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Woodland Hills School District Looks to Begin Advertising Campaign

Competition from charter and private schools are forcing districts to get creative.

Joe Lafferty wears his pride for on his sleeve and he looks forward to telling people exactly why he thinks the district deserves the chance to educate the area's children.

Lafferty gave a presentation during Wednesday’s school board meeting outlining how and why the district could and should market itself to parents of potential students.

With charter schools opening in many school districts across Pennsylvania, competition between public and private schools are in a new realm of consumerism. More and more school districts, like McKeesport, now advertise within their communities.

Woodland Hills budgeted $25,000 to be used for marketing, and Lafferty, who is a football coach in the district and a 1990 graduate, is tasked with coming up with ways to utilize the money as efficiently and creatively as possible.

Lafferty is a marketing businessman who is serving the district as an unpaid special assistant to the superintendent for community relations, he said.

With two cable TV channels on Comcast, Lafferty said there’s a great opportunity to brag about the district and change the minds of parents who are considering moving their children to a private school.  

He said he’d like to see the two cable channels run more like commercial channels that include regular programing and commercials touting the district. He envisions three-minute vignettes featuring successful alumni that would not only inspire parents, but students in the district.

“We’ve been around 25 years now so we have some great stories,” he said.

Students most likely will be involved with productions, giving them chances to gain practical world experience in broadcasting.

Lafferty's plan also includes billboards advertising in the district, as well as web ads. The message he’s imagining is: “Woodland Hills Where Diversity Works,” focusing on its diverse citizens and diverse curriculum.

Board member Robert Tomasic suggested Lafferty push school safety hard when devising marketing strategies. The dozen or so parents he talked with who moved their children out of the district, all said it was because of their concerns with school and bus safety, he said.

The board asked Lafferty to return next month and present some examples of the kinds of advertising and video vignettes, as well as a cost sheet.

“I think it can be very powerful,” he said.

The school board acted on the following items at Wednesday’s regular school board meeting:

  • Approved disposing of a large cache of old and outdated text and library reference books that are being stored at Rankin Promise School. The district will first try to sell the books. If buyers can’t be found, the district will try to donate them to organizations in need. All money made will go to district libraries.
  • Approved for senior members of the high school’s music department to make a trip to New York City Jan 18-21. The trip will cost $600 per student and chaperone, and includes two Broadway shows and a trip to Ellis Island, among other sightseeing. The district is not responsible for the costs.
  • The board accepted an energy study conducted by Foreman Architecture that was needed in order to continue with renovation plans to the high school. State law requires an energy study to be conducted on all the school district’s buildings even if only one building is being renovated or constructed. 

Energy efficiency varied wildly from one building to the next. The least energy efficient two buildings were the academy and junior high. The best two were Fairless and the high school, with the remainder of the buildings rating about the same.

John Q September 13, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Sue T, much of the hard data can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodland_Hills_School_District
Joe Lafferty September 13, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Elizabeth that number is $500,000 last year, sorry for the typo. Thank you Paul for your informed opinion and encouraging words. I understand the challenges we face and I pray too that more of our citizens take up the banners and the fight for our children's schools. Paul you pointed out a glaring contradiction in many of the things I have read here and hear from people in that they pull their kids our of schools and then complain when programs are cut and things can't be done. When kids go to another "public school" that takes a lot of $ out of the school district budget and then the same kids parents want to yell that enough isn't done. I have no children in the district, I work as a volunteer and still people want to challenge the fight I have taken up as silly or fruitless. Others in the district might even criticize me engaging people on public forums like Patch.com. I welcome the exchange of ideas. Thoughtful people step up, proudly say who they are and engage in discussions that don't have to agree. Cowards throw stones from an anonymous distance and give no credit to those people in the schools every day doing the job. Paul, as you can see most people just seem to fight the fights they think they can win, others fight the fights that need fighting. Our school age children need the latter an not the former.
Jenny September 13, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Mr. Gamrat
Missy Criss September 14, 2012 at 12:06 AM
I agree with statements on both sides of this argument. My experience, and that of my children, has NEVER indicated that they are in danger and that they are anything but safe. I find it very confusing that people keep bringing this up this and I believe is much more isolated than the media portrays. That said, my kids are doing very well and I have great things to say about their teachers, but we need to deal with the issue of poor test performance. Granted tests often test how well you take tests! But it is the main mechanism we have for comparing schools and our test scores are not adequate. I would encourage those who have experienced school in WHSD and decided to move their children to share why with the school board. Saying that it is "way better" elsewhere does not give us information. How exactly? What are you basing this on? We need to look at things critically and stop saying we are doing it well. I believe the science curriculum in the elementary schools is lacking (and I work in a science based field). Math, however, I think is quite good; my daughter is in 6th grade and learning algebra!! How can I complain about that?! My children have been given a variety of learning methods and fun ways to retain information. I applaud all of these efforts to engage our children. But I do think a major evaluation needs to occur and I think teachers and the available evidence in educational research need to be the main players in that conversation.
Tara Reis September 14, 2012 at 12:45 AM
"Sue T", I'm sure in my spare time I could research the percentage of our students who graduate from college, the percentage who get jobs, the percentage who keep those jobs, etc., but once they are given the tools to move beyond their 13 years in the WHSD, I believe the rest is up to them. When my son and daughter go onto college, if they should fail, I will not blame Woodland Hills. Call me crazy. But don't call me a politician. :) I'm not nearly that smart. I'm just a volunteer who is holding onto her belief in public education because my kids are being challenged academically, they are safe and they are happy. If that makes me a cheerleader, so be it. I've been called worse! If you need any more specific information, I welcome you to email me at reista@whsd.net. If I don't have the answer, I will get it for you.
Elizabeth September 14, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Tara, The fact that no one can tell us how many WHSD graduates finish college is highly concerning. That is a reasonable outcome measure that should be tracked, and since some are arguing that the PSSA are not a good evaluation tool, you need to be able to provide alternative, empirical evidence of how your outcomes. If college graduation rates are truly independent of high school preparation, then there will not be variability across school districts--which is simply not true. As faculty at a University, I can tell you that a substantial part of the reason students fail out of college is because they were indeed poorly prepared by their school districts. They were passed through, grade after grade. The idea that high school is not critical in the preparation of students for college, trade school, or the job market is ludicrous. If your children go to college and fail, and you don't blame (at least in part) the school system that didn't educate them, provide them discipline, study skills, and a love of learning, then you and I have very different ideas about what to expect of a school system. Frankly, I'm done with this conversation. The more I hear, the more I am convinced that no one at WHSD is serious about having my family in the schools. It's too bad, because we, and families like us, are exactly what this school district need more of. But you will continue to lose us until the school district gets serious about fixing its problems.
Disgruntled Alum September 14, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Joe and Tara, Both of you are alumni, as am I. Saying that the overall quality of education, administration, faculty, student and parent within the district has declined over the past 15 years is an understatement. If you can not see that, you are blind. Perhaps it is time for someone to challenge Hoots vs the Board of Education and try to disolve this once mighty merger, and have our kids go back to school with people from their own neighborhoods and socio-economic situations. It has taken 30 years, but it is now clear that this merger is a complete and utter failure.
John Q September 14, 2012 at 03:49 AM
I think it is important to point out the fact that neither Joe Lafferty or Tara Reis, who is a district Board member and the current Head of Curriculum for Woodland Hills School District, are able to produce even one piece of statistical data to support their argument that there is no academic performance crisis in the district. The closest thing to actual data either of them can produce are Reis' reference to "conversations" she's had with district graduates who are currently enrolled at marginal colleges. Furthermore, she invites interested parties to take the conversation offline via her private email if they want specifics on what WHSD is doing to address their many problems. Tara, let's have that discussion publicly. What, exactly, are you doing to remedy the academic failures of WHSD? Why are you implying that the district is doing all it can, and that the fault rests with parents or guardians? Families and students are fleeing your district in droves. Nobody is buying the rhetoric anymore. Tell us, in honest and fact-supported terms, why they are wrong. Better yet, accept and admit WHSD's plainly obvious failures and commit....PUBLICLY....to delivering real solutions and provide specific detail about what those solutions are and any measurable results they have produced to this point.
John Q September 14, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Amen.
Bob Dove September 14, 2012 at 02:08 PM
As a parent of two Woodland Hills grads and an educator who does not work for the district nor hold any political position, I feel the need to put in my 2 cents at this point. Coming out of Woodland Hills, my daughter received almost a free ride at a private university for 4 years. My son is a Junior at Pitt and doing just fine. The lessons they learned in class and out of class, especially the diversity that they experienced, has served them well. My son was able to take advantage of the dual enrollment program with Point Park prior to going to Pitt and the effort by the WHHS administration to make that program work is commendable. For my money "diversity" is the issue. You either buy into its value (the workplace certainly does) or you don't. Culture clashes will always plague the district, that's a given based on its makeup. The resolution of those clashes on a daily basis is a life lesson that our kids experienced and understand and appreciate. I applaud the district, its teachers and administration for fighting the good fight and winning it daily. This district is providing its students with the tools to deal with real life issues way beyond the classroom. Education is more than books and test scores.
Pat Schaefer September 14, 2012 at 02:43 PM
To those who suggest that WHSD should be dismantled and children go to their neighborhood schools., please explain just how those "neighborhood schools" will come into being? If we gave each municipality the District school tax collected, it wouldn't cover what would be needed for a neighborhood school. Folks move to an area expecting that educational opportunities for their children/children to be) exist. Considering each municipality would be need to provide buildings for school children from K-12th grade, hire and maintain a steady staff with benefits i.e., teachers, janitors, guidance counselors, administration, approve a curriculum, meet the criteria for special needs children and find enough citizens willing to serve on the school board--how do they envision that happening? What guarantee would there be that your "neighborhood school" would be able to meet all the expectations the residents would have? You can get the grad stats by emailing the High School Vice Principal. The universities and colleges that WHSD grads go to aren't "marginal". All the graduates that go colleges/Universities scored just as well on the SAT/ACTs, had the GPAs and extra-curricular portfolios competative enough to be accepted. Staying in college depends on academic preparedness, maturity and the ability to pay the cost. The School Board is elected and determines how the District is run. Take turns with your neighbors and go to the meetings. Meet with them. Run for School Board.
John Q September 14, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Pat, you must be fairly new to the East Hills. The neighborhood schools reference is wistful and wishful thinking from those of us who remember Churchill School District, and Edgewood SD and even Swissvale SD. Those districts were delivering much higher quality education that WHSD is now following the highly controversial and negatively received merger that was forced on these communities back in the early 1980s. Since the merger and creation of Woodland Hills SD, education quality in these communities has plummeted, real estate values are down significantly and hundreds of families have moved out of the district. Crime rates have skyrocketed. Student enrollment is down by more than 2,000 pupils since the merger, a 33%+ drop. Many people who were around at that time and experienced it first hand know full well that the merger has proven to be a colossal failure. And the results are getting worse, not better. The high school is now in 5th Year Corrective Action II.....5th consecutive year!! It is only meeting minimum requirements in 1 of 12 PA Dept. of Education metrics....failing in the other 11. Of the other 3 school districts (out of 43 total) in the county currently in Corrective Action, two are neighboring districts Penn Hills and Wilkinsburg. In other words, the East Hills has become an educational sinkhole in the past 30 years. Yet the administration would have you believe there is no problem.
Pat Schaefer September 14, 2012 at 05:37 PM
The point of my previous submission was, that all the wistful thinking of the good old days or talk of dismantling the District doesn't change anything nor offers any practical solution towards improving academics the District. WHY has "the East Hills has become an educational sink hole in the past 30 years"? Where are all the active caring citizens of all the WHSD communities who keep writing in? Folks have said they don't like what's going on in the District for over 20 years and the Board doesn't address their concerns yet I see very few new names on the ballot at election time. How many folks are willing to attend AND do attend school Board meetings and report back to other parents? Reading reports on how the school is failing, how about exploring A+ school workshops and learn ways to get the schools to improve? Know of practical solutions that can be done to turn things around, show up, stand up and speak up. I've lived in the District for 25 years and am aware of the history, problems and the impact of the WHSD. I'm aware of the successs of the District too. My children and most of their WHSD friends took AP courses, experienced the band, musicals, sports, science competitions, the National Honors society. They are University honors students. Now they write about now how going WHSD and having friends whose lives were different from theirs has given them an open perspective and has prepared them to go into world to make a difference. There's lots to do.
Mary September 14, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Well I think it is money well spent if it can highlight some reasons to give district schools a try or another chance. But Joe you will need to get a thicker skin because you are going to get a LOT of push back. What I think a lot of WHSD supporters aren't acknowledging is that many of the students who attend charter and private schools DID start out in Woodland Hills schools and their parents pulled them out for whatever reason. I think more effort should be made to find out those reasons and see if they can be corrected. It's not just based on rumors or things that happened in the past. I have kids in district schools and talk to lots of parents - they have real concerns based on real things that they have seen happen to their kids or other kids in the same school. Parents talk and compare notes on district schools and alternatives. With the opportunity scholarships grants coming this year and even more so next year many more parents will be looking at whether or not they want to pull their kids from district schools.
Pat O'Neil September 14, 2012 at 08:30 PM
I was in 5th grade when the merger happened and I have to agree with John Q, it basically destroyed the better school districts of Churchill, Edgewood, and even Swissvale. The situation got worse and worse throughout the years because the parents from Churchill and Edgewood pulled their kids out of Woodland Hills due to lower education standards as well as for safety reasons. I moved back to Pittsburgh 10 years ago and put my son in WH but removed him for 2 reasons: - The students in his class were at least 1 full year behind where he was in his previous school in Florida, maybe 2 years - Safety. He was constantly being bullied by little thugs in his class and on the playground and we got no resolution from the teachers or principal. We put both of our children in Propel where they did great. Our daughter is still there and has been since Kindergarten Now, that said, when it came to high school, we were not satisfied with the Propel system that my son was in for 9th grade. We pulled him out before 10th grade and re-enrolled him into Woodland Hills where he does take advantage of the AP courses, the sports, etc... We plan on doing the same thing with our daughter. The problems at WHHS aren't all the schools fault, but they do have fault. Kids shouldn't be graduating if they aren't proficient. It's mostly a family/parental failure for not being involved. I go to open houses there and I rarely see more than 4 parents in the classroom.
Sue T September 16, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Tara, you want to "advertise" to attract students back to the school district. To be successful, you are going to have to provide this type of information in a concise way. The parents main concern is the academic performance of the school. If you can't sell to parents the success of WHS grads, the advertising campaign is dead before it even starts. I've seen the statistics and know what they are. As a member of the school board, you should know them, defend them, or tell us how you are going to improve them. Cheer leading isn't going to help. Hard facts are.
Monica September 17, 2012 at 05:15 PM
I have to say that the discussion here is more informative than any school board meeting that I have ever attended. I would love to hear more facts and less emotional arguments. I understand that there are many successful graduates, great teachers and opportunites for AP classes in the high school in WHSD. This does not tell me anything about why I should ignore the failing test grades and poor graduation rate. This is our 3rd year with children attending school here and each of those 3 years I have looked at other schools, charter and private, debating on whether or not to take my children out of the district. We put our house up for sale while we considered moving to another district. Our house did not sell. Property values are decreasing every year and I blame the school district for it. We, unfortunately, can't easily afford private school and I really want my children to attend a diverse, public school, however I struggle each year to decide if I am doing the best thing for my children. If you want to spend $25,000 of our tax payer money, I would appreciate your putting back into the school. I quite frankly don't feel that hearing alums success stories tells me anything about why I should keep my children in this district. I would ike to hear facts and see a plan for exactly how things are going to improve.
John Q September 18, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Monica, I think the silence from Tara, Joe or anyone else in the WHSD speaks volumes. When pressed for hard facts and a substantive response to these legitimate questions, they cannot come up with a response. That tells me all I need to know and makes it easy to see why WHSD enrollment is plummeting. It is projected to lose another 800+ students in the next decade, making total enrollment just half of what it was when the merger occurred. Epic fail.
JustMe September 18, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Couldn't agree more. Merger was a collosal failure. I like the idea of challenging Hoots case -- how much longer are we going to pretend that things are going to get better? Statistics (poor academics, real estate values down, crime up) don't lie. I'm tired of my tax dollars being tossed into a bottomless pit.
District Supporter September 20, 2012 at 11:49 AM
This article may not contain the hard facts that some of you want, but it is certainly a start. http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/education/twice-as-many-allegheny-county-school-districts-failing-to-meet-ayp-goal-654050/ "The one bright spot reported so far in Allegheny County is in the Woodland Hills School District, which did not make AYP in 2011 but hit its targets this year and is designated as "Making Progress.""
John Q September 20, 2012 at 01:01 PM
District Supporter, this is a very flimsy statistic to put up in the face of the mountain of data plainly showing the WHSD is failing. The district is in 3rd year corrective action....the high school is in 5th year. Those of you wishing to take an objective look at all of the data, instead of cherry picking can find it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodland_Hills_School_District
Joe Lafferty September 21, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Hi John Q, sorry you missed me but I was off fighting the good fight not heaving anonymous stones from your home of cowardice. So when your complaining the test scores tell the full tale but when they prove that WHHS is doing better they are flimsy? A hypocrite and a coward. Notice how the people who are positive and the people who are negative have anonymous IDs? Keep typing, that hole you're in is getting deeper. Ha Ha ha
Joe Lafferty September 21, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Sorry John Q, I dont know why you missed the typed chin whacks about why what you say is counterproductive and false so I checked back in. Let monica know that some people do, some people dont and the least of the rest try to drag down everyone. Sad Bro, really sad. I bet you yell at sports on TV claiming you know more!!! Ha ha ha
Zandy Dudiak September 21, 2012 at 03:58 AM
Joe, I remember one Woodland Hills administrator once explained to a group of parents that the scores are a bit misleading in that it takes many more kids scoring near the top to pull up the scores at the bottom. I've always felt that the state should report the scores as the range of scores for each district so people can see that, yes, students are actually doing well in the district and, yes, there are students who still need help improving.
Steve Karas September 21, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Instead of joining the discussion under an assumed name, why not do some research and then suggest a way for the district to improve? Anyone can complain. It take someone who cares to try to make a change. Schools NOT making AYP in our county: Duquesne, McKeesport, Sto-Rox, Bethel Park, Clairton, Keystone Oaks, North Hills, Pittsburgh, Steel Valley,West Mifflin, Woodland Hills, Upper St. Clair, Fox Chapel,Mt. Lebanon, and North Allegheny did not submit all of their data. Think AYP is a good test? Probably not. Public schools educate everyone. Private schools can select their students, so there will probably always be a difference.
Steve Karas September 21, 2012 at 01:51 PM
As far as advertising, try these free places: bolgspot, twitter, facebook, you-tube, linked-in, press-releases, free websites. Also consider establishing a connection with specific media. If they know they can call you or email at any time and get information, they will. Put up a few hundred dollars and I bet you can find some students to help you!!
Steve Karas September 21, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Instead of joining the discussion under an assumed name, why not do some research and then suggest a way for the district to improve? Anyone can complain. It take someone who cares to try to make a change. Schools NOT making AYP in our county: Duquesne, McKeesport, Sto-Rox, Bethel Park, Clairton, Keystone Oaks, North Hills, Pittsburgh, Steel Valley,West Mifflin, Woodland Hills, Upper St. Clair, Fox Chapel,Mt. Lebanon, and North Allegheny did not submit all of their data. Think AYP is a good test? Probably not. Public schools educate everyone. Private schools can select their students, so there will probably always be a difference.
Joe Lafferty September 22, 2012 at 05:31 PM
I agree Zandy
Joe Lafferty September 22, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Great comments Steve.
Louise September 22, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Well said Mr. Dove. My son is a senior who is doing quite well at WHHS. He chose to go to Woody BECAUSE of the diversity and the opportunities he is now taking advantage of. He is taking a bunch of AP classes, is active in the band and a proud member of the rifle team. He will begin tutoring other students next week. He did k-8 at a local private school. Gotta say that Woody has brought him into the wider world and that when he goes to college next year I think he will be better off. Oh,by the way, the safety thing? When was the last time any of you dropped by the high school to pick you child? Did you see any fights? Has your child told you about any? No That is because they take safety seriously.

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