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The York City School District has and will continue to face many challenges on its road to recovery and improvement, among them a need to alter the negative perception that has been clouding the judgment of those who work at and attend schools within the district.

To improve communications and perception, the York City school board during a special meeting Monday evening unanimously approved the hiring of Erin James as the district's information specialist, a role that will specifically be dedicated to community relations and outreach.

James, a native of York County, graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism and has since written for multiple news outlets including the Virginian-Pilot and The Evening Sun. Most recently, James has worked as The York Dispatch's city reporter for nearly four years and also covered the district where she will be employed.

Long gap: After eliminating the public relations position nearly 10 years ago because of budgetary restrictions, the board in recent months agreed upon the necessity of the position, a sentiment echoed by the district's diagnostic report performed by Boston-based Mass Insight.

"The majority of the staff does not believe that there is effective communication," said Chief Recovery Officer Carol Saylor. "This is a hurdle that we have taken steps to overcome tonight. The hiring of a communications person is a practical first step in resolving this matter."

According to surveys completed during the information gathering phase of the Mass Insight report, more than a third of the staff "strongly disagree" with the idea that there has been effective communication, both internally and externally, and a combined 42 percent either disagree or somewhat disagree.

Those in focus groups voiced concerns including a clear need for a specific position dedicated to positive publicity and community outreach, and many were disappointed with the website, which is consistently out-of-date.

According to the report, "Improved communications was the most commonly voiced need across stakeholder groups. Specific requests included more clarity, consistency and timeliness with Central Office Communications, improved community and parent outreach, and a clear mission, vision and action steps for the district moving forward."

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