Medium 9781475823837

Jspr Vol 26-N4

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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 Editors

ePub

LANCE D. FUSARELLIAND GEORGE J. PETERSEN

The world of school leadership and administration has changed dramatically in the past 2 decades, due in large measure to the increased pressure brought about by outcomes-driven, performance-based accountability. We have noted elsewhere (Fusarelli & Petersen, 2002) that “boards of education and superintendents often find themselves targets of criticism in both the professional literature and popular press. Recent reforms and heightened expectations of accountability have created a permanent state of turbulence and pressure” (p. 283). Federal, state, and local policymakers are examining educational governance and administration with an increasingly skeptical eye. In many respects, the job of school leadership has become more difficult and complex. Long gone are the “good old days,” if they ever existed—when superintendents were given wide latitude in running school systems and when their decisions were rarely, and seldom openly, questioned. In this “age of accountability,” superintendents operate in an open, public, and increasingly hostile environment. This special theme issue of the Journal of School Public Relations examines how superintendents successfully navigate these waters and manage relationships with school boards and in increasingly diverse communities.

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School Leader, Advocate, and the Good Neighbor: The Superintendent’s Complex Relationship With the Board President, the School Board, and the Rest of the Community

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GEORGE J. PETERSENAND BARBARA MORROW WILLIAMS

ABSTRACT: The ability of the superintendent to communicate ethical leadership to the community and demonstrate a positive relationship with the board president and the board of education has considerable influence on communities’ perceptions of the quality of educational programs and the academic achievement of children. This investigation employed social-capital theory as a conceptual lens to investigate these relationships. Our findings suggest that district superintendents tread a fragile bridge where the sustainability of their leadership is dependent on their mastery of the interplay among ethics, advocacy, and community relations.

Historically, in the United States, much of the authority over educational policy has been delegated to local school districts by state government. By the middle of the 20th century, however, school districts found themselves in the precarious middle ground created by the relationship among their communities, their state governments, and the federal government. In the 1950s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) challenged not only the authority but the moral leadership of state governments and local school districts to provide education to all children regardless of race or ethnicity. Similarly, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1997, 1999)1 challenged districts to ensure the “free appropriate public education” of children regardless of students’ serious physical or mental disabilities that would limit their ability to navigate the school building or the classroom. Against the backdrop of communities grappling with the educational changes presented by the various Supreme Court decisions and federal laws, however, Congress also passed the comprehensive 1964 Civil Rights Act, which enforced constitutional rights not only in public education but also in public accommodations, voting, housing, employment, and other public areas. The Civil Rights Act which would drastically alter the existing cultural norms and expectations for communities and their school districts and create a whole new set of challenges to governance from both internal and external forces. Most recently, the revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act, popularly referred to as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, pressed new mandates on districts and their communities. In addition to being unfunded and placing the financial burden of implementation squarely on the shoulders of school districts, these mandates created urgent requirements that held schools to specific measurable standards of accountability for student achievement and for parent and community involvement (Petersen & Young, 2004).

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The Importance of Language Games in School Public Relations

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LANCE D. FUSARELLI AND MARLA SANDERS

ABSTRACT: This article examines the language games played by superintendents as they work with school boards and community activists to craft school policy. We begin by examining the role of language in problem definition and the agenda-setting process. We then examine how political culture and the media affect problem definition. We argue that school leaders must actively and craftily control these debates over school policy, and we offer suggestions for winning these language games.

Public education is under attack, and superintendents and school boards are faced with an increasingly hostile and skeptical public. Amid tight economic constraints, a sluggish economy, and record budget deficits, superintendents and local school officials are pressed to itemize and justify every educational expenditure. Long gone are the days when a superintendent or board member could simply ask for more money—the “ask and ye shall receive” approach; now, the response is likely to be “How much and why?” With the No Child Left Behind Act and the expansion of state accountability systems, public reporting of student performance—with its accompanying school-to-school and district-to-district comparisons—has given the media and the public unprecedented information about the performance of public education. The actions of superintendents and school boards are scrutinized as never before. When any system is subject to such exposure, it can become vulnerable and threatened by outsiders. This is most evident in the skeptical, often hostile tone of debates surrounding many educational issues. As the stakes in the games of educational politics and policymaking have risen, effective school public relations are more important than ever.

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Building a Learning City: Developing School and Community Coalitions in Oklahoma City

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GREGG GARN

ABSTRACT: This qualitative case study focuses on a district and community relations plan developed in Oklahoma City Public Schools. This article provides a description of the proposal regarding MAPS for KIDS (Metropolitan Area Projects for Keep Improving District Schools) in Oklahoma City from 1998 through November 2001, and it explores the coalitions that were built between school administrators in the Oklahoma City Public Schools and parents, city officials, and civic and business leaders. Based on data generated from document analysis and observations, the conclusion is that the district moved from a bureaucratically isolated organization to a pluralist orientation, where district leaders negotiated with multiple interest groups to develop the framework for the academic and facilities reforms that became the MAPS for KIDS plan.

During most of the 20th century, urban school districts in the United States have been divorced from city government. However, city leaders are reversing this long-standing independence to different degrees, evidenced by the increased involvement by mayors and city council members across the country. Mayors have taken control of city schools in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, among others. In many more cities, mayors exert more influence over school policy than ever before (Wirt & Kirst, 2001).

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The Power of Good Superintendent–School Board Relationships

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PATRICIA M. RICHARDSON

ABSTRACT: The quality of superintendent–school board relationships has a direct impact on the success of any school system through the power of good public relations. The traditional roles of superintendents and school boards and the artificial division of labor between the two no longer serve our school systems well. In this article, I apply a model of high-impact board governance from a study of nonprofit organizations to school superintendents and their school boards. The model emphasizes ways of improving public relations and support for public schools.

“How well the schools are governed and professionally led will determine the future of the public schools” (Danzberger, 1998, p. 193). This bold statement represents the essence of the superintendent and school board relationship and the potential power of a positive, collaborative, high-impact relationship between the two parties. It is through the carefully cultivated and meticulously maintained relationships between a superintendent and individual board members, as well as the relationship with the board as a whole, that a school system will (1) successfully overcome the obstacles it faces and flourish or (2) allow these obstacles and individual egos to turn itself into a dysfunctional entity where student interests become the least important issue to be addressed. When successfully maintained, a high-impact relationship enables the superintendent and the school board to establish good public relations and leverage the necessary support for important school improvement initiatives.

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