A. Russell Hughes: A Superintendent to Watch

Russell Hughes

A. Russell Hughes
Walton County School District
DeFuniak Springs, Fla.

What does leadership mean to you?

To be a leader, you must have a vision and you must facilitate the actions and strategies that will make your vision become a reality.

My vision for the Walton County School District (WCSD) is summarized as “EPIC.” This acronym stands for Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collaboration. EPIC is the Walton County Way, and it is how we carry ourselves in our work. If we are EPIC, we can be the best in the state, nation and world. As a leader, it is my job to lead from the front. It is important as the leader to model the vision and it is important to recognize when the vision is observed in others.

Leadership is about assessing the pace of the work around you and adjusting or facilitating changes to the cadence if needed. Leadership is also about cultivating leadership skills in others as well, which will only strengthen the future of your vision.

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

The WCSD strategic plan not only communicates goals and objectives, but it also reports data on over one hundred performance indicators each year. The strategic plan is maintained by my cabinet, which represents all departments and is reviewed once a year at school board meetings.

Goal #3 of the strategic plan is "effective communication." It states, "WCSD and its schools are committed to effectively communicating with all stakeholders through various media to promote collaboration, parent involvement and community partnerships." Specific action steps under goal 3 include curriculum, safety and technology departments. During my first year of office, I designated a van to drive to various communities throughout our county to help with communication. The van can be seen parked throughout neighborhoods passing out information and providing Wi-Fi to our students and parents.

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

In 2018-2019, I created two new events for the WCSD in order to reach a greater number of constituents. The first event targeted the larger community. I started an annual “State of the Schools” event. At the inaugural meeting, we formally provided the community with the status of our goals along with our greater purpose. The event was attended by numerous community partners and was also streamed virtually. Based on the success of the event, “State of the Schools” will continue annually. A second event, “Superintendent’s Roundtable,” created this past year targeted students. This annual event is a breakfast that is held for Seniors representing each school in the district. I speak with students directly about real issues happening in our schools, including topics about safety and bullying.

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

Throughout the year, I share the district’s purpose and goals with a variety of stakeholders by speaking directly with our constituents. I speak at formal meetings at the Economic Development Alliance monthly. I also try to attend informal meetings as well, such as booths at the county fair or barbecues at the local park. I also enjoy speaking through recorded video messages that we share on our website and social media. The video messages are recorded monthly on a variety of timely topics, including college and career readiness, programs that teach the whole child, community service projects and our successes. I enjoy video messages, because viewers can see my face and body language and hear my tone.

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

We use social media to our advantage by sharing videos, pictures and updates. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we put out a weekly message to parents and/or employees. On some weeks, the messages were serious in nature – sharing information on food distributions, virtual education and/or community resources and on other days, we made videos to tell students that we missed them and wished them well. WCSD also utilizes "Let's Talk" by K12 Insight. Let's Talk provides a button for stakeholders to submit a question or concern. Topics can include safety, curriculum, technology, after school care, start times and transportation. Through an app or email, the person in charge of the selected topic can answer a submitted question in a matter of seconds. Not only does the stakeholder get the answer, they also are able to rate the level of customer service provided by the district. As Superintendent, I use the system to be as proactive as possible in our communication efforts.