2020-2021 Superintendents to Watch-Dr. Laurie Dent

Laurie DentDr. Laurie Dent
Sumner-Bonney Lake School District, Sumner, Wash.
@LaurieDent1; @sumnerschools

What does leadership mean to you?

Leaders set the tone, set the direction, and make things happen. They realize a successful journey towards college and career readiness starts with creating a shared belief and vision that 100% of our students will graduate from high school prepared for college, career and life. As leaders, the most important work in front of us every day is to close opportunity gaps and eliminate barriers for each and every student. Ultimately, to achieve this, I stay true to leading with a servant heart and rely on the power of my team. 

An authentic Servant Leader is a leadership principle described by one of my favorite authors, James C. Hunter, as "the world's most powerful leadership principle." To lead is to serve -- a motto that I demonstrate on a daily basis using a thread that connects my head, heart and hands to develop the strategic leadership roadmap necessary to create a shared vision that binds us together, inspires us to succeed, and gives us a common purpose.

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

I firmly believe that a central part of a leader’s role is to, over time, transform a culture through strategic planning and continuous improvement. Every person in the organization individually and collectively contributes to building the brand of a school district. As a district, our commitment to stakeholders is to communicate consistently and efficiently around our goals and systems. Communication goals and strategies are woven throughout all parts of our school district's strategic plan, VISION 2020. Communication goals are not a written component, but rather implied in the planning process, public review opportunities, execution of goals and the promotion of outcomes. VISION 2020 is the theme of many of our school district publications, such as the annual report and wall calendar, in which I write a message clearly connecting our goals and outcomes to all stakeholders. We produced a strategic plan that was simple to understand, easy to communicate and relatable to our students.

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

Storytelling has become the essence of my communication style on various platforms, such as social media, written messages to staff and families, and in-person group presentations to the public and key community leaders. I’m diving deep into learning the art of storytelling, practicing it on a regular basis while also teaching and encouraging members of the District's Leadership Team to do the same. Storytelling has had its place on our Leadership Team meeting agendas all year long with hands-on exercises that allow for such reflection. I lead by example and showcase others who are getting on the storytelling bandwagon. I’m using the storytelling framework taught by Dr. Marshall Ganz the story of self,  us and  now. My goal is to effectively communicate through both new and traditional vehicles and elevate my presence and the transparency of our school district.

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

I understand the value of two-way communication in whatever communication vehicle I use. I enjoy engaging on Twitter, my preferred social media platform. I do my best to find humor and good spirit in fun interactions on social media. I always prefer being in front of a live audience. It matches my leadership style and it’s a place I feel I can connect on a deeper level than behind a screen. I always try to make my audience feel comfortable and relaxed. Leading with relationships allows me to be vulnerable in front of an audience yet still maintain authority and presence. A new communication vehicle, due to COVID-19, is our use of online conferencing and meetings on platforms  such as Zoom. I welcome using "town halls" as a way to engage and interact virtually. Knowing there's risks with public town halls, I understand the value and dive deep into the engagement of truly wanting to know their thoughts and using their feedback to make change.

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

I am an avid Twitter user with a large and loyal following, and I just recently started an Instagram account. My content runs the gamut of graduation ceremonies, STEM events, equity initiatives, timely social topics, construction projects, staff professional development and more. From light-hearted announcements that lend themselves to fun emojis, gifs and my avatar, to more serious attention to controversial issues and factual information, I have a constant presence on social media. My content is strategic and my engagement and interaction with followers is authentic. I understand the ever-evolving nature of social media and use it professionally to share stories and news that my followers have to come to expect. I also use the best practices, such as liking, retweeting, tagging, using hashtags and commenting as a strategy to increase followers and impressions.