Effective communication is key when leading a school district with 77 schools, nearly 60,000 students and a more than $1 billion operating budget, according to Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano.
Last month, Martirano added another communication tool with the launch of “Inside HCPSS,” a podcast featuring conversations with the superintendent, staff and students that explore timely school topics.
“It’s another way to tap into a group of individuals who may have different learning modalities,” Martirano said. “Some people learn best by hands on, some people learn best by reading, some people learn best by listening.”
With his ear-to-ear smile and trademark colorful neckties, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Martirano describes himself as an extrovert.
“I’ve never met a microphone I didn’t like,” said Martirano, who’s been in education for 35 years and was named superintendent in 2018 after serving as interim head for a year.
Podcasting as a medium has increased in popularitythe past several years, with 26% of Americans now listening to podcasts on a weekly basis and more than 60% having tried at least one, according to Edison Research. Experts say a variety of factors, from being free and easy to access to the sheer volume of topics covered, have driven podcasts’ ascendancy as a storytelling device.
“It’s a wonderful way to advance information at a different level,” said Martirano, who’s a big fan of whodunits and cold case podcasts, in addition to his traditional intake of NPR.
Each “Inside HCPSS” segment is 25 minutes and designed to help fill the average commute from Howard County to Baltimore or Washington. Parents are busy, said Martirano, and the school system can’t rely on any single channel of communication.
“It’s really [about] are we reaching the people that we want to reach, the stakeholders here in Howard County?” said HCPSS Director of Communication and Engagement Brian Bassett.
The podcast has had listeners tune in from as far away as Florida, according to Martirano, a sign that prospective HCPSS parents might be tuning in. He wants to do anything he can to personalize major school system issues, from redistricting to fill the county’s new high school in Jessup to ongoing operating budget deliberations, which often get bogged down by technical jargon in public meetings and reports.
“[The podcast] gives you the nuances and you hear a lightness and laughter and fun and seriousness, but I’m trying to convey a clear message,” he said. “There’s an actual level of intentionality of my communication on it.”
A former science teacher, Martirano said he approaches each recording as if he’s presenting a lesson plan with clear learning objectives to all 330,000 Howard County residents.
The first two “Inside HCPSS” episodes, “Introducing Dr. Martirano” and “Opening a New School,” include interviews with Martirano and elementary school students and the principal and assistant principal of the soon-to-open 13th high school.
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While Martirano said he has more than enough ideas to make a daily show, for now he’s committed to releasing one episode a month and ensuring each one feels “relevant and timely.” He wants the podcast to translate school policy and introduce listeners to the individuals driving it.
Episode two offers a peak at high school 13 Principal Josh Wasilewski’s pre-HCPSS career with Ocean City Beach Patrol, as well as the many facets of opening a high school, from flag pole placement to furniture selection.
“It feels very personal,” Martirano said. “You go, ‘Oh, he just spent the last 20 minutes talking about High School 13 in a way that wasn’t conveyed in the technical understandings of the board meeting or a newsletter.”
February’s episode will focus on the school system’s community college dual enrollment program, now free for all high schoolers thanks to a provision in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future legislation.
Martirano said he hopes to eventually record the podcast onsite in a cafeteria or classroom in addition to expanding multimedia communications to include more video and social media formats. As the ways humans absorb information evolves, he said, so, too, must the school system.
“You can’t just say, ‘I’m gonna push out an email’ and hope that everybody reads it,” Maritrano said. “We’re inundating people with information constantly in this information age [...] I’m always my own worst critic in terms of how could I communicate that more effectively through different ways.”
To learn more about “Inside HCPSS” and listen to episodes, visit: https://www.hcpss.org/inside-hcpss/.