Superintendents Ask and NSPRA Answers

Posted 10/12/2020 by schoolpr
Categories: Communication, General, internal communication, school media relations, school PR

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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 48649747648_2796ba630b_o.jpgOver the years, we’ve repeatedly been asked several questions by superintendents. Our answers to these items have rarely changed because our responses are based on the results of what we see happening in local districts.

Of course, times do change, and I’ve always said that if you gather 4 veteran PR pros in a room, you may receive 4 different thoughtful responses to consider. The fact remains that while you do know your local situation best, you may find something new to think about here to alter your approach.

So, take it from this PR pro, these responses have weathered the test of time.

 

Question: With little budget available, which function is the best to initiate or protect during a depressed budget season?

Internal communication must be a priority.

All staff must be informed about and engaged with operations and your vision and status of issues for their schools. After we have completed focus groups of staff during our NSPRA Communication Audits, it amazes us to learn how inconsistent internal communication can still be in school districts.

Remember that parents and other community residents in your community find staff members at all levels credible about the issues they care about in your system. That means your employees can make or break the image of your schools. They help shape its image. Hopefully, you keep them informed so they can answer questions and even vote in school financial elections, where available.

Staff morale and engagement increase with effective communication programs.

As a veteran and now retired NSPRA member has said, “Public relations programs without effective internal communication are built on quicksand.”

 

 


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 39668347835_c02dccc113_o__2018_04_16_11_18_18_utc_-removebg-preview.pngQuestion: A media outlet asked us to embed an undercover reporter as a student or a substitute teacher at our high school. What should we do?

Politely decline and run away from this one.

Even though the intent to be transparent is admirable, I’ve seen superintendents and communication professionals leave their jobs after they’ve let reporters do this and the subsequent articles hit people’s screens. Even though positive items may be reported, what’s remembered are the negative items “uncovered” by the embedded reporters.

It’s too high of a media relations and reputation risk. Just say “no” when you’re asked to do this.

 

 


Question: How can I comment when legal advice handcuffs my responses about employee or student misbehavior?

This dilemma underscores the battle between the legal court and the court of public opinion.

Your staff is looking for a leader who “has got their back,” but you’re muzzled because you cannot comment about personnel or other legal issues. One solution is to research other cases that are similar to the current incident and report that, in those cases, the outcome resulted in … ”expulsions, firings, etc.”

Another tactic is to recommend that the local reporter interview the parents of the cited student. Once the situation is made more public, you can normally talk a bit more about it.

 

 


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 49076136147_65c3544f0a_o-removebg-preview.pngQuestion: How do you deal with damaging rumors? And how do you decide to go public about issues that may not be ready to be released?

This is another area where the no comment route can get you in trouble.

I’ve often said that when you create an information vacuum, someone (usually your critics) will quickly fill it.

Another thing to remember is that when you do not tell your story, the media or neighborhood critics will be happy to tell it for you. It’s always good to be first to release the information so that you can define and frame the possible debate for it. Plus, you can also point out the action you’ll be taking.

 

 

When you inevitably face sticky questions like these during the course of your career, keep in mind that members can always go to NSPRA Connect for a sounding board or call on us at NSPRA for help. In all likelihood, we’ve seen similar situations and can offer you practical advice based on solid research and experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photos by Jim Cummings, APR, formerly of Glendale Elementary School District

Stepping Up to the Challenge

Posted 09/07/2020 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: ,

In sports, when things are going bad, an impassioned teammate steps up or comes off the bench to provide the spark and needed continuity to get the team back on track. When a star player goes down, somehow a previously unknown player rises to the occasion. This teammate fills the hole that the star left and eventually turns the game into a team win. In these high-stress, game-time situations, often someone meets the challenge.

Now public education is meeting the challenges of our pandemic amidst all the insecurities it brings. Parents, staff and students are looking for some certainty of a new normal — but new seems correct as new circumstances can change weekly or even daily with unpredictable pronouncements by governors and new disease transmission rates.

Across the country, our entire public education team is now facing these challenges and providing alternative solutions often one school or classroom at a time. To move forward as schools open nationwide, we need for all of us to be supportive as educators adapt to making the 2020-2021 school year as successful as it can be.

Just last week the Minnesota Star Tribune ran an op-ed by education leaders from the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA) and the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) along with cooperative insight from the Minnesota School Public Relations Association (MSPRA). The article tells our current story quite well.

Here are some excerpts from the piece:

  • As students begin this new year, it’s important to remember the history of public schools, how they’ve adapted to meet changing times and the critical role they play in building strong communities. Now, more than ever, public schools need all of us to stand with them, regardless of where we sit on the political spectrum.
  • Public schools have been in our country longer than we’ve been the United States of America. The first free public school opened in Boston in 1635. Some colonies created laws requiring schools for towns of a certain size, but early efforts were sporadic and disjointed.
  • Framers of the Constitution believed in public education for all children. Founding Fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had vastly different political views, but they shared a belief that publicly funded public schools were a cornerstone of our democracy. “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it,” wrote Adams.
  • Since that time, the notion of a “common good” has been central to the foundation of public schools, while expectations of public schools have grown. Public schools are expected not only to teach academics, but to prepare young people for a productive future, provide community and social services, and more. Importantly in today’s environment, public schools are the main places that bring together children from diverse economic, social, racial and religious backgrounds for hours each day.
  • Societal needs, events and issues often come knocking on the doors of public schools before others have to navigate them — and public schools always rise to the occasion. Some examples of what’s been asked of public schools over time:
    • Educate students who don’t speak English.
    • Provide childcare for working parents.
    • Address issues of poverty through meals and more.
    • Ensure student safety and practice lockdown drills.
    • Offer social, emotional, and mental health support.
    • Integrate schools and address racial equity.
    • Help students when crisis or dissension hits our country or our world.
    • Provide a wide range of special education services.

The op-ed continues by noting that last March, the coronavirus pandemic turned the traditional method of schooling on its head. School leaders are now making agonizing decisions about opening their buildings while balancing very real health concerns. All public schools have created models for in-person, online and hybrid (half of each) learning, and are ready to — and will — pivot based on their local COVID-19 data and their unique circumstances.

Getting ready for the first day of school in 2020 has not been easy. There have been — and will continue to be — hiccups along the way. But one thing remains clear: Every single public school is focused on providing the safest and best learning experience possible, within the realities and rules of a global pandemic.

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This is not the first time a curve ball has been thrown at our public schools. Our schools have weathered world wars, past epidemics and natural disasters. They are creative, responsive and — most important — open to every single student who comes knocking.

We need our public schools, and they need us.

Strong public schools truly do make strong communities. It will take all of us, whether through words or deeds, to support our public schools in these trying times. Public schools are the great equalizer, the hub of our communities, there for us in good times and in bad.

Working together, we can keep our public schools strong — so when this crisis ends, they will still be there, ready for whatever comes next.

We salute our Minnesota education leaders for reminding all of what we stand for and how more support and understanding and collaboration will help to get us to the other side — whenever that will be.

You can see the entire op-ed:  Public Schools Always Rise to the Challenge.

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, formerly at Glendale Elementary School District

Communicating About Reopening Your Schools

Posted 08/10/2020 by schoolpr
Categories: Communication, crisis communication, Pandemic, school communication, school reopening

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_N0R6358-1Here’s the dilemma surrounding reopening schools during this pandemic: “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

School leaders are doing their best, and yet some parents and others (like politicians) are berating them saying, “That’s not good enough.”

Teachers and other school staff rightfully fear risking their personal and family’s health and they’re simultaneously worried about their students falling behind without their one-to-one interaction.

All are concerned with the potential learning gap that developed since last March and wonder how to not only catch up but also how to get back on track as fast as possible. And they know that special needs students require more instruction and nurturing because their needs are not now being met.

Some people see reopening schools as a catalyst to trigger our economy because once they fully reopen, parents will be allowed to return their real jobs. They’ll no longer serve as substitute teachers a job that has taught most of them to respect the many skills and expertise of today’s teachers.

So, if the truth be known, what we all need right now is a big, comforting hug the kind that soothed and made you feel better in your childhood and, hopefully, calms you in your adulthood as well. I know hugs are no longer allowed as they were before (The New York Times recently published a piece on how to hug during a pandemic), but at least close your eyes and remember a hearty hug that may relieve the pressure we’re all feeling.

Many of us are aware of the more extreme rhetoric we’re hearing about the choice between returning to school in person five days a week or using hybrid and distance learning practices. For example: Vocal critics say that opening too fast is like walking students into a burning building, or we’re using students as canaries in a coal mine. (I told you they were extreme.)

Others note that the risk for students is very low they say that it’s likely that 99% of students will be safe while only 1% will possibly get sick and another .5% could die.

But that means that a school district of 5,000 students could lose up to 25 students. Think about that. You might lose Antoine around the corner or Alice, your niece, on the other side of town.

In a system where I live with more than 165,000 students, we could have 1,650 infections and 825 possible deaths. To place those numbers in perspective, think of how we normally rally for more counseling when we have one or more student suicides or a fatal student auto accident in our communities. How would we handle what could happen with those projected numbers?

And let’s not forget the elderly, high-risk family members who also could then be infected and succumb to the virus. Plus, teachers and other school employees will be at risk. Difficult safety and health decisions are being made. Even NFL players can opt-out of their upcoming season — if there is a season.

To illustrate my point, Education Week’s in mid-July cover ran the names and a few photos of the hundreds of educators we already lost to COVID 19.

Mounting Pressures to Return to School

The pressure to go back to school continues to mount. Working parents need to go back to their jobs with the benefit of jump-starting our economy and taking care of their own fiscal responsibilities. Our students have lost a great deal of instruction time and are falling behind. But consider that ironically in healthier times some parents voluntarily “redshirt” their kindergarten students for a year to gain a perceived advantage over classmates. Developmentally, there is no question that missing school is a negative, and extra time and staff will be needed to make up for the gap in their instruction. But there is an important competing factor at play: The Journal of American Medical Association estimated that closing schools last March saved an estimated 40,600 lives. In my mind, saving lives outweighs the shortfalls of a half-year gap of normal instruction.

Advocates for a faster return also tell us to learn from private and charter schools that are opening now because they have developed better distancing learning and interactive approaches. We agree that we should learn as much as we can about varied distance learning approaches that work. We should make it a priority to learn more from those who may have been successful. But we have the added problem of adapting what we learn to the scale of our public school enrollments. Dealing with a private or charter secondary school with 500 or fewer students is vastly different from managing a secondary public school of 2,000. If it can be done, we need to learn and implement as many new approaches as we can.

What Can You as Communicators Do?

  • Remain flexible and heed the advice of scientists. Yes, even with scientists’ reporting uncertainty and changing their previous reports, we need to follow their recommendations.
  • John Donahue, CEO of Nike, notes that we need to be authentic, transparent, and visible — just showing up during these periods of uncertainty and being nimble enough to admit we do not have answers when directives are changing as fast as they have been.
  • Establish a central point of communication that becomes the “go-to” spot for communication. Keeping information updated is critical. Rumors will fly and there needs to be spot where people can find answers.
  • Stress the safety and health of all students and staff in your communication. It is the filter through which decisions will be made. Like snow school closings, you may not always get it right, but your error was based on thinking about the safety of students and staff.
  • Be empathetic in all your communication efforts. As part of NSPRA Live 2020, a virtual mini-conference, I monitored a panel about developing communication messages during the pandemic. It’s so apparent that all decisions on reopening are very, very local decisions. Messages will vary based on your district’s situation, but one theme of all messages came through. Be empathetic. Show that you understand, indicate that you’re doing what you can within the filter of student and staff health and safety. Acknowledge that you’re aware of the lack of childcare in your community and that senior athletes may not have their chance to showcase their talent for potential scholarships. Show that you’re working with others to try to find solutions but show that you care about their situations. Note that you’re working with childcare groups within your community and surrounding businesses and asking your athletic directors to contact colleges to see what’s needed now to share the talents of your senior class.
  • Anticipate what lies ahead and how you will communicate about it. What’s the plan for dealing with the occurrence of student or staff members’ infections in your buildings? Parents and others will want to know so communicating those steps will demonstrate that you will do all you can to protect those in your buildings.

 

 

We encourage you to follow the advice of national, state and local scientific health leaders as well as engaging as best you can with your staff, families and Board in making the difficult decisions for your school community. If your infection rate remains low, you, like many other districts this week, may be welcoming back students in a full, in-school or hybrid setting where students interact with teachers. If infection rates remain high, distance learning is probably your choice until the rates go down.

When a vaccine finally arrives some of the community turbulence and pressure should subside. But experience tells us that the anti-vaccine advocates will challenge that choice as well. And that is precisely why I named this blog on school communication leadership Always Something.

In the meantime, give yourself and your staff a hearty mental hug. That may be one way to get through this latest leadership and communication challenge we’re all facing.

 

P.S. NSPRA members, be sure to go to NSPRA Connect where your fellow colleagues are offering their solutions to these sticky situations. Also, check out the NSPRA website. Go to www.nspra.org.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

Igniting Change and Transformation in Your Schools

Posted 06/08/2020 by schoolpr
Categories: democratic society

I, like most of my professional colleagues, remain appalled and condemn the brutal deaths of George Floyd, along with Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, because of police brutality. But deep down we know that this type of racism and social injustice has been prevalent in our country for hundreds of years. Many more black Americans have lost their lives to bigotry and racism and, yet, we may have never heard their stories.

Taking time to put ourselves in the shoes of black Americans will help us begin moving forward after the last two weeks of hell. Being empathetic is a place to start. Hugs will reassure us that together we will get through this. But only if we remain active, consistent, and persistent. 

We will not tolerate this rampant injustice anymore.

I am hopeful that we will not let these recent tragedies pass only to have similar atrocities continue months or years from now. Too many times we thought things would change. Then they did not. But during these last two weeks, the number of peaceful protesters, the mix of races and ages worldwide seem to me to be more powerful in demanding change this time around. 

It does feel different to me. 

Ride This Wave of Momentum 

As school communicators, there may never have been an opportunity greater than now to ignite change and transformation for the communities we serve. We must pressure officials everywhere at every level to condemn racism, social and institutional injustice, and police brutality. 

As educators we have so much work to do. We need to dig deeper to listen to students, staff, and community residents of color. We need more than just a listening meeting with these groups; we need an action-oriented approach to make a difference for them in the culture of your community. We will face hard work and some institutional barriers, but now is the time to use the momentum of Black Lives Matter to be accountable in your school community.

We All Need to Rise to This Challenge 

We know that education leaders’ plates are very full right now. Planning to reopen schools with COVID-19 restrictions, making up for the COVID-19 instructional gap, and dealing with projected financial problems in our faltering economy, all create busy and hectic workloads for all of us. But it’s still critical to tackle your racial relations issues to make better lives for all in your schools, community, and staff. Being proactive now when it comes to race relations can lead to a smoother and fuller school year if all your students, staff and parents have a renewed understanding and comfort level in the leadership of your schools.

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director


	

Successful Change Requires More Communication

Posted 05/11/2020 by schoolpr
Categories: crisis communication, Pandemic, school communication, school PR

boy-child-clouds-kid-346796First, Creativity Reigns

No doubt you’re learning to cope with the shelter-in-place directives we have because… well, we have to.

We know that creativity is a critical thread in the fabric of our best school communicators. I’m continuously impressed with the creative approaches that school communicators have taken to find ways to rally our spirits and bring positivity to this discouraging situation. For instance, many folks have devised creative ways to celebrate the class of 2020, like using drive-in movie theaters for graduation and more.

Even my neighbors have stepped up to contribute to the cause by trying to tease a smile from our frustrated faces. For instance, The Washington Post ran a story about the Schruben family in Maryland who posts a daily lawn sign with their own brand of “Dad Jokes.” As walkers amble by, they now stop to see the new message and hopefully smile or groan as they finish their daily walk.

One favorite is:

sign

A pause for your groans or chuckles.

Second, Make Sure That Communication Is in on the Ground Floor in Your District’s Re-opening Plans

Come this fall or late summer — whenever school begins again, we’ll need creative approaches and major communication strategies and tactics to deal with the change and uncertainty we’ll all be facing in the 2020-2021 school year.

I have often said that communication needs to be the traveling buddy with change. And that has never been more true.

Research tells us that most folks do not change unless they have a reason. With so much change afoot and the desperate need for clarity and understanding ahead of us, communicators must be on the ground floor of any school re-opening efforts to help all leaders make decisions and discuss key messages for staff, students, and parents.

If you’re not currently at the table, now is the time to be aggressive and step up to be a part of the decision-making and communication process. Decision makers will discuss the when, how, why, and who in their plans and you must be there to run possible “what-if scenarios” with each of your target audiences.

In some cases, your team will decide what they can and cannot do. Be aware that when announcing your district’s plans, people will question and even challenge you about the decisions. Consider using a filter of student safety, health and learning, and legal requirements as you create your responses. You must also prepare for the questions you hope you’ll not be asked — because seasoned media reporters often ask them, whether you’re prepared or not.

And remember that the response of, “The Governor Made Me Do It,” may begin splintering when neighboring school districts ignore some of the governor’s directives.

As part of our outreach, NSPRA is a member of the Learning First Alliance (LFA), consisting of 11 leading educational associations that represent teachers, superintendents, principals, chief technology and communication officers, school counselors and curriculum learning leaders. During this unsettling time, the LFA has been looking at many of the issues surrounding reopening our schools for 2020-2021 and the list is exhausting.

Just a few with public relations matters include:

  • People will expect distance learning to perform better than it did during the immediate response we gave in February and March of this year. Some districts excelled and others, not so much. Parents and taxpayers will expect a consistent and better approach in the new school year since we’ve had many months to prepare for this new round of implementation. The public will not be patient and understanding if the rollout does not work. Solving the problem of lack of devices for students and spotty internet access will also be a consideration.
  • School calendars may need to change. We all understand how difficult that process may be, but now may be the time to consider change. Year-round schools have been working in some communities for years. It may be time to learn from those districts as we all wrestle with the limitations of physical distancing, splitting AM and PM sessions, distance learning on certain days, bus routes, schedules, etc.
  • We must solve the equity issues for social emotional learning (SEL) students and others with special needs.
  • Concentrate on professional development for teachers and other staff to learn what’s most effective in distance learning. Again, make the most of the opportunity to learn from those who are doing well and make the time and commitment to offer practical development for all staff.
  • Demonstrate that your school buildings, cafeterias, and buses are safe and clean.

 

The need for communication is paramount in making your new school year move forward. I’ve said that it’s nearly impossible to communicate uncertainty with authority. It is, however, possible to communicate through transparency what have you done and what you’ll continue to do.

The key is to build understanding. Find ways to remain visible through engagement and collaboration and even acknowledge a bit of vulnerability. Uncertainty is part of what many people in your community also understand because it’s part of their reality now as well.

Your district’s future is now. Join with your team to strategically create a new approach to become change-agent partners in doing what is best for your school community.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Nobody Signed Up for This

Posted 04/13/2020 by schoolpr
Categories: crisis communication, school communication, school PR

“Nobody signed up for this.”

44743905011_5499891846_o-removebgSo said Gary Burnison, Korn Ferry CEO. And yet we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic that is seemingly “touching” everyone.

There is no running away or turning our backs on this one — we are surrounded.

As bad as it is with some people in life-and-death situations, we need to once again dig deep and think about how communication can help all those we serve both now and in the future.

We’ve already seen many uplifting stories and heard about folks calling on communication professionals to assist staff and students with online learning.

And communication is playing a very positive role in building morale for teachers, principals, and non-instructional staff members to demonstrate how they’re being appreciated during this extremely rough patch of our times. Plus, each day brings yet another creative approach to how we can recognize and spotlight the 2020 senior class.

We Need Time to Plan and Think About the Next Steps

In talking with two leading NSPRA members in a Zoom happy hour last week, we learned that a positive side effect is that now we may be able to take advantage of a rare commodity: to make some time to THINK.

Our typical non-stop pace is probably still percolating for many, but it may also be an valuable opportunity to call a “time out” to retreat just a bit, assess our work to date and all its usual uncertainty, and think and plan what steps will be needed when students and staff return to whatever our new normal may become.

It’s a time to float bold, creative approaches in a collaborative setting with your leaders.

It’s time for communication professionals to step up and provide leadership in molding your system’s eventual return to normalcy.

You need to have school leaders recognize that they can “lean on you” to help them with your system’s comeback.

No Doubt. Budget Woes Are Ahead

To help your schools, another reason you should be proactive and strategic now is concerning the inevitable projected budget shortfalls that some districts may face in the next 18 months. Already some state legislatures are talking about reneging on their budget allocations for schools for next year.

There’s no question that budgets will get tight because our national economy is in flux and state and local tax revenue is rapidly decreasing.

We trust that the old practice of eliminating or reducing communication as the first-to-go in difficult budget times is now behind us. We see that more and more savvy school leaders now understand that communication is the crucial life blood of retaining and building support for their schools during difficult times.

Today poses a critical task for our profession. If you step up soon, you will help confirm the notion that professional communication is now more critical to school districts than ever.

And On a Lighter Note

We recently saw that cartoonist Drew Sheneman of The Star Ledger (Newark, NJ) depicted two frazzled parents, with libations in hand, looking at their two elementary students. The kids were wrestling and arguing about who got to use the home’s only tablet. The parents watched woefully, looked at each other, and said:

“I’ll never vote against a school budget again.”

So, on a positive note, there’s no telling what the fallout from this new wrinkle of home schooling will be like when we finally return.

Stay safe, healthy and connected.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

Are Comment Sections Becoming a Thing of the Past?

Posted 03/09/2020 by schoolpr
Categories: Communication, school communication, school PR

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Are Comment Sections going away? We think they are and that’s a good thing.

Readers, viewers, and listeners now have more avenues than ever to comment on what we provide to them in all our communication vehicles. Social media tools alone give ample opportunities for feedback as well as providing a direct listing of contacts for all our work.

Today’s world is full of commenters who seem to pick sides or disrupt progress. Some of those people may have substantive and helpful comments. And we should respond to them to prove that we’re listening to them. We can even go a step further and possibly engage them in working together on solutions that deal with their topics.

Unfortunately, other folks offer comments that remind me of attendees at conferences who have nothing of substance to say, but comment or ask questions to just let everyone else know that they are there.

And then there are those who unnecessarily insert political comments that really do little more than aggravate, disrupt, and divide us — but I do know that that is what democracy is all about.

Those of us in school communication fully understand that we must take all comments seriously and we know when we must give appropriate responses. But as social media posts increase in number, they almost can create a full-time job to just monitor responses and treat them appropriately. Even private industry outlets who can afford bots to monitor comments are becoming more wary of the process.

Comment Section Decline May Be Trending

Some 11 years ago, in another post of Always Something, I shared the comment page discussion by the Minneapolis Star Tribune where I wrote this:

  • One media reporter characterized comment sections as “nothing more than a cesspool of hate, personal attacks and other sentiments that aren’t worth the electrons they occupy.” I think we know where he stands.
  • They noted that 4 to 5% of all online users comment online and many commenters are active and repeat users (based on 2009 metrics).

Now let’s jump to today, where in the past 2 weeks nj.com decided to remove comments from its website.

Their rationale follows:

Twenty-four years ago, we launched New Jersey Online in the middle of a crippling snowstorm. Today, we’re known as NJ.com and we are the largest news and information site in New Jersey, averaging more than 1 million unique visitors each day.

Back in 1996, public forums — aka message boards — were a big part of our appeal. People had things to say and our site was a place for all comers, whether the topic was gardening secrets, high school sports or town gossip.

Over time, message boards gave way to site comments that traveled directly with stories. Our commenting platform also has evolved, from heavily moderated by our experts to rarely moderated to machine moderated. At the same time, the often positive spirit of commenting steadily declined and we moved our resources elsewhere as the commenting audience continued to shrink.

Today, only about 2% of NJ.com’s total audience reads our comments and only 0.03% posts comments.

At their best, the NJ.com comments were a place to learn more about a story, add or correct information that we missed and engage in a meaningful, respectful debate. At their worst, our comments were a place none of us would want to spend time. They were a place for racism, misogyny and hatred — a place to perpetuate the worst stereotypes about our state, our neighborhoods and our people. It was never our intent, but we ultimately gave a small number of people a license to say things they would never say in their workplace or at their dinner table without the cloak of anonymity.

In short, New Jersey deserves better.

Direct Messages to Schools Work Best

School districts need to clarify and indicate the best methods of communicating with their schools. Publish or post a fact sheet so your parents and community know the steps to take to comment about your schools. Sure, social media provides a venue, but many studies show that those comments lack credibility. And credibility should be an important part of your communication message.

The key to building credibility and trust is to be open and responsive when people send comments directly to your schools. Software systems like K12 Insight’s Let’s Talk can help lighten your load, but the responsibility for feedback is still on your school leaders.

Your school or school district’s overall credibility will be enhanced if you give personalized feedback to those who contact your leaders. At first, it may seem like a big task, but you’ll soon see that the reduction of comments will be manageable and an ultimate plus for your schools.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

Plan Ahead to Celebrate Public Schools Week

Posted 02/10/2020 by schoolpr
Categories: democratic society, Education, marketing

public schools week 2020From February 24th to 28th Public Schools Week will give all public school employees another opportunity to celebrate achievement and to thank your communities for their steady support.

When you plan your celebratory activities, one way to help parents and others see clearly through the information fog is to ask them to think about what their communities would be like if they didn’t have their local public schools. We should never take public schools for granted. Without them, our communities will begin a thorny, painful slide to decline and decay.

So, roll up your sleeves and get ready!

When you start to prepare for the week’s celebration, here are some points you could make and messages you could deliver:

  • When you realize that 9 out of 10 students attend our public schools, you begin to grasp that all the conversations and debate about alternatives to public schools show that those minor substitutes really have a minimum impact on the well-being of our local communities and our nation. Indeed, more than 50 million students attend our public schools regardless of their race, income, or zip code. We proudly serve most of the children in our country.

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  • Public schools are the bedrock of our democratic society. At a time when having educated communities is a critical factor in helping local leaders make positive contributions about our community and children’s future, public schools give us a solid foundation.
  • Public schools have never been better. Graduation rates have never been higher. More students are engaged in a wide array of courses that just were not possible even 5 to 10 years ago. Students are also more engaged in their school work than they were in the past.
  • But, like most organizations, we’re not perfect. We readily admit that we must improve. The good news is that turnaround efforts, when practiced properly, work. But we need more help to make those efforts happen effectively. When you answer those people who bash public education, for many reasons it’s important that you don’t kick educators when they’re down. Many elements that affect students are out of educators’ control. Instead, ask community members to give a helping hand, a lift up. Ask them to become engaged in your local schools to see what can be done to make our schools stronger and better in the years ahead.
  • Our public schools also offer more opportunities for students at all levels and with all abilities. No matter students’ career choices or skill in extracurricular activities, public schools offer them a wider array of choices than non-public schools do. A recent study by the National School Boards Association confirmed just that. We have something to appeal to every type of student.
Screenshot_2020-02-10 Public Schools Proud Infographic FINAL (1) pdf

 

So, use these points when you begin to craft your campaign for Public Schools Week. But one last bit of advice: When you start to plan, don’t create a combative campaign against charter schools, private schools or other choice movement options.

A very wise superintendent once mentored me by noting, “Rich, they’re all our community’s children and parents should have a choice on where they to send their children to school.” But when parents realize that we offer their children better opportunities and we’re upbeat and positive about our contributions, they’ll be more prone to consider sending their students to our local public schools.

As a member of the Learning First Alliance (LFA), NSPRA is proud to support Public Schools Week. To give you a head start as you plan how you will celebrate the week, LFA offers you very practical and easy-to-use resources. To learn more, just go to https://learningfirst.org/publicschoolsweek.

Screenshot_2020-02-10 PUBLIC SCHOOLS WEEK 2020 Social Media Toolkit - PUBLIC SCHOOLS WEEK 2020 Social Media Toolkit pdf

Step up and become a strong advocate for public education. Prep now to fully participate in Public Schools Week.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

Proving to Parents and Empty Nesters the Financial Value of Taxes

Posted 01/13/2020 by schoolpr
Categories: Budgets, Education, marketing, school communication

As budge29807230317_804355af10_o - Copyt planning begins for the next school year, we’re always looking for ways to prove that public education is a good investment — even for empty nesters.

We know that nationally nearly 80% of taxpayers have no real obvious connections to our local public schools and a large portion of those taxpayers are now empty nesters. We need a way to show them that they still benefit from the taxes they pay that support our schools.

So, roll up your sleeves. You’ll need to practice some elementary arithmetic skills or have your calculator nearby to use this tactic. Let’s try a sample scenario.

 

First, secure your district’s per pupil cost:

For this exercise and for simplicity’s sake, let’s say that the Boland family has 1 child who attends your public schools.

Let’s pick a figure for your costs per pupil for a year. We’ll say your cost is $12,000.

Then let’s assume that the Bolands pay a local school tax bill of $5,500 per year. Even though the per pupil cost will likely change over the years (as will their tax bill), we’ll use the $5,500 school tax bill throughout this illustration.

(Some of you may think these figures seem high; at the same time, others may say they’re really low. During the holiday break, I spoke with relatives who are facing a $14,000 tax bill in their new property in a Northeastern state. So the $5,500 figure would seem like a good deal to them.)

So, in our example, the Bolands have 1 child who attends our K-12 schools for a total of 13 years.

 

Now it’s time for some basic arithmetic:

Investment by the numbers:

  • On the school side, that means for 13 years of education at $12,000 per year, your school spends $156,000 on the Bolands for their child’s entire K-12 education.
  • On the school tax side, counting all 13 years, the Bolands spent some $71,500 on school taxes for their child’s entire K-12 education. (13 years x $5,500)

math problem

 

So with this 1-child example, the Bolands with 1 child are ahead by $84,500. The Bolands (now possibly empty nesters) would need to stay in their house for a bit over 15 years to, in a sense, pay back the cost of  educating their child in their district.

And if you run the numbers for homeowners who have 2 or 3 or more children, when their children graduate from your school, they will be way ahead because they will still pay only $5,500 per year and they will receive services that cost between $24,000-$36,000 a year.

 

The numbers prove that public education can be a very good investment for parents and future empty nesters

Now let’s return to my holiday discussion with relatives. Some have traditionally sent their children to private schools. In their Northeastern state, that converts to tuition costs of approximately $10,000 to $18,000 a year per student.

So with an average of 2 kids, they’re likely to pay $20,000 to $36,000 on top of their $14,000 tax bill for elementary school education. The phrase, “Game Over,” comes to mind when we consider the financial impact of this decision!

We firmly believe that parents should take advantage of the school option that is best for their children and one that fits with the parents’ beliefs and finances. But the fiscal reality is that public education makes sense when you consider the full picture of how much parents spend for K-12 education and beyond.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director 

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

 

Hear Something, Say Something

Posted 12/09/2019 by schoolpr
Categories: marketing, school communication

31392007267_697778f5d8_o.jpgWhenever I hear people’s comments bashing our local public schools, I often think, “Enough is enough.” And even though it’s easy to prove that our schools are better than they have ever been, we still hear the incessant complaints about our schools — often said without any real knowledge or understanding of what’s happening in today’s schools.

Forgive me, but this phenomenon is just another instance of “hear say.”

But I think it’s time to add a new dimension to the meaning of “hear say.” How about: When You Hear Something, Say Something.

It’s time to step up and help to set the record straight. Opportunities to do so can happen just about anywhere these days — at the grocery store, in the orthodontist’s waiting room, at the rec league basketball or soccer games, and during family and friends’ holiday gatherings.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Years ago I cast off my usual unassuming Clark-Kent demeanor and changed into a more aggressive, high-flying specimen to defend what’s right with today’s schools and the millions of good people in education.

A cluster of soccer moms were on the sidelines chatting about schools and how those schools “just aren’t as good as they used to be.” A few grandparents even jumped on the bashing bandwagon.

As my impatience bubbled up to the surface, I hit them with some of my best shots as they stood stunned: “Schools are better than ever and scores do prove it. Public education is a real bargain even for senior citizens. Schools do more for all children than they ever did before and our schools are the best and safest places for children to be.”

I also asked this two-part question (which I find normally knocks some wind out of their bashing sails):

  • How do you know what you’re saying is true?

People’s answers normally follow a pattern. It’s typical to hear, “I heard it on a talk show,” or “A neighbor told me,” or, “I read it on Twitter.”

Normally the speaker based the reputation-breaking remark on one bad personal experience that was never resolved. Most of the comments arose from a very local grapevine fertilized by media attacks on the critical issues involving education: achievement and money.

We all remember the game of whisper-down-the-lane and what it should have taught us about the validity of listening to that grapevine; unfortunately people often ignore that lesson.

  • When was the last time you were in school to see learning in action?

People rarely answer this question. They often stare off in the distance and remain silent.

Many of our harshest critics haven’t been in a school for many years, maybe even decades. Some parents participate in our schools, but do not have the opportunity to see meaningful learning taking place. The reality is that most people have not witnessed the positive, daily learning that is going in our schools. That’s our fault, and we have to get better at providing those opportunities.

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And the final question to these naysayers is: How can you talk about your schools if you don’t know what you’re saying is true, or if you haven’t even visited to see first-hand what the truth is? Would you want your neighbors to gossip about you or your family’s business without first learning the truth?

Let’s just say that back on that Saturday morning, the atmosphere changed. Soccer games were never quite the same along the parent sideline. But I still do feel better about standing up and shooting down the unsubstantiated attacks on my local schools.

And that’s the real tragedy about education now. Too many of us who know the truth and who have witnessed great learning taking place remain silent while others around us continue the bashing barrage.

I realize that our schools aren’t perfect. Some criticisms do ring true. But we need to respond to those criticisms with open arms to involve and engage our communities in finding ways to fix the problems that do exist.

Our communities should be known by the schools they keep. And to criticize without offering solutions is a get-bad-quick approach in any school community. Suddenly property values go down, taxes rise, and business and community growth dissipates. That doesn’t describe a place I want to live. How about you?

Those of us in communication know the impact of face-to-face communication. That’s why standing up in these public settings — if handled in a conversational and constructive tone — can make a difference in the minds of reasonable community neighbors.

So, take up the challenge when you’re out in your community. When you hear something, say something.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photos by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District