Is it a good sign?
Looking for the news on school marquees

       If Midland Elementary gets a marquee (see story, Page 4), it will become the seventh of 13 Westside District 11 schools to have one.
       Marquees are free-standing, electrically lit boards in front of schools that are intended to inform passersby about events and other by about events and other news. They are typically given to schools through PTA fund-raising (as with Washington Elementary this year) or outside donations (as with Midland).
       But intentions don't always turn out perfectly. A Westside Pioneer review of the six schools now with marquees found that on four of them - at Coronado High, Holmes and West middle schools and Ivywild School (K-8) - major holiday-related activities were omitted.
       On an easy-to-read standard, West probably rates highest, with its unobstructed marquee near Pikes Peak Avenue, while the opposite is Ivywild, whose marquee is well back from Cascade Avenue, against its building and behind a fenced-in playground.
       Washington's marquee is also against the building - readily seen by people walking inside, but the words are too small to be readily deciphered from the a vehicle driving past.
       Coronado's marquee is near heavily traveled Fillmore Street, but with its ground-level location in the student parking lot, vehicles generally block its message on both sides. Principal Susan Humphrey said this was the result of having to meet city regulations which did not allow the marquee to be higher. “It's better seen when school is not in session,” she said.
       On the whole, however, the marquee is not perceived as the school's chief means of outside communication. “Our primary mode to get information out is our newsletters,” she said.
       Different policies govern how marquees are maintained at the schools. At Coronado, where student government bought the marquee for the school three years ago, students decide what messages it will have, according to Humphrey. “Their job is to keep it up to date,” she said. “Sometimes they do better than other times.”
       As an example in the past week, the marquee advertised the school's Sadie Hawkins dance - an event arguably more important to students than the general public - but failed to mention the various choir, band and orchestra concerts that outside people might have wanted to attend.
       At Holmes, West and Ivywild, messages about the upcoming winter break went up in early December, with nary a mention of the holiday concerts each of the schools were having.
       Holmes is also known to leave obsolete messages up: For example, the school's Thanksgiving-related dates stayed on the board until about two weeks after that holiday, when the current winter-break dates replaced them.
       Mike Kreidel, a Holmes teacher, includes marquee updates in his work with the school's National Junior Honor Society students. He said he and the students have been putting up information as directed by Holmes administrators.
       This is his first year with the task, and he thinks the marquee is a key tool for the community to see what Holmes is doing. In the future, he said he hopes to take more initiative with the marquee, looking through the school's calendar of events and making suggestions to administrators.
       Joe Torres, principal of West, said his school's marquee is useful, but is really just a “secondary reminder” for the general public. The school's newsletter and website are considered more pertinent in specifying upcoming events and important dates.
       The school makes a small amount of money each year by occasionally “leasing” message space for special announcements, such as birthdays, at a small cost.
       Torres said that sometimes he decides what goes up on the sign, but a faculty member is tasked for the actual updates. Regarding the lack of school winter concert information on the marquee, he said it was probably a result of people getting too busy.
       Jackson Elementary's marquee is known for being consistently informative. According to Jackson Principal Anne Dancy, she holds regular meetings with staff to talk about what should go on the sign, and building custodian Don Oldes changes out the board's messages every month (more frequently, if necessary). Although the school has a newsletter, the marquee, near the intersection of Holland Park Boulevard and Edwinstowe Avenue, is important to communicating school information to the public, Dancy said. The Jackson sign was a gift from the PTA about 10 years ago, she said.
       Pike Elementary, depending on how speedily a design process takes place, may beat Midland to become the Westside's next marquee school. Principal Manuel Ramsey said the roughly $3,000 expense will be paid from his school's reserve fund, and he has been working with District 11 Facilities on a two-sided design similar to Coronado's.
       “Parents can know what's going on, and people driving by will know what school it is,” Ramsey said.
       As far as the need to regularly change the marquee's messages, he figures it can't be harder than at a previous school he worked at in California, where one side had to be in English and the other side in Spanish. His expectation is that there will be a single person - possibly a parent volunteer - “whose one job is the marquee.”
       Rick Gallegos, principal of Howbert Elementary - another school without a marquee - said he has often thought that having one “would really be an asset to our school.” Plenty of cars pass by on 31st Street. Also, as at West, he can imagine offsetting some of the marquee expense by renting message space for individual or community announcements.
       But he doesn't know where the up-front purchase cost ($1,500 to $2,000) would come from. Another concern is whether the surrounding neighborhood would object to a lit sign in front of the school. “I would want to see if we have buy-in from the community,” he said.
       Finally, if the school had a marquee, Gallegos agreed that it would mean extra work for staff. “There would have to be a commitment to getting the information out there,” he said.

Westside Pioneer article