When Hurricane Sandy threatened Western Pennsylvania, Seneca Valley School District utilized its Facebook page to help keep families informed of closings and happenings.
"That is the beauty of it -- an instant form of communication," said Linda Andreassi, communications director for the district, "It's one more method that I can use to keep in touch."
Mrs. Andreassi said the district has had both a Facebook and Twitter account for almost three years, with the Facebook having nearly 2,000 "likes."
While it is part of her duties to keep both accounts current and up-to-date, Mrs. Andreassi said that it hasn't added to the amount of work she does, but perhaps has added a different dimension -- she is always checking the pages, even on weekends and after hours.
"I posted at 6 o'clock this morning," she said.
Mrs. Andreassi uses Facebook to share not only weather and school closing issues, but good news about academic programs and sports teams, plus relevant information on nearby organizations, businesses and communities.
"Facebook is free and it is instant. We can share something immediately and drive people to our website for more information," she said.
Tina Vojtko, director of communications and development for Quaker Valley School District, had established the Facebook and Twitter account in January 2011 at North Hills School District, where she was the communications director until she moved to Quaker Valley this past summer.
Mrs. Vojtko said Quaker Valley had established accounts approximately at the same time.
In her new role, she oversees the Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as Instagram, a social media venue fast growing in popularity with the "tween" crowd.
"We just started that account," she said. "Social media is growing by leaps and bounds and we feel it is a good method to keep in contact with our community."
Like Mrs. Andreassi, Mrs. Vojtko stated the free and instant accessibility as reasons the school district makes use of these services.
"We would like people to flock to our website, but they honestly do not. This is one more way to stay in touch, provide information and share resources," she said.
Shaler Area School District has a Twitter account but hasn't moved into the world of Facebook just yet, said Bryan O'Black, director of curriculum and technology.
"We started Twitter two years ago, mainly to disseminate information," he said, "Schools, like business, want to share information in as many multiple forms as we can -- this is one way to do just that."
Fox Chapel Area School District launched a Facebook page in late November.
Bonnie Berzonski, coordinator of communications, said that establishing a social media presence was part of the district's new strategic plan.
"Social media is not just about promoting a school district. It is also an important tool to keep the public informed about a whole host of topics," she said, "And it will also help our school district spread the good news about the great things our students and staff members do."
Rachel Hathhorn, director of communications at Pine-Richland School District, said that fortunately, negative posts rarely happen.
"It is hard to be anonymous on Facebook. We do hold the same high standards for Facebook page that we hold for our other publications and our website, but we haven't really had any issues yet," she said.
Pine-Richland created a Facebook page about eight months ago, said Ms. Hathhorn, and so far, so good.
"It is a great way to share information instantly," she said, "We have also found that it is a great way to reach out to a lot of our alumni and have they connect to us."
Increased work load is always a danger with any added programming, but like Mrs. Andreassi, she didn't feel it was a burden.
"Yes, I do have to monitor the page and I do post a lot, but it is so easy and I keep it within the parameters of the school day, so it really isn't 'more' work, just different work," said Ms. Hathhorn.education - neigh_north
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: email@example.com.