Archive for the ‘Education’ category

This Is Public Education



Fresh clothes, new shoes, to-be-filled backpacks, and optimistic smiles make the first day of school festive and as welcoming as it can be.

The first day is normally full of joy and hope for students, parents and staff alike. Forgotten are some of the trials and tribulations of the past school year because as the saying goes, This is the first day of the rest of your life.”

This wonderful photo, courtesy of the Guilford County Schools, speaks volumes about the first day of school in our current world of public education.

Just Like Opening Day in Baseball

The first day of school is like Opening Day in major league baseball.

Records are wiped clean. Everyone is batting zero until that first pitch is thrown. Just about everyone can show that they have learned from their past experiences gleaned from last season. (Full disclosure: I am still an Orioles fan. Hope springs eternal.)

Opening Day is all about the thrill of facing new opportunities with a fresh outlook and conquering new challenges with beaming confidence.

At NSPRA, we think that we’re all lucky to be blessed with the countless opportunities that our local public schools give us. The question of every new school year is just how skillfully we approach those opportunities and how we choose to fully take advantage of them throughout the year ahead.

Looking Forward to Great Day, a Great Year, and a Great Life Ahead

And that’s why the Guilford County Schools’ first-day photo from Allen Jay Elementary School sparks such meaningful thought and emotion for me.

Catch the smiles on both the proud father and eager daughter as they cross the school threshold together. They’re looking forward to a great day, a great year, and a great life — brought to them in part by the opportunities given to them by our public schools.

If parents, students, teachers, staff and communities all do our part and help students take advantage of those opportunities, we’ll enrich our nation and we’ll be building momentum for a productive, culturally rich, and happy community one school district at a time.

Commit to Your “Raison D’être”

We need to remember that public education serves 9 of every 10 students today. That’s an awesome responsibility, but that’s exactly why most educators decided to enter this profession in the first place.

The first day of school is exactly the time to recommit to your “raison d’être.” Let’s welcome all of our students in this season of fresh beginnings and let’s keep the learning and smiles flowing throughout this school year.



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director


Photo submitted by Nora Carr, APR, Chief of Staff, Guilford County Schools, North Carolina



For School Communication Success, Heed These Executive Orders


Picture3As I mentioned at our record-breaking D.C. Seminar last month, we may be in a climate in which issuing executive orders may be the quickest way to do either good or harm in the world.

So I took the liberty — with a bit-of-a tongue-in-cheek — to issue a few NSPRA Executive Orders to drive home points about making commitments and improvements for school communication programs throughout North America.




Executive Order 1:

All mid-to-large companies shall allocate up to 5 hours of paid leave during every quarter for family members to visit their children’s schools.

Sanctions of 15% increased taxes shall be assessed on companies that do not comply.

Engaged parents make a difference.

We all know that communication normally works best face to face and we know that parental involvement is critical and their awareness leads to student success.

We need to find ways to motivate parents to meet with their children’s teachers, especially during the primary and middle school years.




Executive Order 2:

All school district communication shall be prepared in clear, brief and understandable language for its intended audience.

Every school district must provide a professional jargon terminator or “Jargonater” to clearly communicate with its publics.

Recently, we learned of a curriculum specialist who opened a session with parents about a new curriculum on technology with the following introduction:

“We will cultivate competency-based technologies through the experiential-based learning process.”

We shudder to think that people are still using educational jargon in some of our schools today. Of course, we all know better than to do that, but we need to help prod our leaders to speak clearly as well.

At our Seminar, I urged the 1,100+ audience members to use this year’s theme, Advancing Education One Story at a Time, as an example. What a perfect opportunity for school leaders to tell a story to their parents about the new tech program and what it means for their children. Parents will understand the new program, and they will be proud of their local school for making it happen.




Executive Order 3:

In all parent handbooks and school board meeting welcome pamphlets, you must include this sentiment:

“If you know nothing, say NOTHING.

Seek the facts before you spread your own brand of fake news.”

Most of us have sat through Board meetings or town halls where residents who know nothing seem to babble on and take all the people in attendance down a road of misinformation. What typically happens is that people on social media then pick up their misinformation and spread it like a prairie fire.

Often people may have legitimate perceptions and it’s our job to try to bring perception and reality closer together as best as we can.

But too frequently we are never asked what’s real — probably because some of these misinformation-spreaders have an agenda of their own which leads to seeding mistrust and eroding support and confidence in our schools.




Executive Order 4:

Every school district shall allocate from 1 to 3% of its total operational budget for authentic communication services.

NSPRA research shows that NSPRA members’ school districts spend less than one tenth of 1% (that’s .001%) on communication services.

In contrast, most thriving corporations spend anywhere from 10 to 35% on communication and marketing. And large charter school companies spend upwards from 20-45% on marketing.

Show me any multi-million dollar budget entity whose growth and success depend on a good reputation that also spends almost nothing on communication, and I will show you a failing organization or one that is destined to fail.

You can tell a school district’s priorities by looking at its budget.

Check out how much is allocated for communication and you’ll see whether the district is just giving lip service rather than supporting a genuine communication effort.

If you believe that communication on shoe-string budget works, you’ll surely trip on those shoe strings and fail to compete along the way.



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director


Some photos by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District


Caring About the Common Good


15768879767_9628b7b8b1_oRecognizing Public Schools Week


It’s time to bring back the idea of the common good.

We need to make considering the common good a priority in our school communities. We seem to be drifting to the idea that what’s good for me is much more important than what’s good for our entire community. A quick example is the anti-vaccination movement. It’s baffling that we can no longer bring peanut butter cupcakes to our school celebrations (a common-good approach), but we’re not as concerned that we allow the unvaccinated to freely spread measles to our vulnerable populations.

We have to remember that we’re all in this together, although sometimes in our fractured world, we feel like we’re all in it alone.

We’re not alone.

And that means we have to get back to thinking about the common good in our communities. We can’t rise as a community or a country until we consistently think beyond ourselves.

We have to look up from our phones and out of our cubicles and start looking at people, start talking to people again, start asking how we can make things better for all of us — rather than just for ourselves. How can we look long range and work together as a community to truly make life better for the next generations?

We know there’s no such thing as a silver-bullet solution, but we also know that public schools come as close as anything to be the steroid-type enabler for raising the bar by considering the common good. Yes, public schools are as close we can get to achieving a viable solution.


Public schools reach millions of students

Public schools teach 9 out of 10 students enrolled in education today.

That’s 50.7 million students — all individuals who will eventually add to or detract from the future and well-being of our communities and our lives.

Just think what our total communities would be like without public schools.

Sure, alternatives would pop up, but there’s no way that any of these alt-systems could scale up to provide what is needed for the vast array of today’s students.


Celebrate Public Schools Weekpublic-schools-week.png

March 25-29 has been set as Public Schools Week. It’s a great time to take stock and celebrate how your public schools pave the way for the common good in your school communities.

Take a look at all you do for your students and how your schools and staff make your community better. And when you point out this major plus of public schools to your community members, work in an engagement component to seek support to make your public schools even better.


As a member of the Learning First Alliance (LFA), NSPRA is joining with other major leadership organizations to celebrate Public Schools Week. We encourage all interested supporters to use the LFA toolkit which gives you practical messages, templates, social media feeds, and graphic elements to save time and give ease for your promotions. Click here for ideas and resources.

Here’s hoping that these resources will help motivate you to join the celebration and to remind our communities about the integral role that public schools play in providing for the common good for all in the years ahead.



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director


Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District






Expose the Negative Education Rhetoric for What It Is: Our Critics’ Brand of Propaganda


logo-anaheim-2018-sample-girl-10012017.jpgIn late July, we just concluded NSPRA’s very successful national Seminar in Anaheim, California, where more than 1,000 participants (local school communication professionals, superintendents, association leaders, corporations, and other school officials) rallied around our theme of Proving the Value of Public Education.

In my opening message to our audience, I noted that we’re in the midst of the strongest competition we’ve ever faced in our lifetime — a roiling political climate that gives short shrift to the importance and worth of public education, and one that supports half-baked privatization solutions that are based on an approach of  “leave-no-fat-wallet-behind.”

My point was that all of us at the Seminar — alongside the more than 10 million others working in schools across the country — need to stand up and become both active and reactive whenever and wherever we see public education being bashed.


Time to Squelch the “If-You-Know-Nothing, Say-Something” Crowd

We have so much to be proud of, but yet we continue to let those who vociferously rally behind the “If-You-Know-Nothing, Say-Something” banner when they talk about public education.

We can’t stay silent when ignorant talking points become the norm in our communities.  It’s time to let people know how wrong these hollow critics are.

The more of us who join in letting folks know just how wrong they are, the better chance we have of making a significant difference in our local communities.

Leadership organizations have offered their Stand Up for Education Campaigns and we applaud their work. But we need more of a “ground game” that confronts these false accusations in a forceful but civil way. Reach down and muster up the feelings that made you become an educator, and use that forceful emotion to verbally prove why public education is better now than it has ever been.

Here’s a start:

Check out this video from East Aurora School District 131 in Illinois. In a positive, moving manner, it clearly demonstrates the value of our public schools.

video screen shot

EASD 131: Personal Grad Walk – Diego Terrazas


As you just saw in the video, like East Aurora, in the normal course of our business every day, we take struggling students at a tender age and teach and nurture them to become successful in school and in society. It’s one of the best attributes we have to prove that public education is one of our local communities’ most valuable assets. I often say that our students can tell our story better than we can. Follow the video’s example and strive to find ways to develop UNFORGETTABLE stories about the impact that public education has on your kids and your community.

Those of us in this profession have the fine-tuned skills, the professional judgment, and the strong-held beliefs that can begin turning our communities into believers and advocates for public education.


One More Point — and It’s a Four-Letter Word

Day in and day out, we all need to roll up our sleeves and do our part to overcome the pervasive negativity about public schools. But there’s a four-letter word that can help put us on the right path and change the destructive tide that’s seeping in everywhere.

And that is — VOTE! 

Start with yourself. Then work within your communities with voter registration programs to set a climate that practicing citizenship can make a difference.

We can talk and lead, but in the end, we all need to vote.


Who’s for Kids and Who’s Just Kidding?

As a 501(c)(3) organization, NSPRA can’t tell you how to vote, but we can urge you to vote. In any election about every candidate, you just need to answer this question: “Who’s for kids and who’s just kidding?”

The answer should make your choices crystal clear.




Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

Communication Is a Management Function




Quickly, this is the third edited excerpt from an acceptance speech I gave to superintendents when I received an Outstanding Friend of Public Education Award from the Horace Mann League. One topic I covered was the need to make communication a management function.

Here’s the edited excerpt:

By now, I hope you are beginning to see that communication should be a management function. You need to integrate communication into all that you do or you will risk losing the battle we now face. Having a strong communication function will help you advance your system during this climate of uncertainty that we are now facing.

As you can see by now when I talk about communication, I am not talking just about great publicity but about engagement, marketing, reputation management, ongoing internal engagement, and external communication programs.

You need to have someone who knows what they are doing to make your communication function be as effective as it can be.

Former vice President Joe Biden, (“Uncle Joe” to some of us), often says that he can tell an organization’s priorities very quickly by looking at their line-item budgets. Using Uncle Joe’s formula, I can tell you that communication is not a priority in most school districts right now. Our research shows that most NSPRA districts spend just one tenth of one percent of their entire school district budget on communication. One tenth of one percent — that’s .001% — really? Charter organizations are spending from 10 to 25% or more on their communication and marketing efforts according to our observations. Budget wise, this is not a fair fight!

Every year for our Annual Seminar, we receive proposals to run sessions entitled PR on Shoestring. During my tenure, we’ve never accepted any of them because that’s the wrong message to send if we want to make a management commitment to communication. And most of these shoestring programs normally trip over their own laces and die easily because the districts made no commitment to them. (Hint to NSPRA members: Change the “shoestring approach” to “low-cost and effective tactics to support your communication program.”)

Communication must be a management function.

Character Counts in Communication

And finally, in this fake-news, alternative-fact world, you need to bring integrity into this discussion. Character counts in our 2world of communication.

We see so much twisting of facts, just plain mistruths or half-truths sprinkled along with the fake news accounts. Your staff and community need to know that you stand for integrity.

Today, with a smart phone, anyone can publish any falsehood. But reasonable parents, staff, and others need to know what’s true, where you stand, and how you will lead your system. Don’t let silence create a vacuum — your critics will quickly fill it.

We have always said that the term “PR” really stands for 2 items:

  • Having a Public Responsibility to communicate
  • And developing Public Relationships.

That is where we build credibility and trust though authentic communication.

Please join me in making that happen. Because I ask: If we do not do it, who will?

We need to make that commitment at the local level now, more than ever.



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

A Superintendent’s Gift That Keeps on Giving


gift-3Every superintendent needs one of these gifts to be successful. In fact, every school board member should make sure they provide the motivation and support to make this gift a reality.

So, what type of gift are we talking about?

It’s the gift and insight of a professional school communicator. Just look at the advice our savvy members gave when we created a poster a few years ago entitled NSPRA Members Know.

Here’s a peek at their wisdom:

NSPRA members know —

  • Tradition is a guide — not a dictate.
  • Experience allows you to ask the right questions.
  • People make mistakes and what happens next is the important thing.
  • Managing your community’s expectations is perhaps the most important thing you can do.
  • Stay organized and positive during the budget season.
  • Campaigns are not about issues, they are about voters.
  • That being strategic makes everything else fall in place.
  • That being there matters.
  • When to give the person being interviewed the high sign to STOP TALKING.
  • How to stay calm in a crisis and provide communication leadership.
  • Having a brochure and a video isn’t a communications strategy.
  • If you are not taking care of students, you’d better be taking care of someone who is.
  • Trust starts by being human, and builds by being honest.
  • The joy of seeing a child recognized, a parent helped, and a community proud.
  • That it is important to have communicators at the decision and planning table.
  • If we don’t stay in touch, we will soon be out of touch.


Most successful superintendents understand the true value of a seasoned communicator at their side. In today’s world of instant communication, fake news, and self-anointed expert bloggers searching for followers, they understand the critical role of a school communication professional.

It’s time to give superintendents the gift of a professional communicator. You can start with a free kit for superintendents on starting a program and follow it up with a free subscription to Communication Matters for Leading Superintendents. You can find both of these items on our website at And to continue to receive weekly advice in a clear, concise and brief format, become an NSPRA member or subscriber through our website.

We wish you all a great holiday season and brief respite from the stress of leading our schools through some perceived rocky political times.gift3


Together let’s make 2017 a year in which we continue to do what’s right for all our children and where we clear a path for more support of public education.







Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director









New Insights When We Talk About Testing



State assessments and testing are often catalysts for discussions that can lead to bashing public education. In addition to privacy issues in some states and the regionalized opt-out movement in others, state testing will once again become an issue as states are now wrestling with their new approaches to their assessment program mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Our prediction is that the new assessments will either sink or swim in the court of parent and public opinion depending on increased authentic communication and collaboration completed with staff, parents, and students.

If we want to see how implementing ESSA can fail, just take a whiff of the Common Core implementation where little attention and spotty consideration were paid to early communication and engagement with these same key audiences.

Where commitments were made to early communication and collaboration, implementation was, for the most part, successful. And we all know the “rest of the story” when the value of two-way communication was ignored, critics filled the void that our collective inaction created.


Good News: We Still Have Time and New Insight to Make Good Things Happen

In early May, a new Gallup report, Make Assessment Work for All Students, was released. Commissioned by the not-for-profit Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), it reveals that educators, parents, and students want a balanced approach to K-12 testing, using a variety of academic assessments with a strong preference for those that improve teaching and learning.

Through Gallup, the NWEA surveyed more than 4,200 students, parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents. We urge you to use this new free resource because it will give you insight on what collaborative steps you can take within your district as well as well as throughout your state. The resource can also help drive some messaging when it comes to testing and communication in your district.

Last week a discussion about the survey took place at Gallup Headquarters in Washington, D.C. One of the findings in the report that was embellished during that discussion rings true for all  communicators: We know that our messaging has to be relevant for our audiences. In the report, parents and students noted that “the assessments don’t have anything to do with us.” They said it was just used by their state to measure the schools and did not focus on student learning.
Additional key findings from Make Assessment Work for All Students include:

  • Three in four students (75%) believe that they spend the right amount of time or too little time taking assessments, as do more than half of parents (52%). In contrast, 83% of teachers, 71% of principals. and 79% of superintendents say that students spend too much time taking assessments.


  • More than 6 in 10 parents, or 61%, say they rarely or never have conversations with their child’s teacher about assessment results.
  • Data coaches are available in a relatively small proportion of schools and districts, but principals and superintendents who have access to data coaches overwhelmingly say they improve student learning (71% and 85%) and the quality of teaching (82% and 89%).
  • Parents need more information about assessments.
  • Gaps in understanding of the purpose of assessments remain.


The report makes a number of recommendations and also touches on the opt-out movement and the need for more time to communicate, collaborate, and train staff at all levels.

Local educators also need to get aggressive with their state departments of education and “shake some trees” to learn more about their approaches and commitment to collaboration and communication.

The time is needed to Get It Right so that education leaders can prove that we learned some lessons with the bumpy and pot-holed roll-out of the Common Core policies of a few years ago.

To see the full report released last week, go to Make Assessment Work for All Students: Multiple Measures Matter  including findings and recommendations.

Rich Signature-bold cropped

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director