Let’s face it, most of us in the pupil transportation business are not trained journalists, so putting out a publication regularly is not an easy task. Even a modest four-page bimonthly newsletter can be a laborious and unpleasant task. So why go to all the trouble?
While many transportation people discount the value of publishing a department newsletter, the benefits are worth the effort. First off, a newsletter allows you to keep employees, supervisors, principals and administrators aware of issues in your department. Just like any publication, whether it’s published on paper or disseminated electronically, it helps to spread news and keep its readers informed.
In addition to merely spreading news, a newsletter also allows you to spotlight your department’s strengths and to recognize the many individuals who help to maintain the safety and efficiency of your program. A department newsletter can act as a catalyst for bringing your team together and improving morale.
Clearly, a newsletter can be a great tool for increasing communication within your transportation department and throughout your school district, but creating a newsletter from scratch can be an intimidating challenge. This article will provide you with some suggestions that will help you to get the ball rolling or, if you’re already publishing a newsletter, to evaluate its effectiveness.
Proper planning is critical to the successful launch of any publication. Some items to consider for your newsletter:
Who will write it? Edit it?
What format will you use?
How will it be disseminated?
Who will receive it?
How much will it cost to print?
What will be recurring themes or columns?
What type of articles do you want to publish?
How often will you publish it?
But, first things first. All newsletters should have a meaningful name, and choosing it should not be taken lightly. Ask your staff for suggestions and possibly offer a prize to the person who comes up with the winning title.
Inspiration for a name can come from many places. The New York Association for Pupil Transportation named its newsletter after a past president, Arthur Schock. The newsletter is called “The Schock Absorber.” My department’s newsletter is named “The Steering Gear.” The name is appropriate because the publication is designed to steer everyone in the right direction.
The writing bug
Who will write your newsletter? Having a variety of writers provides your newsletter with different perspectives. In general, the transportation manager writes at least one article for the newsletter (the “director’s update”) and maybe more, depending on his or her workload.
Other office staff can also be enlisted to submit articles or to perform some of the editing. You may want to enlist the help of your driving staff, especially if they’re interested in contributing or have special skills in that area.
Once you determine who will help assist you with developing, writing and editing content for the newsletter, you need to think about how you are going to assemble the stories in a clear and easy-to-read format. Check with your technology department or school librarian to see what software programs your school district uses for publishing its newsletters.
Many programs can help you format your newsletter. I prefer Microsoft Publisher because it is easy to use and has a wizard to help get you started. Publisher comes standard with some Microsoft Office packages. If your district does not have a program that is specifically tailored to create newsletters, you can always use a standard word-processing program like Microsoft Word. Using a word-processing program will force you, however, to set margins and adjust settings that are automatically adjusted in the newsletter programs.
Dressing it up
If anyone on your staff has some training in desktop publishing or graphic design, you might want to get them involved in creating a template for your newsletter. You can also consult any number of books published on the topic of creating a newsletter. They provide design guidelines that will help to make the newsletter visually attractive as well as readable.