Question: PTO website managed by district?

Our PTO is trying to close the communication gap at school. We want to create a website with an online bulletin board for parents to post messages and questions. Our superintendent has offered to let us use space on the district website. The problem is that everything (I mean everything) that gets posted must be reviewed by him, including parents’ comments. I don’t see how we can effectively use this site under these strict guidelines.

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Advice from PTO Today

Elly writes:

First, congratulations! Elly loves to see groups use technology to build involvement and improve communication at school. A website can be a powerful tool, but how you set it up can make a big difference in how much it’s used and how effective it is.

Start by creating your own website rather than using the district site. It’s well worth the modest expenditure it takes to acquire the space. Why have your own? First of all, your group is an independent organization and should have an independent site. That helps you avoid problems like the one you are running into. Second, you can get your own simple Web address, probably one a lot simpler than what the district or school might give you.

As a nonprofit, you should be able to register your group as a dot-org. Get a reasonable URL (your Web address—school name plus group acronym works best). Put it on every piece of correspondence you send out. Make it an email signature (include the website at the end of all of outgoing email messages), and be sure to put it on your group's letterhead and all of your flyers.

Elly does think you should tread lightly with the message board idea. Building substantial participation on a message board can also take a lot of effort. Many groups have little success getting people to post. Make sure parents know the proper use of the message boards—no teacher-bashing or rumor mill, for example. It's important that messages be continuously screened so that inappropriate comments can be taken down immediately. One alternative is to create a section where parents can submit questions by email and you post answers on the website.

Perhaps in a few months you can tell your superintendent how successful your new website has been for parents, and then he’ll permit you to link to the district website. But if he doesn’t, don’t worry. The news of your group’s great work and website is still bound to get around to the families at the school.

Good luck, and welcome to the Web!

Community Advice

webmaster writes:
Yes a website is a major asset to a pto. I am the webmaster for our school and our site has been able to help close the communication gap tremendously. We toyed with a bulletin board but instead have a facebook page for the pto. Not everyone uses FB but we found that the people who tend to discuss topics online are generally with facebook already.

Between our website, our facebook page and our email system (we call it our weekly eblast), we have been able to reach most of our parents way more often.

The facebook page is easy to administer. The website, while not hard for me, does take some work so if you have someone in your parent base with some web design experience, then the website would be a huge benefit, imo. Our website is if you want to look at a good example. I use a system called wordpress for the design and maintenance of our site. It is rather simple to maintain and update once the site it is set up

As far as hosting and your url (.com/.org name), there is a hosting company we use called who will give you free hosting, a free email server and a free domain name, all you have to do is send them your 501.C.3 letter. They have been wonderful.

We don't technically have to have the district or school review anything we post. We have made it a policy to only support and advertise for programs that are either sponsored by our pto or have been approved by the district, just to keep the responses to the myriad of fundraising requests we get down, but that is a voluntary thing.

It is nice not to have to rely on the district to review stuff, as I can usually get things up on our site or on facebook in a day or so if necessary and we can email our parent base as we see fit.

Hope this helps

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