(TNS) — Not long ago, Grand Forks, N.D., parents heard about most school district information through a monthly mailed newsletter.

Today, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram provide them with immediate updates. What are students making in Mrs. Heydt's class at Viking Elementary School? Fuzzy owl babies. What's happening at Central High School? Students recently attended a 1 Million Cups Grand Forks event.

Districts across the nation have been embracing social media as a way to reach parents, but Grand Forks Public Schools has made a deliberate effort. District administration announced their priority in 2011 to improve communication with public and staff, one of several goals in a strategic plan intended to guide the district for several years.

Chilly Goodman, a Century Elementary Parent Teacher Organization member, said the district has made a good effort.

But parents need to actively look for the information, too, she said.

"The district does put it out there," she said.

The effort to provide a clearer picture of what's happening inside classrooms is widespread. So far, teachers and staff use 160 Twitter accounts to broadcast student activities, related academic topics and staff shoutouts. The school website has a growing number of documents, including facilities and demographic reports. The district hired Tracy Jentz, district communications coordinator, in 2013 to help spearhead some of these efforts.

Superintendent Larry Nybladh said he's pleased with their progress.

"I think we've tried to prioritize more effective methods for communication, and I think we're on the right road," he said.

Social media expansion

Improving communication has long been a district priority.

School administrators developed the strategic plan after an accrediting agency suggested it in 2009, Jentz said.

Since then, the district has developed a communication policy, has written newsletters for parents and staff and has added more up-to-date information to the website, such as draft minutes of school board meetings and agenda packets. A social media directory on the site lists all teacher, department and classroom Twitter handles, as well as links to PTO Facebook pages.

If someone missed the meeting or couldn't watch it on the district's TV Channel 15, they can still see what the conversation was like, Jentz said.

"The website is like our 24/7 employee," she said. "If you're looking for information in the middle of the night, there's always going to be information there."

Social media is a more recent effort, but still part of the district's strategic plan, which is reviewed and refined every year, she said.

Joel Schleicher, district technology director, and Jentz have been working with various groups of staff and community members to figure out the best way to tell the district's story. Jentz manages the Facebook page, works with media and serves on a communications committee.

"We're really lucky," she said. "We have about 7,300 students with us every day, and there are a lot of great things they're doing."

Schleicher leads a weekly Twitter chat — #gfedchat — with 100 district educators. Several have embraced social media, especially after they have seen what other teachers are doing, he said.

"I think by the school district taking the lead, it got a lot more teachers on board," he said.

In the future, parents will likely see an upgrade to the district website and more teachers opening Facebook and Twitter accounts.

"We're trying to meet people where they're at," said Jentz.

Links to Grand Forks Public Schools can be found here:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

District media directory

©2016 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.