Who: Stephanie Abrams, social media director of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Native Angeleno or Transplant? Native
Current Gig: Abrams is plugged in and charged up for the new school year. As LAUSD's first-ever social media director, Abrams communicates with thousands of students and parents through the district's official Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and Pinterest accounts, highlighting hidden good news and alerting the community with up-to-date information about breaking school news.
Before she joined the LAUSD in 2011, Abrams was a local news reporter on CBS where she covered technology, breaking news, politics and human interest stories (and was often mixed up with national meteorologist Stephanie Abrams). Abrams touched base with The Huffington Post about the new school term, her first year on the job and tips for how to monitor children's social media accounts.
Let's face it. LAUSD gets a lot of press coverage about budget cuts, layoff threats and sex abuse allegations. In the face of these very serious issues that aren't going away any time soon, what's your role? My role depends on the situation. In a lockdown that may impact drop off or dismissal I will communicate publicly to make sure all parents know what the problem is and whether the children are safe. I also inform teachers of changes in dismissal procedure during an ongoing crisis, as well as provide updates throughout the day.
With sex abuse allegations there are limits to what I can post because these are personnel issues which are by nature confidential, and when there is an active investigation there is still much to learn. It would not be fair to publicly air accusations that may, in the end, be determined to be false. I will, however, post basic information if a situation gets covered in the media, so that there is a place for people to review accurate information void of the rumors often reported in the media.
As far as lay-off threats, there is always important information to share. Last year teachers were waiting to hear when they would know whether their slips would be rescinded so we were continually updating the dates of notices, and explaining the process, reason for the RIFs [Reduction in Force], and the role of the budget deadlines related to determining the number of RIFs. Situations are often complex and need further explanation. I am here to help disseminate accurate information so misperceptions don’t prevail. Many teachers who received RIF notices were concerned that it was reflective of their performance, and that could not have been further from the truth.
I’m simply here to make sure parents, students, teachers, staff, are informed of what’s happening within their school District, what their tax dollars are paying for, and how they can get involved in making changes or contribute to ongoing efforts. Everyone should feel empowered to be part of the conversation that helps direct our path at LAUSD, and in many ways social media has not only given the LAUSD a voice, but has also given the community a space in which they can easily interact with their District. Directors and executives at LAUSD pay very close attention to our social media comments, discuss them, and take them seriously enough to often respond personally.
What was it like to make the leap from a glamorous gig in front of the camera to working a public sector job?
Anyone who’s a television reporter will tell you the glamour of the job is truly a myth. It may appear to be glamorous for the two minutes you’re on television, but the reality is your entire day is spent in a news truck, bathrooms are hard to come by, and to be honest I never felt even slightly glamorous reporting live from a rain, snow, or wind storm. My love of the job was the creativity of story telling and the interaction I’d have on a regular basis with incredible people doing innovative things. I have incredible stories to tell here at the LAUSD through our social media channels, which you often won’t find anywhere else. The creative space I’ve been given at LAUSD has far surpassed the creative license I had in television.
Stephanie Abrams let us in on five new things at LAUSD to get excited about for the new school year. Check them out in the slideshow, and story continues below.
We have some amazing sustainability programs, including a major solar effort. More than 20 MW at 62 sites will be energized by March 2013, with a projected 20 year savings of almost $114 million! The ﬁrst year of savings is projected at nearly $3.5 million. We also have a great conservation program encouraging schools to conserve at least 1 percent in energy and water and get 50 percent of the savings in return!
We have cooked up a brand new healthier menu for students which has received a positive response. In addition, we are more environmentally conscious than ever before and have made the decision to end the use of styrofoam in our school cafeterias, replacing those trays with recyclable paper ones.
LAUSD built and opened 20 new schools this school year! To date, the District has completed 129 new schools and approximately 24,000 modernization projects. Click here for the photo gallery.
The increase in test scores has spirits soaring at LAUSD! The latest scores show a rise in all subjects in nearly every grade level. We also top the state and many other urban districts with our rate of increase in 2012 CST scores in both English and Math.
Student attendance is up, with perfect participation for 20 percent of 5th and 6th graders! We are thrilled about the attendance increase and also have initiated many attendance programs
Is it annoying to get mixed up with Stephanie Abrams the meteorologist all the time?
I’m used to it. At times even my family will call me or post on my Facebook page, asking about the latest hurricane. For some reason no one can tell the difference between the tall blonde Stephanie Abrams, and myself, the petite brunette who would be terriﬁed of reporting from a hurricane. As a television reporter I covered technology, breaking news, politics, and human interest stories.
We both started getting more exposure around the same time. When I was reporting for CBS in Philadelphia and at times for The Early Show, she was on the Weather Channel. One time, our paths actually crossed on television. I had been reporting on a whale lingering in the Delaware River for various stations across the country, and did one live report for the weather channel. During that live report Stephanie Abrams was actually the anchor who “tossed” to this Stephanie Abrams out at the river. We all had a good laugh over that.
What are some of the biggest misunderstandings about the LAUSD, and what do you wish the community knew more about?
The biggest misunderstanding by far is that the LAUSD is a large and untouchable corporation rather than a District made up of many caring professionals. Most of the people within what’s known widely as “Beaudry” are parents and grandparents of LAUSD students, who happen to be very active with their local schools and communities, and are passionate about public education.
Do your kids go to an LAUSD school?
I have a six year old son and, yes, he does go to an excellent LAUSD school.
Describe the typical LAUSD parent in three words.
Curious. Engaging. Supportive.
Namecheck some of your favorite Twitter and Facebook accounts that you follow.
Personally, I enjoy following my friends updates about their children so I’ll just put some of the accounts I follow at work:
@LAMayorsOffice @WassermanFDN @GatesFoundation @EducationWeek @EducateOurState @TamaraBevens @LADNschools @LATimesOpinion @LAFund @LASchoolReport @HuffingtonPost @KLCStv
For both Twitter and Facebook there are really too many to name. I follow more than 400 people and organizations. I generally keep an eye on the newsfeed to see what people are saying about the LAUSD. I find @theculturedseed to offer a lot of insight about education from a parent’s perspective as well as information for local family activities.
What's some advice for parents whose kids are navigating social media for the first time?
Keep an eye on your children and don’t allow them to use social media without access to their account. You should have their password and they should be willing to friend you. I don’t think you should read their email as teenagers need their independence, but there are situations where having the password may be important. You should, however, always monitor their posts to ensure they’re acting responsibly and safely. You may want to consider setting up a fan page type of account for your children, that way you can easily monitor it and hand it over to them to use independently after they’re old enough.
Children under 13 years old should not be using Facebook, because that is illegal.
That said, social media is a fantastic way to create your own news feed about what interests you. Young people can learn a lot by monitoring the social media of politicians and a variety of public and private agencies. In addition, there are many ways in which social media can be used in class. One teacher I profiled last year at Hollenbeck Middle School describes himself as a “tweecher” because he educates through the use of Twitter by tweeting out questions. His students tweet back their answers.
Who do you think is the greatest teacher in the history of the world? There are too many excellent answers to this question, many of them are LAUSD’s teachers of the year. Sally Ride was teacher of teachers and an educator who opened up the world of math and science to many young girls. She often inspired me. And, my son’s kindergarten teacher, Ms. Shelley Ross. Ms. Ross always impressed me with her Martha Stewart-like organization of the classroom, the assignments, and the heart and energy she gave to each day (even after hours) and each student. She treated everyone with dignity, love, and respect. Her love and attention transformed my son’s approach to education, creating a love of learning I’m not sure he would have developed without her guidance.