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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fort Mill Principal is on Twitter (From Fort Mill Times)

Fort Mill High's all a Twitter
(Published September 17, 2009)
Fort Mill High School Principal Dee Christopher tweets from his desk last week. The social network has replaced the school's newsletter.


Leaders at Fort Mill High School have abandoned their signature blog and newsletter.

Now, Principal Dee Christopher has a new vehicle through which to keep parents updated: He tweets on Twitter, a social networking Web site.

And he serious about it. So much so that he's posted nearly 100 messages since classes resumed in August.

“He's the grand tweeter,” Assistant Principal Donald Pittman quipped.

Using the social networking vehicle replaces the newsletter previously published and mailed to parents about four times a year. That endeavor coupled with postage fees cost the school about $2,000.

Now, school leaders are saving money with their new wave step.

“We're in the hip crowd,” Pittman said of the school's transition from a paper newsletter and blogging to the social network. “We're keeping up with the times.”

The effort started after Christopher made a commitment to keep ninth grade parents in the loop. Some communication was falling through the cracks with the traditional school newsletter and blogging, he said.

The principal, who once let his students duct-tape him to a cafeteria wall after making good on a fundraiser effort, issued a promise.

“When I met with parents, I told them (that) I'm personally responsible for the communication from this school to their home,” Christopher said. “That's a big statement. If anyone is going to get caught in that, it's me.”

So he stepped up his communication game, detouring from blogs and newsletters, and established the school's Twitter listing, WeAreFortMill.

“I told our ninth grade parents (about tweeting),” he said. “They were like ‘what?' They just thought that was different. I had a few come up and ask, ‘Are you really going to tweet on the first day of school?'”

And tweet he did just to make good on that promise.

“I probably did 20 entries that first day of school,” he said as he fired off a tweet from the computer on his desk. “I've done 84 tweets since I started the account. I've done 64 since Aug. 4.”

The school staff favors the innovated initiative that made its debut in July before gaining full steam last month.

“It's neat,” said Melissa White, Christopher's administrative assistant. “It's just another way he (Christopher) can get information to our parents.”

It's also a hit with students, including 17-year-old Karlie Smith.

“It keeps the students updated,” said Smith, a senior. “We can see times of games or other things that are going on. I know students who have told me that they've gotten information off it.”

Minutes later, Christopher fired off another message, alerting parents that a member of the media was visiting the school. His messages – like all tweets – are limited to 140 characters, meaning he is forced to hit just the message's high point before posting.

“With the blog, I was too long worded because I didn't do it often enough,” Christopher said. “I was always catching up. With Twitter, I can be very brief; I can update it very quickly. I can do it from my cell phone. I like the short blurbs. It's a quick, easy way to get information out.”

In addition to posting game start times, Christopher offers various messages, ranging from rallying the school's football team, to ACT and SAT scores and school and student accolades. Still, Christopher had reservations, he said.

“We've been wary about social networking,” he said. However, “as we learned more about the technology, we've learned that it's safe. We've gotten more comfortable.”

Reservations aside, some parents are joining their children and making the move to social networks. Yet, Some parents are having difficulty embracing the technology, he said.

“We're digital immigrants,” Christopher said of some parents and himself. “But our students are digital natives. They've grown up with it. The more we get comfortable with using their technology, the more you will see it used in our schools.”

And he has a challenge for parents and students alike.

“Visit us a,” for all the news relating to Fort Mill High School,” he said.

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