Beyond letters: The benefits of electronic signage for Northwood

By Gina Harrison

Pittsboro, NC – Let me begin by saying I’m not a Northwood high school alum. But I am an alumni parent, with two kids that attended Northwood high school. And for those that don’t know me, I have had the privilege of being a NHS volunteer and advocate for almost 20 years. I have and continue to invest my time, money, and talents to this vibrant community of students, faculty, and administrators. It’s an amazing place doing important work and I think the recent comments show that many people in our community share my affection and pride in the work and accomplishments that take place there. I have shared the good news about the work and achievements of the Northwood community with the County Commissioners, the School Board and Chatham County at large. I am one of the founding members of the NHS Arts Education Foundation and continue to work, promote and advocate for arts education across the CSS system.

Especially since the school itself is not visible from 15-501, for those who are not students, faculty, or parents, the front lawn and the sign is the main touch-point between the community, the public, and the school.  I understand why alumni have such a connection to something that has come to symbolize Northwood high school over the past 50 years. It has also offered almost the only on-site communication vehicle for upcoming events, though some occasional temporary banners have been posted. And from my perspective, this has been problematic and substandard for the ongoing current student population for a long time.

Current roadside signage for Northwood High School. (photo by Gene Galin)

Since the early 2000s, I’ve been advocating for electronic signage. I used to travel frequently to the southern part of the state to visit my mother and pass the flagship school of the county she lived in. It was a large school with the best facilities in the county, utilized not only by education but civic and community groups as well. Just driving past I could see notices of events, meetings, county gatherings, symphony concerts etc in the space of 30 seconds. And this was fifteen to twenty years ago. 

So I come back to Northwood and working with students and faculty here. When students or staff want to update our sign’s message boards, they have to compose a pretty cursory message, and take maybe half of a class period to go out and update the sign, letter by letter. I can remember specific instances when no one was allowed there because of a hornet infestation. Is this the best use of anyone’s time? I think at the time electronic signage was deemed too expensive in light of other priorities. They did invest in local monitors so that this kind of quickly updated messaging could be provided in the halls to the NHS community itself.

The main difficulty I see, is how LIMITING the outdoor message board is when you’re trying to catch people’s attention and give a flavor of the REALLY exciting work and activities taking place on campus. I know we utilize various PR opportunities—social media, student newspaper, posters, flyers, and obviously the Chatham Chatlist (thanks Gene). But we don’t have a daily newspaper. And that 15-501 real estate is the perfect place to pique someone’s attention with an announcement that will make them go look for more information.

With less space than a twitter post, HOW DO YOU DECIDE BETWEEN Football, Baseball, Basketball, Cross-Country, Tennis, Soccer, Volleyball, Golf, Swimming, Wresting, Lacrosse, Softball, Marching Band Competitions, Choral Concerts, Dance Concerts, Art & Photography Exhibits, Fall Play, Spring Musical, Improv Night, All County Band, All County Chorus, All County Arts Day, Artist Residencies, Guest Performances, Fundraisers, Plant Sales, Award Banquets, Teacher/Principal of the Year announcements, Best Communities for Music Education Award Announcements, Scholarship Winner Announcements, Student Athlete Recruitment Awards, Governor’s School appointments, AVID Celebrations, Eagle Scout/Gold Award project announcements, School Board Meetings, Civic Meetings, Dances, BBQ suppers/Fish Frys, Student Government, Art Honor Society, DECA, FBLA, FCCLA, FFA, French Honor Society, HOSA, Thespian Society, Math Honor Society, English Honor Society, Technical Honor Society, NCASA, Science Olympiad, Science Fair, Skills USA, Spanish Honor Society, and more than 30 clubs???

At least electronic signage can begin to share some of the wealth of opportunities available for our students and community. And even learning to program and update it should be more useful to our students than posting letter by letter on the current board.  When the announcement was first made, I went to the article to read about the proposal. Don’t they plan to retain some of the base in deference to the work of those original students? I thought that was an indication that planners understood the significance of the sign’s place in the community.

Artist’s rendering of the new Northwood digital signage

Is there a better way to honor both the work of our former students and best serve our current Charger community sharing news of their accomplishments/projects/efforts/performances? Don’t they deserve the very best we have to give?