The media isn't always interested in good news, says Tom Boasberg, Denver Public Schools' superintendent. "Generally speaking, stories that are more sensational or, in some cases, more negative will tend to attract more media coverage," he says.
To offer a different view, Boasberg began a weekly e-mail newsletter called "myDPS" that's now sent to 32,000 e-mail addresses.
"We started them pretty early on when I took over the superintendent's job," says Boasberg, who started in January 2009. The goal, he says, was to "exchange thoughts and concerns, and communicate with our community."
"It's fair to say that in the last couple of years, we've been in a fairly highly politicized environment, and sometimes that environment generates more heat than light," he adds. "Part of the purpose of 'myDPS' is to provide a little more light amidst some of that heat."
The e-mails are impressive. Well-written and colorful, they almost always include photographs and links to more information. And the subjects are largely positive. A recent e-mail titled "Worst to First" celebrated DPS' improvements in academic performance and enrollment. Another, called "Destination: Blue," lauded the achievements of University Park Elementary, which moved into the blue "Distinguished" category in the district's color-coded School Performance Framework this year.
Sometimes, the e-mails are more personal. One called "DPS Middle School Athletes Sprinting Ahead" featured a photo of a spandex-clad Boasberg leading a pack of runners as the pace bike for a cross country invitational. Here's an excerpt:
As I struggled on my mountain bike to fulfill my role as pace bike for the nearly 900 middle school runners who competed in last week's Slavens Cross Country Invitational (a task made fiendishly harder this year by the inclusion of two water crossings of the creek at Harvard Gulch!), I was struck by how far middle school sports have come in DPS over the past fourteen years.
Boasberg says he writes the e-mails alongside DPS's chief communications officer, Mike Vaughn. "Generally, Mike is good enough to do the first draft," he concedes. Boasberg says he then edits the draft, making sure to inject his voice.
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Many recipients respond, Boasberg says. "I think getting the responses is a great way to get a window into how members of the community feel about particular issues," he says.
One recent e-mail that generated a flood of replies was called "Too Darn Hot." In it, Boasberg explained efforts to cool down classrooms during the heat wave that marked the first week of school. That issue was a controversial one, prompting at least two parents to start petitions to delay the first day of school until September.
In the e-mail, Boasberg told his 32,000 readers he'd be open to discussing the idea. And thanks to myDPS, they know how to get a hold of him.
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