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Schools' information officer aims to get message out

March 26, 2001

Schools' information officer aims to get message out



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Carol MowenPhoto: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

A week on the job, and Carol Mowen already has a plan for Washington County public schools.

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Mowen, hired recently as the school system's new public information officer, is heading straight for the issue that parents, teachers and elected board members all agree needs improvement: communication.

"We need to figure out what we want our internal communication plan to look like and what we want our external communication plan to look like," Mowen, 37, said. "We need to communicate on a regular basis. It shouldn't be sporadically."

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Mowen, who is barely finished moving into her new office at the board's administration building on Commonwealth Avenue, is considering starting an internal publication and a comment and question hotline for staff members, in addition to a newsletter for parents and the rest of the community.

She also plans to use the school system's Web site in her approach.

And while's she working on improving communication, she'll also be working to spread the positive happenings inside the county's 45 schools, she said.

"There are hundreds of kids who are doing good things. They need someone to cheer-lead for them and get the message out to the community."

She knows her tasks could be difficult, since some community members had mixed views on the position and its salary.

Controversy began with debate over whether the previous School Board approved the position or its proposed salary. Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett chose to upgrade the position from the vacant community relations specialist slot and set the salary range at $56,000 to $73,000.

After some public outcry and concerns from the current School Board, which took office in December, administrators met in executive session with the board and agreed to re-post the position at a lower salary range of $49,825 to $65,011.

Mowen will start out at $49,825, which is Step One of the administrators pay scale, board administrators have said.

She thinks she can overcome the controversy by continually reaching out to the public and by showing results.

"I'll try to get the word out about what a public information officer is and what it can do for you," Mowen said. "I knew that if I got the position that, over time, the community would come to see the value in it as they see the results."

Mowen, a Mississippi native, studied English literature at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. After graduate school and a short stint as a paralegal, she began teaching English literature in middle school under a Mississippi program that allowed residents to teach with provisional certificates. She then went back to school to earn her teaching qualification, which she received in 1987.

She taught from 1987 to 1993, before becoming the public information officer at the Natchez-Adams School District in Adams County, Miss.

The Natchez-Adams School District consists of eight schools and 5,072 students, the district's Web site says.

In 1996, she moved to her husband's hometown, Greencastle, Pa., and began teaching English at Springfield Middle School. She lives in Greencastle with her husband, Nick, and two sons, Peter, 11, and Andrew, 9. In 1999, she became a literacy resource teacher at the school.

Mowen said she decided to move into the public relations field because she enjoys writing and will have the opportunity to influence all the students in the school system, not just a few classes.

"I'm not a teacher anymore, but I still feel like I'm an educator. It's teaching on a different platform," she said. "And I would like to see positive community support for the public schools."

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