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Jspr Vol 25-N1

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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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JOHN T. JAMES

The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) reported that in 1999–2000 there were approximately 27,000 private schools (NCES, 2002). Estimates on the number of charter schools in operation in the United States vary from 1,700 to 3,000. Private and charter schools account for well over 25% of all K–12 schools nationwide, and over 10% of the total K–12 student population (NCES, 2002). As is evident from the statistics, private and charter schools tend to have smaller student enrollments than their public school counterparts. What is not immediately obvious from the statistics is that private and charter schools are typically very mission driven, but struggle daily with issues of financing and survival. Consequently, public relations for private and charter schools is not an adjunct activity of the school, but represents the very lifeblood of the school’s existence. Although these articles are about private and charter schools, the principles of mission, financing, community engagement, relationships with parents, and school survival through the use of best public relations practices are equally applicable to public schools in our current era of decreased revenue and increased accountability.

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Public Engagement: A 21st-Century Necessity for School Success

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JOYCE A. DANA

ABSTRACT: The public has developed a powerful voice over the past two decades, calling for involvement in school decision making and creating the conditions for schools to pay attention to engaging the public in more meaningful ways. Lessons for all schools can be learned from charter school efforts to engage their public effectively. This article presents some of the lessons learned, provides a pragmatic two-dimension communication model that can be useful, and identifies steps to take to implement an effective public engagement program.

For over a century, the citizens in the United States have had a broad interest and investment in public and private education. The nature of that interest and investment has varied considerably throughout the century. Starting in the 1980s and continuing into the 21st century, interest in public and private school accountability grew. In the 1990s, the public became more reluctant to pay increasing taxes and/or tuition. The public expected schools to produce an educated citizenry and expected to have an even greater voice in school decisions about the education of their children. To fully understand these rising expectations, it is helpful to note the critical incidents in the past two decades that have ignited the interests of the public. Additionally, it is helpful to consider a conceptual model and practical steps for working effectively with the public. The following discusses the recent history that has influenced strong public voice regarding schools, provides a framework for communicating with the public, suggests steps to engage the public effectively with the schools, and summarizes the move from what schools typically do to what schools should be doing—engaging their public.

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Life on the Bleeding Edge: Philosophy, Practice, and Public Relations in Charter Schools

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GEORGE PERREAULT

ABSTRACT: Charter schools represent one of the most intriguing developments within public education in the past decade. Although they vary widely among themselves and differ from regular public schools in some regards, they also show many similarities. Consequently, many of the public relations strategies that work for other schools should also be useful for them. Among these are: establishment of a strong marketing plan; development of effective media relationships; effective selection of a directing board; utilization of staff to achieve public relations goals; and out-reach to other schools facing similar problems.

Charter schools are perhaps the most intriguing development in U.S. public education and are worth investigating for a number of reasons. For one thing, there is the issue of scale; since Minnesota passed the first charter school law, 80% of the states across the nation have followed suit, and there are now over 1,700 charter schools in operation (Vergari, 2002). On the level of public policy, they present opportunities to investigate issues dealing with ethnicity, community, and school choice. They are also valuable places to look at the effects of curriculum decisions, parental involvement, and teacher empowerment. And they are fascinating settings for studying the ways in which people implement their intentions and then how they deal with unintended consequences.

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Public Relations in Catholic Secondary Schools: Nearly 40 Years of Continuous Improvement

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JOHN T. JAMES

ABSTRACT: This article traces the phenomenal improvement in public relations efforts over the past 40 years made by Catholic secondary schools. The improvements were brought about by crises, a theological paradigm shift, professional lay involvement, a growing awareness and appreciation of public relations, competition, and increasing financial need. The result has been the development in many Catholic secondary schools of an integrated and market-savvy public relations division that includes a layer of executive administration and several support staff positions engaged in community and alumni relations, recruitment, development, and institutional advancement, making Catholic secondary schools among the most highly regarded institutions in most major metropolitan areas.

In 1965 a study on the state of public relations in Catholic schools concluded “there was nowhere to go but up” (Parkinson, 1966, p. 194). Nearly 40 years later, Catholic secondary schools coast to coast have recruitment coordinators who publish state-of-the-art glossy publications about their schools, and who readily distribute compact discs with streaming video extolling the benefits of attending their schools. Additionally, development directors lead an army of parent, alumni, and community volunteers through the annual fund, auction, and capital campaign processes under the leadership of the president. This phenomenal transformation was brought about by crises, a theological paradigm shift, professional lay involvement, a growing awareness and appreciation of public relations, competition for students, and increasing financial need. Consequently, the attention given to public relations has led many individual Catholic secondary schools to develop an integrated and market-savvy public relations division that includes a layer of executive administration and several support staff positions engaged in community and alumni relations, recruitment, development, and institutional advancement.

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Catholic Identity Remains a Public Relations Asset

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EILEEN WIRTH

ABSTRACT: The massive sex scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church raises a question as to whether Catholic identity remains an asset that the nation’s 8,000 Catholic schools should continue to promote. This case study found that continuing to promote Catholic identity has had no adverse effect on recruitment and enrollment at four Omaha, Nebraska, Catholic high schools since the scandal struck in 2000. On the contrary, the schools have found that parents continue to select them because of their Catholic identity—and thus they continue to promote it.

In 2001 the Roman Catholic Church was rocked by a massively publicized clergy sex scandal that sullied its reputation and led to the imprisonment of some priests and the resignations of some bishops (Farragher, 2003). With most of the abuse victims being minors, the scandal was an especially sensitive and painful issue for the nation’s 8,000 Catholic schools serving 2.5 million children (National Catholic Educational Association, 2003). Because the schools traditionally have emphasized their Catholic identity in recruiting their tuition-paying student bodies, the public relations fallout of the scandal poses a threat to their future.

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Discipline as a Source of Public Relations in a Christian School

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BRIAN S. SIMMONS

ABSTRACT: Christian schools, like all private schools, face the challenge of building and maintaining the confidence of parents and other stakeholders. Their public relations efforts should be rooted in institutional mission and core values, factors that influence parents to elect this educational option. Administrators and others often overlook the fact that discipline situations present an opportunity to engage in effective public relations.

This article describes two infractions of a Christian school’s student discipline code: one involving cheating and one involving illegal drug use. The manner in which school officials communicated with parents and the public was instrumental in reinforcing parental confidence and in providing positive publicity about the school. Institutional mission and philosophy should define the public relations function in a Christian school. As the superintendent of such a school, I constantly refer to these documents for guidance in relation to communication and school–parent relationships. Our institution is committed to providing spiritual and educational experiences that ensure that students will be thoroughly prepared to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives. Working closely with families and churches is essential to achieving this objective. Philosophically, our school emphasizes eight core values: commitment to academic excellence, care for teachers, preparation of students, support of Christian families, commitment to excellent but not extravagant facilities, commitment to the community, commitment to truth, and a commitment to financial stability. Our school, like all schools, has multiple publics, each with distinctive characteristics, but our mission and philosophy provide the same standards for interacting with all of them.

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The Nature of Parent and Community Engagement in Schools That Are Learning Communities

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SUSAN TOFT EVERSON

ABSTRACT: In many reports, scholars describe parent involvement in schools by focusing on the influence parents have on their children’s learning or on the educators’ perspective of parent involvement (e.g., Norton, 2003). This article looks at the issue through a different lens. It focuses on the nature of parents and community engagement in schools that exhibit the characteristics of effective learning communities where students perform well.

In this report learning communities are defined as schools in which teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders “continuously seek and share learning, and act on their learning” (Hord, 1997, p. 1). Hord’s definition is based on her in-depth review of the literature regarding professional learning communities in schools.

The findings that are reported here may be particularly interesting to those who work in private and charter schools. Interestingly, Mulligan (2003), in an article reporting differences in parent involvement in Catholic and public schools, found that public schools provided more activities to involve parents than did the parochial schools. Furthermore, she suggested that public school parents participated in more school activities. These are unexpected findings. Most people assume that parents in private school settings are more involved than are public school parents.

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Service Beyond the Classroom: Teachers and School Community Relationships

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MERYLANN J. SCHUTTLOFFEL

JOAN THOMPSON

SARAH PICKERT

ABSTRACT: This article focuses on a model for incorporating academic service learning into a teacher preparation program intended to enable preservice teachers to develop an understanding of social justice and diversity through school and community relationships. Linked to the theme of knowledge construction, diffusion, and transformation, this article outlines a curricular approach that encourages a broader understanding of societal issues. Questions of reflective practice and program implementation will also be addressed.

Apresent challenge for teacher educators is preparing teachers to work effectively in increasingly diverse communities (Zeichner, 1993). Typical of teacher preparation programs are school-based learning experiences that present opportunities for linking educational theory with practice, often in settings with linguistically, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse populations. School experiences, however, are removed from the context of the community and, as a result, have limited potential to impact preservice teachers’ beliefs about issues raised in diverse settings. This article argues that academic service learning has the potential to transform thinking through opportunities for students to become active participants as change agents in schools and communities (Giles & Eyler, 1994). This article also presents a model for incorporating academic service learning into a teacher preparation program to enable preservice teachers to develop understanding of diversity and social justice through engagement beyond the classroom.

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