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  • Cabarrus County Schools

How Cabarrus County Schools Expanded Their Digital Engagement Beyond Social Media

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While school districts effectively use social media to serve the needs of students and parents, broader issues that impact the overall community can sometimes get lost in the shuffle, leading to less engagement. When Cabarrus County Schools needed to broaden engagement for a long-term realignment plan, they looked to EngagementHQ to create an online hub for information and conversation that avoided the pitfalls of social media.  

“The engagement piece has given us more of a municipal platform where we can reach the community members who aren't necessarily our parents but are more concerned about their tax rates, property values and economic impacts of community schools. That's where it gives us a chance for people to ask questions and for us to answer them in a factual, transparent way.”
Philip Furr, Director of Communications and Public Relations, Cabarrus County Schools, North Carolina


  • 13,500 visitors
  • 350 engaged/contributed to survey or Q&A
  • 157 registered
  • 200 applications to focus group overnight
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Finding the Right Channels for the Right Conversations

School districts manage a balance of roles in their community: educating children, providing customer service to families, and maintaining a position as a government business that must speak to tax revenues, budgets, and other financial responsibilities.  

It’s a balance that Philip Furr, Director of Communications and Public Relations for Cabarrus County Schools in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, is often unrealized by students and families.  

“There’s a customer service component involved in public education that you don’t necessarily see when you’re a student,” he said. “You really only see that once you’re a parent or staff member, or you become actively involved in what’s going on in schools.” 

While many families realize that student success comes through engagement with their schools, the channels for engagement can sometimes present challenges when connecting with families on all the issues that schools and districts face. For this growing county neighboring Charlotte, Furr said that while the benefits of broad social media engagement served to assist Cabarrus school parents in answering basic questions and highlight student life, it didn’t provide an effective way to engage the larger community on district-related issues that went beyond students. 

“We want to tell the fun stories on social media,” he said. “We want people to be able to relive their time in school through seeing pictures of playgrounds, pep rallies, and proms. That’s what social media should be for. But we also needed some place to present the government policy information — the business of managing schools. So, we were looking for a way to get some of the conversation off social media.” 

Beyond social media, Cabarrus County Schools relied on website messaging and local media to get information out about new district initiatives and other business-related information. But Furr said that the changes facing media, in general, forced them to consider other alternatives.  

“Even though we’re in a suburb of Charlotte, what you’d consider our hometown newspaper is struggling like most local print media,” he said. “We were losing that option a little bit post-Covid for fulfilling one of our strategic priorities to engage the overall community. We needed more tools and more options.” 

In 2022, Cabarrus County Schools set out to create a new realignment and redistricting plan to better serve the over 35,000 students in their district. The opportunity provided Furr the ideal chance to make a digital transformation. 

“Giving our parents, community, and all our stakeholders another avenue where they could explore that government and business side and to gain a little better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes, is what really led us to the engagement piece,” he said. “We’re growing rapidly. When you’re talking about growth and facility needs, you need to bring in the rest of your taxpayers and community who aren’t your parents.” 


Building a Digital Hub Focused on Engagement

Increasing engagement with the overall community wasn’t just necessary for the growth facing Cabarrus County Schools, it was a return to one of the district’s six key strategic priorities.  

“Getting the community back after Covid is an important strategy that involves a lot of things,” said Furr. “Not just engaging your stakeholders as parents but engaging everybody. With that being a strategic priority, the funding was easier to find as we were ready to move forward.”  

After talking to other municipalities and investigating the solutions they used to increase engagement in other non-education areas, Furr decided on Granicus’ EngagementHQ platform in part because of its ability to easily create projects that appeal to users already comfortable with digital conversations. 

“There aren’t many school districts that use this type of platform,” he said. “But we knew that this realignment conversation needed to take place off Facebook. That’s what really geared us towards finding our own engagement page.” 

Using EngagementHQ, Cabarrus County Schools built Engagewithccs.com, an informational hub telling the long-range realignment story with a focused context, with a timeline that is updated as new information becomes available and an easy way to both allow conversation to take place and provide data to Cabarrus staff about who is engaging with the page.  

“One of the key features we like is the ‘Who’s Listening?’ feature because it gives visitors that come to the page some comfort in knowing that people are paying attention,” Furr said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re checking it 24 hours a day. But it gives them an idea of who’s paying attention to what’s going on in this page, and they really are seeing it.” 

Having a project with a long-term life span, Furr also said that the flexibility to add components and other relevant information easily to the project page offers a great option to keeping the conversation current and encouraging further engagement. 

“The long-term realignment project is our most in depth project on there,” he said. “So, it’s nice to put board meeting links there. People can find these in other places, but to have all the presentations made at meetings, key dates, timelines, images… The story that we can tell on there is much more detailed and much more in depth than you could ever put on social media or your web page.  

“This way, we feel like we’re having a two-way conversation,” he added. “It’s an environment that’s more conducive to everybody learning and getting their questions answered but educating the rest of the public at the same time.” 


Attracting A Broader Audience

In the seven months since posting the new realignment page built in EngagementHQ, Furr said that not only has he seen immediate online engagement, but he’s also noticed the page gaining popularity with school board members. 

“Calling it an ‘Engagement Page’ has kind of clicked for them,” Furr said of the Board. “I’ve noticed it come up frequently in board meetings, where the board will direct questions to that page, and we can answer them all at once. It keeps seven different board members sometimes from answering the same question seven times. So, I think they’ve enjoyed that aspect of it.”  

The attention to promptly sharing presentations on the engagement page after they are presented at a board meeting, as well as video streams of the meeting added immediately after the meeting’s conclusion, has helped make the page a valuable resource, according to Furr, which he believes has helped increase community involvement.  

“We had an application for a focus group go live on a Tuesday and had 200 applicants overnight,” he said. “That might not seem like a lot. But for a community focus group that’s only going to have 50 members on it, we felt like that was pretty good. I don’t think we would have had that level of participation from a Google form.” 

Perhaps more importantly, those visitors to the engagement page are increasingly consistent in their participation. With over 13,500 visitors, the page has seen 157 registrations, and 350 members have either engaged with or contributed to a survey or Q&A on the realignment topic.  

Furr said that having a clean and professional-looking standalone page for the engagement project has helped increase the popularity, in part because it is easier to find. 

“Being able to say at a board meeting, ‘Go to the Engage site and register’ instead of ‘Go to the district web page, and you’ll find it under x, y, or z’ really helps,” he said. “It’s part of the transparency, putting it there and letting people see it, as long as we keep things in the same place.” 

Just as important as the engagement, Furr said that the feedback and data provided through the engagement page is more than he could’ve hoped for from social media alone.  

“It is nice for me to be able to see the questions that are answered, and know what’s on people’s minds right away,” he said. “I love the fact that I can log in and get instant data on what’s going on and be able to report that to my board members. I’m able to pull it up on my phone and tell them right away. It’s not something we have to look for. 

“I know it’s not rocket science,” he added, “but for a school district to get that kind of engagement data is completely new. We’ve moved into another realm of gauging community engagement.”  

Fueled by this new approach to engagement, Furr said that he believes the larger community will become more involved in “the government side of education” because they find their concerns more directly met. Furr even found that the Facebook parent groups have started to reference the engagement page to drive conversations into places that provide a more focused lens on subjects. 

“We use social media. It’s not going away,” he said of the ongoing balance. “It is great for disseminating information, calendar events, keeping people in the know and celebrating. But when it comes to having a serious conversation, sometimes serious conversations must take place with facts, in a context where people aren’t frequently interjecting opinion. Being able to do that on the engage page has been nice.”