The Howard County school system has made changes to its website in response to concerns voiced by parents at a town hall last week that the system lacks responsiveness and transparency. Superintendent Renee Foose wrote about the changes in an open letter to the Howard County Delegation that she posted on her blog on Tuesday afternoon.
"We appreciated the comments and participation of many members of the community as well as state and county representatives who were in attendance," Foose wrote in the letter.
Over two dozen parents at the town hall, which was attended by local elected officials, alleged that the Howard County school system does not communicate openly and share public information with residents or respond to their concerns. Several of the parents called for a change in school system leadership.
"I believe the school system is extremely responsive," Foose said in an interview. "But what may not have been easy to use was how to navigate or to find the information on the website. What we want to do is make the end user experience, when they access that information, easier to navigate."
In response to the testimony heard at the public forum, Foose states in her letter, the school system added the following to its website: a new "Contact Us" link, a new web form for citizens to submit Maryland Public Information Act requests and a "featured link" to its online database of vendor payments. To individual schools' websites, the schools' central office added direct contact links for the board member assigned to each school.
"These are important first steps for enhancing our responsiveness to the concerns of our community members," the superintendent wrote about the changes.
Foose's letter was posted to her blog on Tuesday afternoon, just after the school system sent out email notification that the school board's legislative meeting with the Howard County Delegation on Wednesday afternoon had been postponed. The email did not include a new date or a reason for the postponement.
Del. Frank Turner, who co-hosted the town hall with Del. Warren Miller, said that the changes are "a good start.
"We’ll have to find out over time if they’re going to keep their commitments," he said. "The proof is in the pudding. That means words are not enough without meaningful actions."
Turner said that the school system would have to do more than change its website.
"They’re going to have to start working with these people and have a dialogue with them as to what the issues are and how they can resolve these issues," he said, referring to community members.
Del. Miller spoke along similar lines, saying that he does not think school system leadership is doing enough to address the concerns expressed by community members.
"I think there needs to be a sea change about how the public’s concerns are treated by this government entity," he said.