The Howard County school system has strategic plans for learning and strategic plans for funding. Now, a strategic plan has been designed to help school employees persuade residents of Howard County that they should back all the other plans.

The Board of Education was asked at a recent meeting to fund the Strategic Public Relations Plan in the next budget. Under the plan, a selected group of opinion leaders in the county--who may be activists or even the barber--would be kept abreast of critical issues and encouraged to relay concerns to the superintendent. Each school employee would be trained as an "ambassador" to promote the system, and administrators and board members would be trained to deal with the media.

Also as part of the plan, babies delivered at Howard County General Hospital would receive a faux diploma and an "HCPSS Class of . . ." T-shirt and information about school system services. The county Department of Education would honor one resident each year for distinguished service to public education in the county. Interpreters would translate school system documents into Spanish, Korean and Chinese, and each school would get voice mail.

There would be more opportunities for elected officials and the superintendent and school board to converse and share information. The school system would use the media--videos, CD-ROMs, shows on local cable--to showcase its good works. It also would improve its Web site and would consider using a telephone polling system to survey residents on various issues.

The school board had asked Superintendent Michael E. Hickey to appoint a committee to create the Strategic Public Relations Plan, which would cost $181,000 to implement, in order to get "the public and elected officials to support our educational goals and budgets," according to the report.

The board members "wanted to make sure that our communications and our public relations efforts were focused and were aligned," said Patti Caplan, the school public information officer who led the committee that created the report. "They saw that there was an opportunity to do a lot more than we were doing. Some of the old strategies and ways we were communicating were not going to be sufficient as we move into the next century."

The plan was the synthesis of interviews with administrators and community groups and satisfaction survey data from students, parents and staff members.