Students embrace schools spokesman on social media

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By Lacie Pierson
The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON -- Cabell County students spend much of their formative years studying the linguistic styles of such figures starting with the likes of Dr. Seuss and Raffi all the way through to Shakespeare and U.S. presidents.

However, there's one prominent figure within the borders of Cabell County who seems to have captured the attention of students, as well as their parents and teachers, throughout the county with one simple phrase.

"Hello, parents and students. This is Jedd Flowers, director of communications for Cabell County Schools."

Flowers' duties call for him to complete tasks like writing news releases for the media, updating the school system's website and facilitating media interviews with school officials when necessary, but he is most familiar and beloved in many households as the voice who informs nearly 20,000 students, parents and teachers, who are signed up for phone alerts from the school system, when school is canceled or there is a two-hour delay.

There is such anticipation for a call from Flowers that #JeddFlowers often becomes a regionally trending topic on Twitter whenever there even is a whiff of inclement weather in the air, including the seven days of school that were canceled in January alone.

It started in 2013, when Flowers said he found out there was a "Jedd Flowers Fan Club" on Facebook, but that group was fairly small, and the movement since has taken a life of its own.

"I have the Twitter app on my phone, and I started getting these dings," Flowers said. "I started hearing it going, 'Ping! Ping! Ping!' I thought, 'What's going on?' I looked at it, and, of course, I started seeing a lot of these mentions. I had to laugh."

The mentions of Flowers on Twitter range from students offering him money to cancel school and even a poetic valentine from Twitter user @AlexxFaith that reads, "Roses r red. Violets r blue. When you say it's Jedd, I fall in love with u."

Flowers said he does have private Twitter and Facebook accounts, but he declines requests from students because the West Virginia Department of Education strongly discourages interaction between educators and education officials with students. That doesn't mean he doesn't keep up with what is going on social media.

"I get a good chuckle out of it," he said. "Some of them will even post on there something like, 'I'll bet he doesn't know we're all posting this on here,' but I do. I've seen all of them, and it's cracking me up to watch all of them."

The experience is enjoyable for Flowers, a Marshall University graduate who began his career in radio and television broadcasting before taking a job as the spokesman for the West Virginia Division of Forestry in 1998. He was hired as the spokesman for the school system in June 2000.

His radio experience especially helped prepare him for the social media interaction he's experiencing, and he said he's glad to be part of the process because it helps students understand that they can trust him and the school system to deliver the most correct and up-to-date information that is available.

"I always enjoyed being the friendly voice on the radio," Flowers said. "I'm happy to have that positive interaction with the kids. I want them to know we're friendly, that we care about them and we're concerned about their safety. We're concerned about what's going on with them too.

"To me, it's good training even if they are just playing with this now. They understand if there was an emergency situation, they would know that I am the person that tells them exactly what's going on."

Flowers has received some light ribbing from his co-workers at the central office, and Superintendent Bill Smith, who makes the final decision, if not the final call, on whether to cancel school, said no one really could have expected Flowers' rise to local fame.

"It's typical of this generation," Smith said. "We never know what they're going to do with social media. This is just something that has all of the sudden popped up. They surprise us all of the time. I think we've found it rather humorous."

In turn, Flowers said he actually is glad simply to relay the messages.

"The superintendent makes the decisions, and I am OK with that," Flowers said. " I'm just the messenger. I figure if I could be a good friendly messenger, that's better than the alternative."