2020-2021 Superintendents to Watch: Dr. Matthew Mingle

Dr. Matthew Mingle

Dr. Matthew Mingle

Superintendent 
 Warren Township (N.J.) School District 
Twitter: @mmingle1 @WarrenSchoolsNJ

 

What does leadership mean to you?

My thoughts on leadership have certainly evolved under the pressures of responding to COVID-19. When I was first hired to become the superintendent of the Warren Township Schools, I shared with Board of Education members that they would know if they made the right choice in hiring me the first time we dealt with a major crisis. While emergency situations come in various shapes and sizes, closing down school facilities for four months and reopening in an entirely different model certainly represents the largest challenge in my career. In a world of unknowns, leadership is about providing a steady, guiding hand for the organization. This does not mean having all the answers, and it most certainly does not mean pretending to have all the answers. It means thinking strategically, organizing people to think through challenges and develop creative solutions to overcome them, and communicating around a single mission.

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

The Warren Township Schools adopted a new strategic plan for the years 2020-2025. One of its four commitments is to Voice and Engagement. “The Warren Township School District commits to providing enhanced two-way communication in order to encourage stakeholder voice and accountability while providing support to all participants engaged in the learning process.”

During the school facility closure in spring 2021, the district put this commitment into practice with regular staff, parent and student surveys that provided opportunities for stakeholders to engage with the district. Results from these surveys guided actions in the district and were shared back with stakeholders. For the 2020-2021 school year, the focus is on evaluating current communication for consistency, efficiency and effectiveness to determine strengths and weaknesses, and to ensure predictable, planned and responsive communications from district leadership to the community.

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

During the school facility closure, we developed a communication strategy for how we would handle internal and external messaging. This included daily communications to staff members, three times weekly communications to parents, and weekly video and telephone updates from the superintendent. These procedures allowed us to tighten up our efforts to ensure that we were sending one clear and consistent message to all stakeholders. An important part of this communication was the creation of check-in surveys, which used the same questions each time so that we could track the ups and downs of the social-emotional wellness of our students, parents and staff members. This proved valuable as we launched new expectations or announced adjustments to our instructional model because it allowed us to see how those changes affected wellness. Administrators received feedback through the surveys to assess high-needs areas and respond with clarifications, professional learning or other interventions.

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

This is an ever-evolving question for me. I spent a great deal of time focused on Twitter and still find it a great place to share and consume high-quality education resources. For several years, I co-moderated a weekly chat (#EdTherapy) that really helped me connect with educators from around the world. Since March 2020, I have had to rely on written communications more than anything else. My efforts in those areas expanded to the use of video, which has helped me learn and grow in my approach. Now that our school facilities have reopened, I am rediscovering the power of face-to-face engagement. Stopping by schools as students are arriving and dismissing gives me the chance to do quick check-ins with student and staff members. These engagements have been incredibly valuable as we continue to test the impact of our reopening plans. It has also reinforced our decision to reopen as students consistently report their happiness at being back in our school facilities.

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

Working with our district communications coordinator, we try to engage our stakeholders where they live. For some, that is Facebook or Twitter, and for others it’s within an email blast or on our website. No matter where we find our audience, we work to bring them back to our district website in its repository of information role. Social media helps us get the word out about all of the positive things going on in our schools in near real-time so that parents and the community see how wonderful our schools and the experience they provide can be. We continue to rely on local print media a great deal for this as well, but the social media presence is more time-sensitive and allows for interaction and enhancement as the audience interacts and spreads the message on our behalf.