Spotlight

A Blogger’s Life in the Leadership Ranks

When it comes to using new technology to communicate with constituents, Mark J. Stock, superintendent of the Wawasee Community School Corporation in Syracuse, Ind., is on the cutting edge. He’s also an online presence, one of a handful of superintendent bloggers in the country.

Stock’s personal web log, dubbed “Wawascene,” has been up and running just over two years. He posts new material daily, and in most cases, invites readers to comment on what he’s had to say. Stock estimates that on an average day, about 2,000 visitors access the site, with roughly 35 percent of them saying they visit every day.

“I think it’s changing the nature of communication in our community,” says Stock, who has been superintendent in Wawasee for 11 years. “It’s flattening our organizational structure and gives everyone a voice. People who are afraid to come see the superintendent because they might be intimidated (still) feel they know me.”

Stock’s blog, which can be accessed at www.wawasee.blogspot.com, is an eclectic mix of everything from school district announcements to human interest stories — including one about his mother — to analyses of pending legislation and school sports updates. Once Stock was able to get out the facts on a lockdown at a middle school before unfounded rumors were able to spread. In January, he blogged from a local hospital after a bus accident, letting readers know there had been no serious injuries. Stock ends the week with a “Friday Funny,” some sort of joke or light-hearted anecdote.

“People don’t know what they’re going to find when they get to the blog,” says Stock. “Usually it’s at least tangentially related to education, but sometimes not.”

Stock also served as a chronicler of sorts at AASA’s national conference in New Orleans in March, where he posted his daily observations on his favorite presenters and his impressions of the city and its people. (His blog, “Taking Stock at the AASA Conference,” can be found at www.aasaconf.blogspot.com).

An Authentic Voice
Stock, who is writing a book on blogging, says blogs are most successful when written in an “authentic voice” that reveals something about the blogger, such as his or her sense of humor. “Your personality has to come through,” he says.

Bloggers also have to be careful not to use their blogs as an electronic newsletter. “As a PR tool, it doesn’t work,” Stock says. “People won’t read it any more than something you send home in a backpack.” A blog differs from a website in that it is less formal and includes information and links that change more frequently.

Traffic on the Wawascene site soared in February after Stock made what turned out to be a controversial decision to keep district schools open despite the fact that neighboring districts were closing their doors due to severe weather. According to Stock, 27,820 visitors accessed the site that day. Some of those visitors reacted strongly, in some cases lacing their comments with profanity and producing what Stock called a “Jerry Springer atmosphere.”

“I blew it,” Stock admitted in a blog entry later that day. “As many commentators have pointed out, some politely and some not so politely, there should have been at least a two-hour delay today without any question. ... I made a bad call no matter how you look at it.”

Although some visitors said they appreciated Stock owning up to his mistake, others were not so forgiving. “Excuse me sir, but did you even look out your window?” read one comment. “You put the lives of every student, teacher and parent in jeopardy, and respond with an ‘I blew it.’ How about next time you just do the job you are paid so well to do.”

Moderating Speech
Ultimately, Stock established a set of Blog Rules, which are posted at the site: “Comments should be respectful and pertain to the topic posted. Comments about personnel matters should be made directly to the administrators responsible. Blog moderators reserve the right to remove any comment determined not in keeping with these guidelines.”

In addition, visitors now are only able to comment on “posts that are substantive in nature where a variety of thought and opinion are relevant.”

Stock would like to see more superintendent bloggers. He says it’s easy and that anyone can be “up and blogging” in 20 minutes. Because the software is free, there’s no cost to taxpayers. The biggest benefit, he says, is this: a better-informed constituency, which Stock believes increases the potential for meaningful change.

— Priscilla Pardini