Medium 9781475824148

Jspr Vol 30-N3

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The Journal of School Public Relations is a quarterly publication providing research, analysis, case studies and descriptions of best practices in six critical areas of school administration: public relations, school and community relations, community education, communication, conflict management/resolution, and human resources management. Practitioners, policymakers, consultants and professors rely on the Journal for cutting-edge ideas and current knowledge. Articles are a blend of research and practice addressing contemporary issues ranging from passing bond referenda to building support for school programs to integrating modern information.

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Notes From the Guest Editor

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MARSHA CHAPPELOW

With a first glance at the titles for this edition of the Journal of School Public Relations, I can easily say that the articles center on a variety of best practices. From school principals to websites to research and bond elections—each article appears to focus on one aspect of communication. However, three underlying themes run through all the best practices discussed in these articles. The themes of knowing the community, planning, and building relationships flow through all four articles. According to Rich Bagin (2007), executive director of the National School Public Relations Association, “the days of just getting good press as the key objective of a program are over” (p. iv).

These articles illustrate that, indeed, there is much more to having an effective communications program for school districts than ever before. Building relationships is the essence of any communications program, but it is key to any public school district today, given that public education continues to be a much-discussed topic in the nation. Relationship building can take many forms in a school district, but it must exist in some way for a district to be successful with its internal and external communities. As David Mathews (2006) from the Kettering Foundation observes, “the problems public education faces are not going to be solved by more public relations or simply trying to create a better image. We have to find a better way to connect the public and its public schools” (p. 69). These selected best-practice articles find ways to connect their publics with their school districts.

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Building Quality Relationships With Principals to Improve Organizational Communications

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JANELLE ALBERTSON

ABSTRACT: When it comes to keeping an organization on the cutting edge, there is one thing that effective leaders cannot afford to neglect—and that is relationships. To support a quality public relations program in school districts, one of the most important relationships to cultivate is that with building principals. Talk to any seasoned school public relations professional or district administrator, and he or she will say that principals are the most important audience to keep shoulder to shoulder when the goal is to have effective and productive internal communications.

Communications officials from Adams 12 Five Star Schools, a suburban Denver school district with more than 40,000 students, have found relationships with principals to be an essential element of their short- and long-term public relations (PR) plans. Whether keeping a pulse of school administrators or helping staff understand the importance of budget issues, principals are a key factor in reaching the PR goals of shaping public opinion and changing community behaviors.

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Nurturing a Winning District Website: It Takes an Extended School Family

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GRETCHEN HAAS-BETHELL

ABSTRACT: The award-winning website for Union Public Schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is one of the communications department’s most powerful tools in building positive relationships. As with raising a child, the challenge lies in finding ways to nurture a growing entity—constantly providing it with meaningful information, adapting it to social changes, and equipping it for advanced opportunities. The district website has a life of its own, and the extended school family helps it flourish. This article examines how communications staff members answer the challenge and involve the Union community to ensure that the site continues to thrive.

In 2008, when Union Public Schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma, won two statewide awards for the district website, the communications staff and I were elated. Our ongoing research and effort paid off. The judges from the Public Relations Society of America and the Oklahoma School Public Relations Association liked the site’s “simple, attractive” appearance, “easy-to-navigate” design, robust content (everything from academics and athletics to job openings and lunch menus), “whimsical photos,” and link for parents to follow student progress online. They cited the changing news and links on the front page to stories in the Student Life section as elements that frequently drew visitors back to the site. The recognition was welcome affirmation from two respected professional organizations. It did not take long, however, for us to realize that we had only raised the bar for ourselves.

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Research: When a Hunch Will Not Do

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NANCY KRACKE

ABSTRACT: It is tempting to assume that we know what our parents, our community, and our employees want from our schools. It is comforting to think that we know what they support. It is also dangerous. This article encourages school systems to let go of assumptions and to start asking the important questions that will lead school boards and administrators to decisions based on reality instead of conjecture. From crafting a ballot question to evaluating a newsletter, survey research offers perspective that helps schools get the most from scarce resources, targeted at sound programs and solid communication.

“N ever assume anything.”

My journalism professor repeated that phrase throughout my 4 years at the University of Nebraska. He believed that good journalism did not reveal the assumptions or prejudices of the reporter. By defaulting to our assumptions, he reasoned, we miss asking important questions.

Although my career path never led me to a newsroom, I still believe that this advice is among the most important I received as an undergraduate. After nearly 40 years in public relations (all but 5 in public education), I still use this advice as our school district aligns plans and programs with the priorities of our stakeholders.

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High Touch in a High-Tech World

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CINDY L. GIBSON

ABSTRACT: In a world of high tech and low touch, it is easy for public relations programs to stray from tried-and-true interpersonal strategies long associated with solid communication planning. New technologies allow communications professionals to quickly send e-mails and telephone calls to selected groups. Social media sites provide users immediate information, including video and photos from an endless variety of sources. The list of technology options grows and grows. However, even with so many technology tools available to communicators, formal plans must include strategies using important person-to-person research and targeted communications. For the Ritenour School District, such plans, incorporating high technologies and high touch, resulted in significant improvements.

When a majority of voters throughout the country celebrated the 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama, voters in the Ritenour School District in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, overwhelmingly passed a $50 million bond issue that had been defeated just a few months earlier in April 2007. Ritenour’s most recent bond issue victory was the latest in a succession of victories starting in 1990 when the district began an aggressive renovation program of all its facilities—six elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school, and an administrative center. The November 2008 bond issue, the seventh bond election in 18 years, secured the funding for a new state-of-the-art 750-seat auditorium and music classrooms at the high school, a new 13-classroom school for early-childhood education, and several other smaller projects, including a wireless network throughout the district and new instructional technology for classrooms. But the bond issue victory brought success to another area—the district’s communications plans. These plans focused on strategies based on important demographic research, and they targeted communications that used a variety of technology tools, such as e-mail newsletters, rapid-notification telephone calls, and social media websites. The centerpiece of the plans was research-based, strategic personal communication opportunities. The mix of both quantitative and qualitative research, plus the use of electronic and person-to-person communications, resulted in not only a solid Election Day victory but several district improvements before the election. Personal communication with students and families months before the November election resulted in their making several recommendations, which were also incorporated into the new bond issue package.

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