2020-2021 Superintendents to Watch: Jim Wipke

Dr. Jim Wipke

Dr. Jim Wipke 

Superintendent
Ladue School District
St. Louis, Mo.
Twitter: @LadueSupe@LadueSchools

 

What does leadership mean to you?
In the Ladue School District, we use the theme “See. Serve. Connect.” to describe what we do and how we do it. The purpose of this theme is to continuously focus on the idea that, in order to be effective, educators need to see their students for the unique and valuable individuals they are; serve their educational, emotional and social needs; and connect with them so they truly feel supported, valued and part of something bigger than themselves. Leadership means modeling this theme every day and in every situation. It’s easy when things are going well, but much more difficult, as well as more important, when there are challenges, disagreements and frustrations. This year has been challenging by any measure, and I have found myself uncertain about what to do next many times. Each time, I have returned to the tenets of our theme to assist me in making student-focused decisions in a time for which no amount of leadership training or education could have prepared me.

How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan?
The Ladue School District is still in the process of fulfilling the priorities laid out in the strategic plan developed in 2017. It is an excellent plan, and when I became superintendent in July 2019, I quickly identified three specific areas of focus on which I would concentrate in the next two years. However, I knew that just including them in my goals would not get the job done. Two additional steps were vital to achieving them:

  1. They had to be incorporated into the goals of our Board of Education, our district leadership, our building leadership and every single staff member. In this way, we would all be “rowing in the same direction,” so to speak.
  2. They also needed to be referenced consistently and frequently, so everyone was aware that our course remained unchanged.

The result is communications of every form that always circle back to reminders of where our focus should be.

What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district?
There are actually two initiatives that it would be hard to choose between. I have always been an avid user of Twitter, but was really wanting to find other ways to connect at a deeper level with the community. So, after coming to Ladue, I launched both a blog — From My View — and a podcast — See. Serve. Connect

I sometimes use my From My View blog to share stories about my life that were instrumental in me developing the values I hold today. I also use it to address societal issues that I wouldn’t normally get to address in my role as superintendent, but which I think give the community important insight into who I am as a person. 

I use my  podcast, See. Serve. Connect., to discuss various topics with students, staff, parents and community members in a talk show format, which allows me to learn and connect with these important stakeholder groups while also sharing these fascinating discussions with the broader community.

What communication tool do you enjoy using the most in your profession? Why?
I love the deeper and more personal connections that my blog and podcast allow. However, I still think Twitter is my favorite. I simply love being able to snap a picture at a game, concert, meeting or classroom visit and share it right then and there with our community. I truly believe it is these “slice of life” celebrations that remind us that, despite the challenges we face, there are amazing achievements and moments happening in our classrooms and buildings every day. Teachers who are doing ingenious, creative projects with their students. Parents and organizations who are going above and beyond to support us.  Most importantly, students from all walks of life who remind us every day what a privilege it is, and what fun it is, to be an educator.

How have you used social media in your strategic communication efforts?
As we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words, particularly when you want to say, “Thank you!” or “Way to go!” This was never more important than in spring 2020 when we left for spring break and didn’t return for the remainder of the school year due to COVID-19. There were retirees to recognize, Teachers of the Year to announce and graduates to celebrate! Like all school districts, our email communications were lengthy and full of logistics, instructions and explanations. Social media allowed us to smile with one another, to share all the creative ways our teachers were using to stay in touch with their students, to let our graduates know we wished them well, and to re-imagine those important benchmarks that signal the end of the school year and guide us into the summer break. We were posting, re-posting and sharing like crazy, and it was a lifeline for all of us at a very challenging time.