How to reach busy parents? Blue Valley launches its new approach: A podcast

Blue Valley Superintendent Todd White said he knows busy parents might not have time to attend meetings or read their way through a newsletter to keep tabs on what the district is working on.

So this year he and the district are piloting a new solution: a podcast.

Well, a Toddcast, to be more specific.

White said it took some convincing from his communications team to warm up to the snappy, eponymous title, but he said he did not hesitate to embrace a new way to give parents a behind-the-scenes look at district projects and plans.

“When I go into these podcasts, I’m thinking about an elementary mom who is waiting in the afternoon in the car line to pick up a son or daughter,” White said. “It’s a mom or dad on the way to work or driving home from work.”

The Toddcast² launched Jan. 16 and has featured district educators and community members involved or passionate about school issues.

“It adds a different perspective,” White said. “And one of the things that we struggle with, that I struggle with in communicating with our public, is the monotone that can come from a particular person or an office that we always hear from.”

Blue Valley school district Superintendent Todd White hosts the third episode of the district’s newly launched podcast, the Toddcast². Shelly Yang syang@kcstar.com

Kristi McNerlin, the district’s chief communication officer, said Blue Valley spent several months researching podcasting and how other districts use the medium.

“We were looking for another format to reach our patrons and our parents and meet them where they are,” McNerlin said. “We know our parents are busy, they are on the go. And some of the topics in our community need to be more than a newsletter. They need conversations.”

White said he wants listeners to hear from individuals directly involved with district initiatives, not just the district’s top officials or public relations staff.

That’s why White said the Toddcast² is branded with the “2” exponent (whether you call it “Toddcast Squared” or “Toddcast to the Power of 2” is up to you). He plans to interview at least two people with varying vantage points for podcast topics.

For episodes 1 and 2, he invited both Brad Moser, a district director, and Diana Tate, principal of Aubry Bend Middle School, to talk about finding the balance between classroom-based and online-based learning, particularly now that the district is giving students laptops and tablets.

And when it came time to discuss the suicide prevention efforts, he decided to offer three episodes on the topic.

White recently hosted Church of the Resurrection pastor Adam Hamilton to discuss how Johnson County students, educators and community leaders banded together to create a multi-district #ZeroReasonsWhy suicide prevention campaign.

Hamilton spoke about holding funerals for more than 3 dozen individuals who died of suicide and his own efforts to help students and families start conversations about mental health.

Coming up: episodes featuring Blue Valley student Rory Swenson, who represents the district on the #ZeroReasonsWhy student advisory board, as well as members of a local father’s club who have joined suicide prevention efforts.

Topics of future episodes also include educators’ thoughts on the skills successful graduates of the future will need, as well as details on new career readiness programs made possible by a partnership with Johnson County Community College.

The episodes can be found on iTunes, the district website — bluevalleyk12.org — and streaming sites such as Tune In and Buzzsprout. (Type Toddcast Blue Valley when searching.)

White says he hopes to create episodes anyone could listen to, including his own educators and out-of-district folks. But the podcast is primarily made to inform parents, he said.

In February, White announced his intention to retire in 2020, passing on leadership duties to now-deputy superintendent Tonya Merrigan. What will happen to the podcast then?

“We’ll have to change the name,” he quipped.

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Katy Bergen covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. She is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.