Leadership Through Communication Award

The Leadership Through Communication Award recognizes the teamwork and exemplary leadership of outstanding superintendents and their communications professionals for demonstrated commitment to the enhancement of communication and relationships between their school systems and the families and communities they serve. The award honors those who recognize that communication is a critical component of leadership and incorporate strategic communication into their planning goals and objectives as well as their daily operations. The Leadership Through Communication Award program is open to all school districts throughout the United States and Canada. This year's application is underway.

The award is jointly sponsored by BlackboardAASA, and NSPRA. The recognized school system receives a $10,000 Award, provided by Blackboard, to be used for student scholarships or communication activities that benefit students and schools. 

2014 Leadership Through Communication Award Recipient

Nixa (Mo.) Public Schools

 Stephen Kleinsmith, Ed.D.  RantzZac120x150
 Stephen Kleinsmith, Ed.D.
Zac Rantz

Nixa Public Schools, a K-12 suburban school system in Nixa, Missouri, has been named the 2014 recipient of the Leadership Through Communication Award, jointly sponsored by Blackboard, the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and AASA, The School Superintendents Association. The award recognizes Stephen Kleinsmith, Ed.D., superintendent, and Zac Rantz, director of communication, for demonstrating exemplary leadership in the enhancement of school-to-parent communication within the school system and the community they serve. Nixa Public Schools serves 6,000 students in 11 schools.

The judges for the 2014 award were impressed with the high-functioning communications program that has been developed in Nixa Public Schools, noting that it is strategic, transparent and two-way in design. Since joining the district in 2000, school communications has been a high priority for Dr. Kleinsmith. It has remained the number one strategy in Nixa Public Schools’ strategic plan, resulting in the addition of a director of communication to oversee a comprehensive communication program. The focus on communication also has added: principal advisory committees; a key communicator network; enhanced interaction with the community and the media; a volunteer program; staff communication training; a crisis communication plan; and enhanced customer service across the district. The superintendent and director of communication work hard to ensure there is a united message for Nixa Public Schools.

In addition, Nixa Public Schools is commended for:

  • Building a culture where there is a common language to enhance communication. The internal and external groups clearly spoke the same language as the superintendent and director.
  • Creating an environment where information can be shared in a variety of ways, including face-to-face interactions, the news media, the website, social media, district messaging, community engagement, multi-media presentations and printed materials. Their efforts have expanded relationships beyond Nixa’s “parent base” to build strong support and pride among major segments of the business community and taxpayers that do not have children enrolled in the public schools.
  • Providing the community the opportunity to offer input which is listened to and acted upon. There is evidence of trust between the district, city officials and community members, and all parties work together to do what is best for students. There is a close collaboration with a wide range of community agencies (police, fire, faith, county and city government, civic leadership, etc.) in communication that serves the needs of the community.
  • The district’s commitment to transparency is very impressive. Patrons express a high level of trust in the district, which has demonstrated a willingness to share bad news as well as good news in an effort to build community trust through transparent and honest communications.
  • Empowering building administrators to take charge of their own communications programs, with ample training support from the director.
  • In response to requests from new PR staff and superintendents in neighboring and regional districts, the superintendent and director of communication have served as mentors to their peers, fostering good school communications practices throughout the state of Missouri.
  • The working relationship between the superintendent and communications director is two-way, dynamic and oriented toward problem-solving and their rapport is readily apparent. Focus groups commented on the team’s ability to work together and the community’s trust in them.

“The comprehensive nature of Nixa Public Schools’ communication program is incredibly impressive when you realize that it is overseen by a department of one,” said Rich Bagin, APR, executive director of the National School Public Relations Association. “The scope, quality and effectiveness of the communication effort is a testament to Dr. Kleinsmith’s vision and commitment and to Zac’s creativity, skill and boundless energy. It is obvious that they are both extremely passionate about their work and the students in Nixa’s schools.”

“Student success depends upon community support and effective communication between teachers, parents and the entire community,” said Mark Belles, senior vice president of Blackboad K-12. “We’re delighted to see Nixa Public Schools recognized for their comprehensive approach to improving district-wide communications and community engagement.”

“In the digital age we live in, where we sometimes have up to 140 characters to share important messages, I congratulate Nixa Public Schools for its outstanding communications agenda,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director, AASA. “As we work to strengthen school systems across the country, a vital component in achieving that goal is effectively leveraging the various communications platforms available to reach key audiences. This school district has created a winning model for informing the community it serves.”

The Leadership Through Communication Award program is open to all school districts throughout the United States and Canada. The award will be presented at AASA’s National Conference on Education in Nashville, Tenn., February 13-15, 2014. A $10,000 contribution will be made by Blackboard to Nixa Public Schools to be used for student scholarships or communication activities that benefit students and schools. District leaders will also give a panel presentation on their communication program at the AASA Conference.