Posted tagged ‘public schools’

Delivering Beyond the Normal and Expected


Pages from Draft-NSPRA 2017 San Antonio Monday General Session--0628017

In the year ahead, consider stretching your thinking about solving school community issues or expanding your district’s opportunities by using great, creative school PR.

I often say that because of NSPRA’s award programs, we have a cat-bird seat to see the very best tactics and strategies throughout the US and Canada.

As I reviewed this year’s winners, I was struck by the content choices of the programs that went beyond the normal-but-critical accomplishments that many of our professionals provide.

Let me share just a few stellar examples:

PSJA Votes Campaign

This Golden Achievement winner for the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD in Pharr, Texas, tackled a community issue of low voter registration with their school employees and greater community.33

Through great engagement and marketing of voter registration campaigns, employee voter registrations went from less than 25% to more than 72% in the 2016 presidential election.

From Here You Can Go Anywhere

People often ask us at NSPRA:

What can we do with nearly 80% of our residents who no longer have connections with our schools?

After two defeats in capital bond measures, the Traverse City Area Public Schools in Michigan knew it was clear that parents were in favor of the measure, but the total community — not so much.tcaps

So a Golden Achievement award-winning campaign was born to demonstrate the terrific results earned by Traverse City graduates. Entitled From Here, You Can Go Anywhere, billboards, kiosks, website banners, and other social media applications carried the message out to the community so people could see the real achievements of graduates.

Marketing in Our Increasing Era of Competition

We all know that we are in an era of increased competition — a major issue many of us are facing. Some see vouchers and other initiatives — Education Savings Accounts, Opportunity Scholarships, etc., that are really “vouchers in sheep’s clothing” — as solutions. Others see them as another way to bash education and steal and reduce funding for public education.1

As the choice movement continues, we see members turning up the flame on their marketing efforts. This year, the Garland Independent School District in Texas, one of our Gold Medallion winners, began marketing its new Montessori schools that the district offers.

The effort certainly opened the eyes of some people. They now realize that plenty of choices are within our public schools to meet the increasing needs of all our students.

Communication to Combat Health and Safety Issues

And finally, this space does not permit me to sufficiently discuss these three Gold Medallion winners except to praise them for their results and effort. Their communication focus dealt with testing water for lead, a “Be Well Campaign” supporting youth mental health issues, and opening communication about the severity of opioid and heroin crisis in local communities.3

You can learn about these Gold Medallion Winners and 8 others by going to Gold Medallion winners.

Stray from Your Lane

All of these examples prove that our school PR profession should stray at times from our normal lane of what is expected of us for our schools. Every once in a while, we need to jump from our normal lane, and go down another path to enlighten and help solve major community issues in your school community.

It takes courage to take these steps and you will undoubtedly receive push-back from colleagues and others — like “Why in the world is the school district’s communication director mucking around in this community problem?”

But you know better than most what a communication effort and campaign can do to bring focus and solutions to the key issues that your school community is facing.4

So muster up the courage to begin persuading your district’s leaders to look at school PR beyond the “good news” function we continue to provide. Use your talent and insight to help your students and staff succeed by going beyond the normal and the expected.

We encourage you to drive out of your lane — speed bumps and flashing yellow lights and all — to make a new difference in your school community.



Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director



Demanding Jobs and Great Performance Earn Respect


boy 1Great school communication professionals always have too much to do. It’s just the nature of our business.

We never totally catch up because we see opportunities that need our help or other assignments are tossed in our laps because most PR people are known as the “go-to” resource when bad things happen to our schools. And most of us see reputation management as one of our key contributions we make to build support and understanding when they are most needed.


Being the Most Helpful When Your Expertise Is Needed the Most

All this converts to a 24/7 demanding lifestyle that can take its toll on the motivation and physical and mental well-being of our colleagues. Some NSPRA members seem to thrive on being the most helpful person when their expertise is most needed. And from our NSPRA cat-bird seat, that’s when many professionals are extremely valued as their bosses and boards realize just how bad things would be without the talent, work ethic, judgment, and results generated by NSPRA professionals like you. It’s in these situations that you earn your leadership stripes in school administration.


Avoiding Burn Out Becomes a New Priority

So, just how do you avoid retreating and doubting that you will ever get it all done? From personal experiences and observations of some our leading members, here are a few points to consider:

  • Developing a positive relationship with your superintendent is at the top of the list. In many ways your job is very similar to the superintendent’s job — or at least you should be worrying about and acting on the same issues day in and day out. Opening a dialogue with your superintendent about the key aspects of your job will build more support for both you and the PR function in the days ahead. Your superintendent will know that complaints from a principal about the student travel club’s not getting publicity easily takes a back seat to the task of passing next month’s bond election. It’s critical that you do all you can to strengthen the relationship with your top boss.
  • Create an operational plan that has a bit of wiggle room. Every year you should hammer out a plan with your key leadership that demonstrates how the PR function is helping your district achieve its annual goals and objectives. Often when things beyond your control are tossed your way, you can refer to the plan so that key leaders understand that some parts of the plan will not be accomplished or will be delayed. Always add some new proactive approaches to the plan to keep you and your staff fresh in doing new things and adding to your own professional growth. An operational plan can also serve as a shield from having too many extraneous assignments being piled on throughout the year.
  • When pressure mounts, walk away from the situation to clear your head and remember why you are in the education business. Years ago, I used to walk form the central office to a next door elementary school where I would “observe” kindergarten classes and remember the joy of just being a kindergartner. Smiling with 5 year-olds can do wonders to relieve the political stress of your office just 50 yards away. Some members use those times to grab their cameras to take photos and capitalize on those moments to stockpile productive results they can use later.
  • Get away for the NSPRA Seminar or an NSPRA chapter meeting. It is always good to interact with experienced and friendly people who fully understand what you do for a living. And in our world that means primarily just two spots — either at a local chapter meeting or at NSPRA’s Seminar. Each year, Seminar evaluations are full of comments like, “total recharge,” “these people totally understand me and I learned so much,” “I learned in 3 days what would normally take 2 years on the job,” and “I now have a new network of colleagues to chat with throughout the year.”


Through these meetings you learn that you are not in this alone, and that collaboration goes a long way of getting you through your next year of triumphs and opportunities. So, if you need to recharge your battery, remember, it’s not too late to register for NSPRA’s National Seminar, set for July 17 -20 in Chicago. To learn more, just go to:  2016 NSPRA National Seminar.



Rich Signature-bold cropped

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director


Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District


Information Is Good;Too Much, Bad; Engagement Is Best


Two great weekly resources for those of us who are serious about our field of school communication are Public Agenda Alert and Both regularly impart  tems of interest to school communicators and make you think about your own practice of school public relations.

This week’s Pew edition carried an article on a study completed in three cities (Macon, Philadelphia, and San Jose) to see how each city’s information systems were performing. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation asked the Monitor Institute to explore key components of local information systems with the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Some of the findings, especially in surveys conducted in the communities, were notable:

  • Those who think local government does well in sharing information are also more likely to be satisfied with other parts of civic life. Those who believe city hall is forthcoming are more likely than others to feel good about: the overall quality of their community, the ability of the entire information environment of their community to give them the information that matters, the overall performance of their local government and the performance of all manner of civic and journalistic institutions. My take on this is that open communication breeds trust. 
  • Broadband users are sometimes less satisfied than others with community life. That raises the possibility that upgrades in a local information system might produce more critical, activist citizens. Or it may lead to even richer information to engage the community in decision-making.
  • Social media like Facebook and Twitter are emerging as key parts of the civic landscape and mobile connectivity is beginning to affect people’s interactions with civic life. Some 32% of the Internet users in the three communities combined get local news from a social networking site — 19% get such news from blogs and 7% get such news from Twitter. And 32% post updates and local news on social networking sites.
  • If citizens feel empowered, communities get benefits in both directions. Those who believe they can impact their community are more likely to be engaged in civic activities and are more likely to be satisfied with their towns.

More Information May Hinder, Not Help

This week’s Public Agenda Alert commented on the study by noting that there’s no question that an open government is crucial to civic engagement – but more information alone won’t do the job.

Their caution, however, is critical to us in school communication. It is important not to fall into one of the most common misconceptions about public opinion – that more information, all by itself, will help the public make better decisions.

Just how much is too much? When you are now explaining the budget shortfalls and what all the numbers mean to parents and community members, when do you say, “It’s all there, just figure it out for yourself?” Or do you make the time to guide interested citizens through the pages of information to help them understand these documents and the impact it will have for the children of your district?

Prepare for a Learning Curve on Issues

The dilemma continues as Public Agenda refers to Dan Yankelovich’s body of knowledge mentioning that the public has a learning curve on complicated problems. He has taught us that a lack of information can derail a policy or a budget. So can lots of other things: a lack of practical choices, mistrust, denial or just lack of urgency about the problem. He claims that all these things can get in the way, even when there is plenty of information on the topic.

Yankelovich notes that our publics need a way to sort out all the information and make sense of it. Public Agenda notes that the “put it out there and let people figure it out” is a good start as the Pew research demonstrates. But it’s only part of what’s really needed for change.

More engagement, dialogue and participation are needed to really solve the fiscal problems our schools are now facing. And that’s why school districts need communication professionals and other leaders to lead the way in developing strategies and tactics to engage more staff, students, parents, citizens, business leaders, and others in solving the fiscal problems we now face.

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

Cutting Communication


The Decline of Public Support When You Need It the Most

Education is in the midst of near seismic-proportion budget cuts that project to last another year for some areas of our country. Some are attacking the communication function as being a non-essential element for today’s schools. When effective, comprehensive communication programs are cut, school districts might as well wave the surrender flag because they have just cut the primary and critical component of building support, accountability, and trust for their schools. It is one of the most short-sighted and irresponsible decisions that a school board can make.

From our vantage point, here is what we see happening:

When cuts are made, a communication void is created. Guess who fills that void? Yep, critics and special interest groups now tell their stories without any insight from your school district. You just handed over the keys to the public opinion process to those who choose to tell their one-sided story. We also see organized teacher unions jumping in to fill this void.

• School leaders say, “Don’t worry, we’ve assigned the communication function to the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum.” When this happens, ask these districts the old Dr. Phil question, “How’s that working for you?” I have never seen it work; it amounts to giving only lip service to the communication function. Busy administrators do not have the time or the communication skills to do the job effectively. It is wasteful and quickly frustrates staff, the media, and parents because timely answers are not delivered and support begins slipping away.

• As mentioned, this year we see more teacher organizations also calling for communication cuts. The irony is that their local organization and area service reps have a team of PR professionals to call upon to tell their story. Turf battles and finger-pointing become even more pronounced in these difficult budget times.  Every community needs to hear from all sides about the budget-cutting process. We applaud the teachers for being proactive, but not for simultaneously using their own PR teams to cut the school district PR budget.

• Internally, lack of communication breeds secrecy, rumors, and mistrust.
Sounds like a great place to work to me!

• Externally, lack of communication creates misunderstanding, divisiveness, non-support, and mistrust in your schools.
Your local chamber or real estate folks will see one of their best selling points — the image and reputation of your schools — crumble before their eyes.

So, consider some of the following messages and tactics during this budget season:

School districts are multi-million dollar operations. No leading business of that size or less would ever fathom not having professionally trained communicators on staff. Business leaders know that communication is the lifeblood of their organizations; they normally spend in between 20 to 25% of their total budget on all facets of communication. NSPRA surveys show that schools spend less than one-tenth of one percent (.001) of an operating budget on communication. So cutting the .001% seems a bit silly at a time when our schools need more support.

• Stress the importance of public accountability and the other PR (Public Responsibility) when talking about the communication function. Take the total cost of your communication program and divide it by the number of taxpayers or tax-paying households in your community. Let’s say it comes to $10 to $25 per household where the average homeowners’ tax bill is $2,000. The investment in communication then becomes an accountability feature to tell these taxpayers how their other $1, 990 is being spent. With nearly 80% of homeowners without students in our schools, school boards must demonstrate just how they spend their taxpayers’ money.

• Don’t shy away from talking about your return on investment (ROI) when it comes to your communication effort.
If you are losing enrollment to other schools, you may want to point out that your communication and marketing efforts captured or retained 100 more students this year. Use that figure (100) and multiply it by per-pupil state-aid allocation (say, $5,000) and you can testify that a large part of the $500,000 allocation was the result of effective communication. And if those students stay with your system for another 10 years, the amount jumps to $5,000,000. That’s just one of the reasons cutting communication is a short-sighted decision.

• Take the lead and provide a framework for your district to engage its publics during this critical time in public education.
Engage community leaders in this process so they can see for themselves the difficult road ahead and seek their support in making the appropriate decisions for the children of your school district.

Find more useful examples on NSPRA’s web site. Go to the Budget Communication Clearinghouse on our web site. Recently we have shown how the communication function also leads to higher student achievement through staff communication training, recruiting volunteers, mentors, and sponsors to work with our schools continuously.

And finally, one anonymous NSPRA member may have said it best in our membership survey:

Public relations — the way we practice it — is the glue that holds everything together and the grease that makes it all work. With tight budgets and constraints, it is needed more than ever.

We must demonstrate what we do with results and we need to regularly share those results in relevant ways with key decisionmakers. Now is not the time to be out of sight when difficulties arise. Step up and get out front. Be proactive with sets of alternative solutions and strategies to help our leaders do what is best for all our students in the years ahead.

This should be a great time to be in school public relations.

Rich Bagin, APR, NSPRA executive director