2020-2021 Superintendents to Watch-Dr. Robert Downs

Dr. Robert Downs

Dr. Robert Downs
Buford (Ga.) City Schools

What does leadership mean to you?

Influential leaders support, develop, and nurture those they lead. I am and always will be an educator. Regardless of the various titles and jobs, I have taken on throughout my career, when asked what I do for a living, I almost invariably respond- I am an educator. I take a great deal of pride in my craft and respect the fact that teachers are the essential component of any school. I believe a leader's behavior and attitude sets the tone for those in which they lead. As a leader, I filter out the negative influences and foster a positive culture. I understand that I set the tone, and as a result, I always keep a positive attitude and maintain a level of respect for all involved.

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

Communication is a core value in our district’s strategic plan. Communication is the mechanism by which all stakeholders share ideas, concerns and suggestions. Dating back to my interview process, I made it clear that transparent and regular communication would be vital to gaining the community's trust. Communication was interwoven in my 90-day entry plan. This was accomplished through intentional meetings held with the various constituent groups (e.g., school board, administration, teachers, support staff, parents, students, community). During these meetings, the opportunity was created for me to listen and learn and begin capturing critical feedback, perceptions and information to be used to develop a picture of both our past and present reality.

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

I have been able to connect with the community using different platforms to meet them where they are. I have used Town Hall meetings, emails and monthly superintendent letters to the community through our community newsletter. I have filmed multiple videos to connect with the community during our COVID isolation and beyond. I have been the webmaster at every school I have led, so I see the value in the online presence being attractive, easily navigated and updated. A complete revamp of our district and school websites have paid positive dividends in connecting with the community.

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

The pandemic certainly upped my video game. The written word does not always convey the emotions that are intertwined with education during COVID. Video has given me more freedom to connect with families and stress the measures we are implementing to keep their children safe. When schools had to immediately shut down in March 2020, the isolation that followed with my staff and community became a focus of my communication efforts. I could no longer walk around the buildings and talk with the staff or see families at the ballpark. However, it was important to me to stay connected,  so I started calling my staff just to check-in. Obviously, this is more manageable in a smaller district like Buford. There was very little business talk; I just wanted to check on them and their families. It was a great way to get to know my staff better.

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

When we hired our Director of Communications, her first priority was to revive three rarely used platforms associated with Buford City Schools: Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We have been able to feature current events and video content on all our platforms. We have capitalized on social media's power to reach our ELL populations and highlight initiatives within our Diversity and Inclusion committee, Food & Nutrition department.  and local events that cover AAA Excellence:Academic, Athletics, and the Arts.