Tech Talk

Watchdog web sites keep an eye on local school officials.

By Alexander Russo

A small but growing set of citizen watchdog web sites and blogs are popping up around the country, scrutinizing district officials’ every move and creating a new forum for disaffected parents and angry teachers.

These highly unofficial and sometimes amateurish sites usually focus on a school board in a small to midsize district and are authored by a passionate and sometimes knowledgeable individual or group of contributors. In some cases, they come up with documents and reports that haven’t been officially released to the public.

One of the most active examples is the St. Louis Schools Watch ( ), where press briefings, board meetings, and even impromptu discussions in the halls are videotaped and posted online. The site provides links to news coverage, commentary, and reader views, and it has made things a lot harder—or at least much more public—for the superintendents in this struggling district. Activist Peyton Wolcott’s site ( ) has been written up in the Dallas Morning News and cited in various news reports surrounding alleged corruption in a Texas school district. The Winona Blog ( ), which covers the Winona (MN) public school system, got so overheated in its criticism that administrators banned it from district computers and got a newspaper story for their troubles.

So what’s an administrator to do? Several districts have decided to start their own blogs as a way for officials to communicate with the public and make their decisions more transparent.