KANKAKEE — The need to improve communications with the community about the goings-on in Kankakee School District 111 was a topic of discussion during last week’s Kankakee School Board meeting.

Board member Chris Bohlen said he requested the discussion because of the difficulty he experienced trying to find information about the district’s fine arts events taking place last month.

After failing to find the information on the district’s website, he asked the central office to send him the schedule of events.

“There is absolutely no place to find that information as a member of the community,” he said.

In addition to the website being difficult to navigate, few events end up on the events calendar, he said.

He noted communications need improvement in other areas as well, particularly with getting the word out when students succeed academically or get accepted into college or the military.

Bohlen said the district should do as well showcasing these kinds of achievements as it does athletic achievements.

“Somehow, there’s a system that has to be in place that keeps looking at what are we not doing well and what can we do better,” he said.

Bohlen also referenced a presentation made to the board earlier in the meeting regarding the district being part of the state’s pilot program for CBE [competency based education].

“I don’t think the community has any clue what CBE is except perhaps the parent community,” he said. “The community at large is what I’m talking about. That’s where we need support.”

Superintendent Genevra Walters said the person in charge of promoting district news is Bill Yohnka, community engagement specialist.

She noted that each school building is responsible for giving their news and information to Yohnka so that it can be distributed.

Walters said athletics news is so well promoted because the athletics director goes out of his way to make sure the information is shared.

“Thirty-three other administrators have to actively participate in getting that information to Mr. Yohnka so that he can get that information out through social media and through the website,” she said.

Walters highlighted some communications strategies in the works.

The Kays Media club at Kankakee High School started tackling social media management specifically for KHS as part of their class during the last month or so of school, she said.

Additionally, a senior at Olivet Nazarene University has been working with Walters on creating printed content for people who would prefer paper copies of information rather than accessing it digitally.

Board member Deb Johnston also shared frustrations with the district’s website.

“Our website is about as un-user-friendly as I have seen,” she said.

Johnston said she would like to see schedules for athletics, extracurriculars and districtwide events shared to one calendar for the benefit of the community.

Walters said it is up to the building administrators to submit information so that it can be placed on the calendar.

Rachel Thornton, superintendent’s secretary, noted that administrators have access to a Google document all year to submit events for inclusion on the calendar. The person who collects the information for the calendar is Kathy Hunger, business office secretary, she said.

Board member Tracy Verrett said that administrators might be too busy to remember to send information about students’ achievements or building events; in that case, she would like to see them appoint someone in their building to make sure the task gets done.

“I know we get busy and I know days get busy, but how our kids feel is really important,” Verrett said. “It looks as if we only care about sports. I know it’s not true, but that’s the perception that the kids are going to have because that’s all you see.”

Walters clarified that, while the schools communicate effectively with parents and families through their own websites and newsletters, the problem lies with the lack of communication to the broader community about what goes on in the district.

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.

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