Unconventional Things to Do This Summer

Posted 06/08/2015 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

Most school communication pros operate with a summer checklist that begins with a deep cleansing breath when all students have left their buildings and media inquiries subside. Summer workloads are still hefty, but you often experience pockets of uninterrupted stretches of time that just don’t happen during the regular school year. (Our condolences to our year-round school members!)

So, with a nod to those who may experience some of these precious interludes, here are a few unorthodox approaches to explore this summer:

Plan a Register-to-Vote Campaign

It has become increasingly clear that school reform initiatives are driven by elected officials who often have no real clue about how their decisions will hurt the children and well-being of their very own communities. And that description, unfortunately, is taking the high road as other initiatives are driven by special interest or corporate groups who use their local primary campaigns to build a foundation to torch school budgets or to advocate for their particular brand of education.

One of the better moments of a democracy is that “He Who Has the Most Votes Wins.” Urging staff, parents, and others to register to vote before primary elections is a good first step to overcome movements that undercut public education.

Research what you can do to remind all eligible voters to register and then plan to give them easy steps or directions on how to register to vote.

As we have said before: In these local and state legislative elections, we must ask, Who’s for Kids and Who’s Just Kidding?

Listen to Parents of Your Recent Graduates

Now that most graduation ceremonies are just about over, it’s a good time to capture the collective wisdom of some parents of your graduates. They may seem a bit shocked when you approach them, but they remain a very important target for your communication efforts for years to come.

In focus groups, begin to get a feel for how to improve your efforts by asking questions such as:

  • What were the best characteristics of your graduates’ experience during the past 13 years?
  • What do you wish we could have done better for your graduate in the past 13 years?
  • In thinking about how we communicate with parents, what could we have done better for you? From the individual school? From the district as a whole?
  • Now that you may no longer be directly connected to our schools, what type of information and communication you would like to receive from our schools? Would you like to be engaged in some way about the future of our schools?

Feedback from even some of these questions can help you shape messages and improve how you communicate in the year ahead.

Add to Your List of Summer Reading: The Politics of Authentic Engagement

Former NSPRA President Kathy Leslie, APR and co-author Judy Taccogna have just released a practical and readable book on the politics of authentic engagement.

Engagement is one of those terms that seems to be “in the eye of the beholder.” Over the years, we have worked with superintendents who have proudly handed us slick brochures as examples of their brand of engagement — they just had brochures; they didn’t interact with anyone. Others have stepped up but then realized how much work it could be to engage people. They may have ultimately even alienated audiences because they withdrew their efforts and never closed the loop with their now non-supportive participants.

Here’s the thing: Make the time to read this new book. It will give you the insight you need to get involved and to commit to authentic engagement. Engagement really works when it’s done right.

Since NSPRA is a co-publisher along with Rowman & Littlefield, our NSPRA store will carry the book at www.nspra.org/store. You can also buy it from Amazon along with your latest tech device, kitchen faucet, and pet supplies.

Join Us at the NSPRA Annual Seminar in Nashville

Now you have some professional options for this summer. But, of course, I know we will see more than 700 of you at NSPRA’s Nashville Seminar from July 12-15.

It’s not too late! You can still register at www.nspra.org/seminar.

See you there!

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

Charter Schools in Perspective: Check Out a New Resource for Discussing Charter Schools

Posted 05/11/2015 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

Just mention charter schools in many school communities and most likely you’ll receive vociferous and quick responses — both good and bad. People’s opinions are often formed by what they have heard about charter schools in general or by what they know about the charter schools in their own communities. Recent reports of fraud with some charters also create more doubt on the accountability measures used by those who authorize charter schools.

Often we see opposing views about charter schools as researchers tell us there is no such thing as common ground. But the one thing that many leaders now admit is that charter schools are here to stay. And, like more traditional public schools, some perform better than others. We also know that a great deal of misinformation about charter schools abounds and assumptions sometimes are at the base of emotional decisions about charter schools in local communities.

Thanks to our colleagues at Public Agenda — through funding provided by the Spencer Foundation — we all have a wonderful new resource entitled Charter Schools in Perspective. In a snapshot of a research and data-based approach to charters, it helps local leaders grasp the facts about charter schools, discussing how the public is generally misinformed about charters, even touching on the highly political nature of charter schools in some communities and how some charters are perceived as instruments for segregation in some regions of our country.

As the study notes, “Public opinion on charter schools seems both unstable and inconsistent. This instability creates something of a vacuum where adversarial rhetoric thrives and polarization worsens.” Once again, a vacuum is quickly filled by others, leaving the rest to play catch-up to tell their story.

Samples of Misinformation About Charter Schools

The report notes that polling shows that many Americans are misinformed about charter schools and form opinions based on that misinformation. Polling conducted by two different organizations indicates considerable misinformation around:

  • Whether charter schools are public (they are)
  • How they are funded (by taxpayers)
  • Whether they can charge tuition (they can’t)
  • Whether they can hold religious services or teach religion (they can’t)
  • Whether they can select students based on academic ability (they can’t)

To help structure an enlightened discussion about the charter movement to address this misinformation, Public Agenda has just released its 140-page report, along with a few other practical discussion guides for school districts and communities who are “beyond ideology and polarization so they can make the practical decisions they need to make to improve educational opportunities for all kids.”

How this Resource Helps

Charter Schools in Perspective is a nonpartisan effort designed to support a more informed, civil, and productive dialogue about charter schools.

Public Agenda doesn’t take positions on contemporary controversies about education, and neither does the Spencer Foundation. They both believe that more informed, thoughtful deliberation about issues related to what kinds of schools communities should create is in the best interest of communities, parents and children.

The materials are all free and available online at www.in-perspective.org. Here’s what you’ll find:

  • Have a question about charter schools and want to see if trustworthy research answers it? You can turn to Charter Schools in Perspective: A Guide to Research. In this thorough and accessibly written analysis, the authors synthesize and summarize current research on charter schools, including academic research often out of reach behind paywalls. Topics include student achievement, finance, governance, innovation, and public opinion.
  • Local officials should also check out Ten Questions for Policymakers, a set of questions that will help them think through decisions about charter schools in their jurisdictions.
  • You may want to share with your local journalists some guiding information from Ten Questions for Journalists.
  • And if you want to hold a dialogue in your community to explore options for school improvement, Are Charter Schools a Good Way to Improve Education in Our Community? helps communities hold civil, productive dialogue on doing so.
  • The guide is also a great resource if you’re interested in learning more about the benefits and trade-offs of different perspectives on charter schools and improving schools.

Communication and engagement — early and often — must be the heart of all major issues for your system. If you or your community now has charter schools on your radar, make the investment of time to review this practical new resource.

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

Social Media: Managing Risk and Leveraging Opportunities

Posted 04/13/2015 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

NSPRA member Kristin Magette has “done us all proud.” Her new book, Embracing Social Media, focuses on one of the bugaboos of social media that drives superintendents and school boards crazy — so crazy at times that some have restricted or banned the use of social media in their schools.

Kristin’s local school PR experience shines through in her book. Just look at the fears and concerns about social media she attributes to some school leaders:

  • What if someone makes a negative comment?
  • What is someone posts something that violates the confidentiality of one of our students?
  • What if someone posts something bad about a staff member?
  • What if one of our employees posts something unprofessional?
  • What if it becomes a place where people go to “air dirty laundry” or to “crank up the rumor mill?”

It Happens With or Without You

Much of Embracing Social Media gives us solutions and approaches to deal with those situations. And as Kristin notes, most of these things are already happening on social media now. By making the choice to ban social media, you are “not exempting yourself from the discussions taking place; by contrast, you are allowing these discussion to flourish unchecked and without your consistent, informed and calming voice.”

She urges school leaders to stake out their space in social media. By doing so, Kristin notes that controversial comments are often reduced as they are “dealt with in a manner that is respectful, understanding, firm and policy-driven.”

The informal nature of social media gives some people the impression that it is an avenue to just “wing it” and to jump into the fray. Nothing can be more damaging to your system than to play it loose and informal. Districts need to establish their own protocols and polices to cover all aspects of social media use in their systems.

Embracing Social Media helps you build a foundation for success in social media. It also gives you persuasive talking points to influence decision-makers about why social media must be part of your school communication program. Recent stats show that many Americans now own 4 digital devices and the average U.S. consumer spends 60 hours a week consuming content from these devices.

Economically Reach More Audiences Quickly
Our audiences are already there. We need to go to where they are rather than asking them to use our own established channels.

Leading districts and communication programs are now using social media as a valued tool to economically reach parents, students, and others with key messages and information about their schools.

Join Kristin at the NSPRA Seminar

The good news is that Kristin Magette will be leading a special session at the NSPRA Seminar this July in Nashville. For more information about the Seminar, go to www.nspra.org/national-seminar. And you can find her book on NSPRA’s website at www.nspra.org/store.

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

Who Elected These State and Local Leaders Anyway?

Posted 03/09/2015 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s Time to Pay Attention

We just completed the NSPRA Executive Board meeting this past weekend, and the environmental scanning exercise forced us to ask the question, “Who elected these legislators, anyway?”

And we all know the answer: We did.

Even if you did not vote in the recent elections, you did elect them by your absence or lack of effort to learn more about their stance on public education.

To protect the future of all children everywhere, we ask that you begin paying more attention to your elections. It is time to ask, “Who’s for kids, and who’s just kidding?”

NSPRA believes in authentic public engagement and transparency, but it takes energy and perseverance to see what candidates really stand for. Yes, it is work to do so and these folks count on voter apathy and complacency to pave their way to victory.

Are We Reaching a Tipping Point?

A glimpse of good news that NSPRA President Jim Cummings, APR, mentioned in his NSPRA column this month is that he feels we are reaching a tipping point. Parents, business leaders, and others are saying that proposed changes in public education will be the beginning of the end, changing housing values in communities where people actually want to live and prosper in the years ahead.

Many proposed changes are based on the wishes of money-enriched groups who push their brand of education. And their proposals, for the most part, do not reach or meet the needs of all children in our communities.

Years ago, I started a student school board program in which a high school student was selected to sit on the district’s school board. The practice served the district well because it gave regular board members a reality check on their decisions about students and it gave the students a snapshot of local board governance and politics.

Just last week, Ed Week ran a story penned by a former Maryland student board member in a large county system. Check out the insight by John Mannes:

Students suffer when politics becomes a priority. School boards become the target of voters not because of poor platforms, insufficient creativity, or lack of effort, but because of naiveté and unprofessional conduct. Our national conversation on education should include more discussion of effective school system leadership, not just of increasing test scores and global competitiveness.

Voters should consider behavior in addition to statistics when choosing their local school boards…. A dysfunctional board can mean years of stalled progress on improving schools. Allowing the campaign mentality to tarnish relationships at a cost to students, teacher, and parents is never good governance.

Let’s Learn a Lesson from Mannes

We must focus on all key elections — especially primaries — because that is where most candidates set their platforms, align themselves with their brand of education, and seek campaign funding.

Do your homework, stay engaged, register to vote, and commit to voting in your next state and local elections.

And when you review the candidates’ qualifications, please answer the question, “Who’s for kids, and who’s just kidding?”

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

National Signing Day: Creating a Buzz on Academic Achievement

Posted 02/09/2015 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

Recently, much publicity surrounded the National Signing Day hoopla of outstanding high school football standouts and the scholarships they are receiving for their athletic accomplishments.

Coverage of the country’s elite high school athletes has begun to receive national coverage by ESPN and others. We are pleased to see the great publicity for these athletes and their athletic programs, but we do hope that local and regional outlets consider another critical aspect of a high school student’s accomplishments.

Create a National Academic Signing Day

We think it is time for a National Academic Signing Day. Years ago, Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Regina Brett urged local leaders to create May Madness Day when seniors announce their post-high school plans for college and career. We think it’s a good idea because superintendents, board members, principals, and teachers always ask, “Where’s the good news about our schools?” Well, each year we have an opportunity to do something about it.

But we need to be proactive to make it happen.

Consider taking these steps to help prove that your local schools are preparing students for their future:

  • Create a special event in your school district or school to gather all students who are moving on to a next step that we can all be proud of. In other words, bring in those going to college, enlisting in our armed forces, taking special training for advancing technical and occupational skills, etc.
  • Invite the media but also make sure you capture the day for your own websites, listservs, newsletters, and social media. It is a day to celebrate accomplishment and your parents and community need to see the pride in your students’ faces.
  • Have each student actually sign a letter of intent for their college or desired next step. Graphically embellish each signature into a poster or banner for your school or school district.
  • Invite dignitaries to the event and capture their responses to this day of achievement.
  • Consider having the students wearing hats, shirts, or memorabilia of their next step on the academic ladder. Some colleges may donate materials for this type of activity because they will see it as a recruiting opportunity for their schools.
  • Consider video recording the event and then edit it to make a presentation about your school system and perhaps your individual schools. Show the video at the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Realtor meetings, and other similar settings.

Take a Golden Opportunity to Create a Positive Buzz

The list of opportunities is only limited by the creativity, time, and budget that you can allocate for this project. It is a golden opportunity to create a buzz about the accomplishments of your students, staff, and school system. You can create your own version of something called May Madness at a time when most school employees are weary from budget battles and the waning days of the entire school year.

Don’t let it slip for another year.

Start planning your version of National Academic Signing Day now.

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

Leading Through the Unexpected Crisis

Posted 01/12/2015 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

For years, we’ve been saying that, when it comes to the reputation of your school district, the way you handle a crisis can be even more damaging than the crisis itself.

The good news is that most NSPRA-member districts are much more sophisticated and prepared these days to effectively handle crises in their districts. NSPRA members are also great at rallying around other districts to provide extra help when it’s needed. Plus, we’ve learned from the proven strategies and tactics of leaders like Rick Kaufman, APR, the author of NSPRA’s Complete Crisis Communication Management Manual ⎯ which will be updated by this summer with a new section about using social media in a crisis.

But we can expand our focus if we tap into the private sector’s leaders’ approach to crisis communication. One example is the recently published book, Blind Sided: A Manager’s Guide to Crisis Leadership (Rothstein Publishing). Author Bruce Blythe, a respected international crisis management guru, clearly communicates the steps to take when an unexpected crisis hits your system. The information translates exceedingly well for school leaders and communicators ⎯ so much so, that we just booked him to present a special session at our Nashville NSPRA Seminar in July.

Here are a few highlighted items from this recommended book:

  • As in the emergency medical field, if treatment is provided within 1 hour or less of the critical incident, the likelihood of success is significantly improved. The same approach has been applied to crisis management.
  • The right decision made too late will likely be ineffective.
  • Caring during crisis response is not a feeling. Caring is a set of corporate and personal behaviors that elicit the perception in impacted stakeholders that you and your company truly cares.
  • The longer people stay out, isolated and brooding over what has happened, the more abnormal things will feel.
  • Remember to provide only 3 key messages, each of 12 words or less, in order to communicate clearly in a manner people will understand and retain.
  • Making order out of chaos is a fairly unusual job description, but it describes the job of the Crisis Action Team Leader (CAT) precisely.

The guidebook runs about 400 pages, but it is divided into easy-to-locate-what-you-need sections to guide you through most blind-sided situations. You can buy it through most book-purchasing sites and we also plan to make it available at the Seminar book store in Nashville.

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

Building Stronger Programs Through Benchmarking

Posted 12/08/2014 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

NSPRA’s New Benchmarking Guidebook Is Working!

And it is working to influence superintendents and school board members so that they understand what effective communication can do for their schools and their communities.

As you begin submitting your budget requests for next year, go through a self-assessment of where you stand according to one of NSPRA’s newest tools, Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures. Use it to focus on areas that will facilitate progress to accomplish your district’s goals and objectives.

Benchmarking Does Not Have to Be a Scary Proposition

Benchmarking may sound a bit scary to some practitioners, but when completed as a self-assessment, you can decide on which areas you must increase your focus in your program. Some members have first engaged with their own staff (if they have any) and then they have moved their assessment up the ladder to their superintendent. Some have then reached for board-level reviews and eventual new solutions and tools to strengthen their programs.

Accountability and Communication Are Used in the Same Sentence

Benchmarking demonstrates just how accountable communication can become for your system. In most schools today, accountability and communication are not often used in the same sentence. But now communication professionals and superintendents have a set of standards to guide them in developing their comprehensive communication programs, while keeping accountability in mind.

Here Are Some Tips for How to Use This New Resource

  • Start small with a self-assessment in just 1 area or, at most, start with 2 of the 4 areas that the document covers.
  • Be strategic in selecting your focus — make it a sweet spot of your superintendent’s interest and demonstrate how it will increase results for your district. For example, if you’re in an area of open enrollment where competition comes into play, consider using this year’s new focus on marketing/branding communications.
  • Pinpoint where you now stand and select whether your current program is emerging, established, or exemplary. All the category labels are positive. You can show how you need to advance to the next level to meet the standards set in the guidebook — and better yet, meet the needs of your system.

At minimum, review the guidebook to see where your “jumping-in” point will be with the 4 rubric areas of comprehensive planned communication, internal communications, parent/family communications, and marketing/branding communications.

If you are an NSPRA member, the financial commitment for this new professional development resource is just $20 to download. If you want the print edition, the member price is $40, plus shipping and handling.

If you need more information, including prices if you are not an NSPRA member, go to www.nspra.org/store.

Thanks to a group of motivated NSPRA professionals, this tool can help you increase the impact of communication in your schools in the year ahead. Now’s the time to take the next step in turning up the flame on the professional assessment of school communication.

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director


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