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Jspr Vol 26-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 Editor

ePub

THEODORE J. KOWALSKI

Crisis situations, such as the catastrophic hurricanes and acts of terrorism, provide painful reminders that public officials are judged by their ability to communicate effectively while under considerable stress. This capacity entails both personal competency and organizational readiness. Unfortunately, far too many district and school administrators continue to take communication competency for granted and to view public relations narrowly as publicity and press agentry. In attempting to dispel these myths, the Journal of School Public Relations provides a combination of research-based and practice-based articles intended to broaden the knowledge base and to improve the quality of educational institutions.

In many states, school officials are required to gain political support via referenda to acquire funds needed for both capital outlay and operations. The first article in this issue details how the superintendent and the school board in Rye, New York, were able to rebound from a defeated $25 million bond election for school construction projects. The author, Elliott Levine, teaches communication at Hofstra University. He demonstrates why materials and tactics developed by proponents and opponents can make a critical difference in a levy campaign.

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Making Cents in Public Schools: Positive and Negative Campaigning in K–12 School Finance Elections

ePub

ELLIOTT LEVINE

ABSTRACT: School administrators are increasingly facing concerted opposition to budget and bond referenda. Often, opponents deploy negative campaigning to advance their intentions; that is, they disseminate misinformation in an effort to dissuade voters from casting positive votes. This article compares and contrasts strategies used by proponents and opponents in one school system. The purpose is to exhibit that the quality of messages can have a definite influence on election outcomes.

In 2001, the community of Rye, New York, vehemently rejected its local school system’s $25 million bond referendum by a margin of nearly 3:1 (Meaney, 2001). Faced with a significantly growing student population, the district’s officials developed a plan to ease overcrowding in its elementary schools and to repair certain aspects of its aging buildings. Although both administrators and Board of Education members believed they could generate sufficient community support for the needed bond referendum, they discovered that they were wrong. Citing communication as a reason for the election’s failure, one board member specifically blamed negative campaign flyers that contained “blatant misinformation and hysteria” (Eyler, 2001, p. 12). Although a similarly sized referendum was subsequently approved by voters 10 months later, the impact and effects of the negative campaign material distributed in the initial election raises important questions relative to school public relations.

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Navigating Whole-System Change in School Districts: What School Public Relations Specialists Need to Know to Support the Process

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FRANCIS M. DUFFY

ABSTRACT: Whole-system transformation is complex, yet possible. The potential for engaging in a successful transformation effort is greatly increased if a district’s school public relations (PR) specialists play a strong supportive role in generating, framing, and delivering information to external and internal stakeholders about the need for change, the transformation process, and desired and actual outcomes.

To support district-wide transformation efforts, school PR specialists need to understand whole-system reform as a strategy and the basic concepts and principles of systemic change. Further, they need to play a pivotal role in encoding and decoding communication to ensure that technical jargon does not impede progress.

This article contains selected information about whole-system change and examples of cogent concepts and principles. The content is intended to demonstrate that a comprehensive school PR program should be an integral part of school district reform.

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Public Relations in Rapidly Growing Suburban Districts: Insights from Texas Superintendents Bonny Cain and Doug Otto

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JOHN M. DECMAN

Throughout Texas, enrollments in suburban school districts have been rising, and in some instances, the increases have been substantial. Causes of this demographic trend are multifaceted, but in most instances they are an intricate mix of state population growth and urban flight. Rapidly growing suburban districts, like all Texas districts, confront the realities of reform and accountability, and, at the same time, their superintendents struggle with three distinctive variables:

Largely because of these distinguishing characteristics, school public relations practices in these districts have become ever more essential to effective practice in school administration.

In an effort to broaden understanding of school public relations in growing suburban districts, interviews were conducted with two experienced superintendents. Dr. Bonny Cain has 26 years of professional experience and has been at the helm of the Pearland Independent School District for 5 years. Enrolling nearly 15,000 students, the school system is located south of Houston. In the past 10 years, enrollment in the district has risen by 80%. Dr. Doug Otto has been a superintendent in five states. With an admirable 25 years of experience in this difficult position, he has been the top administrator in the Plano Independent School District for the last 10 years. Enrolling more than 50,000 students, the Plano school system is located just north of Dallas, and its enrollment has increased by 36% in the last 10 years.

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Broadening Research on Communication and School Public Relations

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THEODORE J. KOWALSKI

ABSTRACT: Effective communication and public relations are recognized as core competencies for school administration as evidenced by national standards guiding preparation and licensing in most states. Even so, surprisingly little research has been conducted by doctoral students and professors on these two subjects. This article presents a case for broadening and deepening the research agenda on these essential topics. Relevant dissertations completed since 1999 are identified to exhibit the potential that exists. Finally, 16 lines of possible inquiry (8 in communication and 8 in public relations) are identified.

Research in school administration is plentiful as evidenced by the thousands of dissertations, book chapters, and journal articles circulated in this specialization every decade. Yet the percentage of these publications devoted to communication in general and to school public relations specifically arguably has been meager. The lack of attention to these critical topics may be explained primarily by three conditions. First, the study of organizational and personal communication has not been an integral part of the professional preparation of school administrators (Kowalski, 1998a, 2005; Osterman, 1994). Directly, this oversight may contribute to competency concerns, and indirectly, it may foster indifference toward the need to conduct communication-related research. Second, many observers continue to believe that imposed changes in district and school climates result in corresponding adaptations in administrative behavior. In fact, this conviction is a myth; for example, state laws requiring governance alterations, such as school councils, have not ensured that administrators behave more democratically (Björk & Keedy, 2002; Elmore, 2005). A similar but different prevailing misconception is that administrators learn to communicate naturally by virtue of their intelligence and experience (Kowalski, 2005). Relatively recent studies in business, however, suggest that this supposition also is an illusion; in truth, most embattled executives were found to be ineffective communicators (Perina, 2002).

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