, updated by an outside company, doesn’t always have the most timely information, she said.

Both she and Rector hope the Twitter account gains more followers, especially students.

“We need to connect with kids the way they connect with the world,” Manley said. “We have to change with the times like any other organization.”

And though his district does it differently, Kirsch was excited about Milton’s account. He plans to follow @MiltonHSchool.

“I can probably learn some stuff from them,” he said.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.maas Stephen James Maas

    Great article, Courtney. Milton’s (the town and school both) approach to social media is mystifying. Someone gave them a high-speed train and they decided to pull it around with a team of horses. …Well, maybe I need to work on my metaphors. But in any case, love the coverage of this stuff — because it’s important — and glad the Indy is up to speed, at least.