2020-2021 Superintendents to Watch: Dr. Demetrus Liggins

Dr. Demetrus Liggins

Dr. Demetrus Liggins

Greenville (Texas) Independent School District
Twitter: @DrLiggins @GreenvilleISD

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership begins with the ability to inspire those around you and building a team with an unwavering commitment to a common and ambitious goal. In my experience, the most effective leaders are those who do not rely on the authority of their position, but rather, who hire excellent people who are focused on the right things. For educators, that means a resolute commitment to student achievement. Great leaders are both flexible and resilient. We know that the best-laid plans are going to be challenged by unforeseen events. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly taught us that. It has brought with it fear, tragedy and chaos. Over the last six months, I have witnessed educators I greatly admire walk away from their jobs, cloak themselves in silence, and privately share their fears that this could threaten our public education system. I have also seen us pull together as leaders with the resolve that we will not allow this formidable adversary to derail our commitment to students.

How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan?

The strategic plan sets the following goals: 

  1. Connect and partner with all stakeholders through clear and engaging communication. 
  2.  Develop tools and processes to optimize engagement. 
  3.  Proactively develop and maintain internal and external partnerships that are mutually beneficial. 

These tools have been key to our success:

  • Three weekly e-newsletters:  Every year, we take the GISD story on the road, presenting to a dozen community groups. This year, our in-person community interactions continue on a limited basis, and we have increased our social media and video production, which we share on all channels. 
  • Partnerships: We partner with the Chamber and area business leaders to build robust business relationships that lead to new mutually beneficial opportunities, mentoring and financial support. We have an excellent relationship with the local media, and our stories and interviews appear frequently . We average 4 social media posts a day.

What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district?

Our GISD Pride Campaign. It did not arise out of vanity. It arose out of dire need. Just a few months after I began as superintendent, a multimillion-budget deficit was discovered. The more we probed, the more we discovered. We cut the budget, froze salaries and laid off staff. We set about correcting the financial mistakes, and we embarked on a listening campaign. People expressed two emotions: frustration and pride. They were distressed to see the district they were so proud of seemingly falling apart.

 We launched a pride campaign in the fall of 2018 with stories, videos, in-person meetings and more. We gave out thousands of car decals and sturdy yard signs, which are displayed to this day all over town. We even had a billboard! The pride campaign won the day when voters approved a Tax Ratification Election, allowing us to give teachers the raises they deserve, and it is still going strong today.

What communication tool do you enjoy using the most in your profession? Why?

Call me old-fashioned, but face-to-face engagement remains the most powerful way to communicate. Research backs this up. Only with face-to-face communication can you use all six cues – physical presence, body language, facial expressions, voice, visual aids and words – to convey your message. Of course, it’s not realistic to have one-on-one and small-group conversations with tens and even hundreds of thousands of people. We use all the modes at our disposal – an interactive website, social media, blogs, text alerts, apps, video, social media and large and small in-person meetings – as appropriate. One of the biggest challenges is discerning which modes are appropriate for which messaging. You’ve heard the saying “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” By the same token, it is foolish to hurl the entire toolbox at every single message. We have developed messaging charts to streamline this process so that in the midst of a crisis, we have a framework to follow.

How have you used social media in your strategic communication efforts?

Social media is such an integral part of our day-to-day communication, it’s hard to imagine our lives before it existed. We use it in the conventional sense: to tell stories and share stories about everything from student and staff achievements to policy announcements and school closings. We also use it to direct readers to our website and YouTube channel. We have also partnered with community ambassadors to help us by letting us know if they’re hearing rumblings on social media that concern us. There are also multiple resources people can turn to in search of accurate information. For example, we have a webpage called Join the Conversation on our landing page. It is devoted to fact-sharing and respectful dialogue. When a hot topic arises, we post the facts on Join the Conversation and encourage others to link to the story from their social media posts.