35 Under 35 Class of 2020-21: Ashley Kryscynski

Ashley KryscynskiAshley Kryscynski

Communications and Public Relations Specialist
Washtenaw Intermediate School District
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Twitter: @a2kryscynski  @WashISD

What does leadership mean to you?
For me, leadership is grounded in the values of my social work background. My previous life in community organizing taught me to listen intently to different experiences with empathy and compassion. In my communications role, I now have the privilege of working alongside our educators, students and families, listening to their stories and then elevating their voices. Leadership means expanding a table that historically has been exclusive to a small group of people. It means finding ways to lift voices and stories that have been marginalized and were intentionally pushed to the side. When I stepped into this role, I was told the same thing over and over: “I just want to feel seen.” So for me, leadership means ensuring our students, families and staff feel seen and heard and that their voices and ideas are valued.  We move at the speed of trust.  The foundation of that trust is how we are cultivating relationships and acting as stewards of that trust.

What was the most fulfilling professional moment you have experienced?
Hands down, it’s the passage of a bond proposal at the end of my first year in this job. Our district passed a $53.295 million bond to renovate and rebuild our High Point School for students ages 3 through 26 who have severe and multiple disabilities. This investment solidified our community’s belief that every student deserves to learn in a high-quality environment designed to meet their unique needs.

What are the most challenging and/or rewarding parts about working in school PR?
The most rewarding part is celebrating alongside our WISD family.  School PR is incredibly fast-paced, and I love that every day is different, yet our students, families and staff are always at the center.  There are so many shining stars in each of our districts, and we get the immense privilege of sharing  successes that might otherwise go unnoticed. The most challenging part is staying on top of the latest information, especially during the pandemic. This was already difficult in the age of the 24/7 news cycle, but as public health experts continuously learn more about COVID-19, we are responsible for keeping our administrators, staff and communities informed in a timely way.

How have NSPRA and your state chapter guided you along the way?
I've found that many of us are a "department of one" (or sometimes even less!), so I feel fortunate to have found my state chapter, especially as someone whose background is not in school communications. Michigan SPRA provides me with an association of highly skilled school communications professionals to network with, learn from, lean on during the hard times and celebrate with during the exciting times. The NSPRA Gold Mine and NSPRA Connect are both invaluable resources as well. Access to vetted templates and the opportunity to seek advice from a national group of experts helps expand the list of resources available to me and, ultimately, our district and community. A professional network is only as good as its members and their contributions. Both MSPRA and NSPRA are top-notch. There's no way I would have navigated my first two years in this role without MSPRA and NSPRA!

What are your favorite work and personal apps?
I’m sure I’m an anomaly, but I actually don’t use a lot of apps on my phone besides my email apps. I’m often checking Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor to monitor news and community conversations. Outside of work, I will be a first-time homeowner soon, so I’ve been spending a lot of personal time on the Pinterest, Lowe’s and Home Depot apps for decoration and project inspiration!

What book has inspired you professionally?
Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead has so many gold nuggets that I keep in my back pocket that inform and influence how I approach my work as a professional. It reminds me that as a professional of any age, in order to build an organizational culture of equity, inclusion and social justice, we, as leaders, need to model authenticity and vulnerability. When leaders do this, others around us can show up to work and school as their full selves and contribute in extraordinary ways. I think we can sometimes forget that we are in the business of hearts and minds, so this book  reminds me that thoughtful leadership takes intentionality.

What is a recent communications/media campaign you enjoyed – either one of your own or one you saw nationally?
Similar to many other communities, we have schools implementing a wide variety of instruction plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the county-level ISD, we partnered with our local health department to issue a joint letter to our community on ways they can help us mitigate the spread of COVID-19, so schools can continue phasing further into their face-to-face instructional plans. What made our joint letter unique was not only that every public school district superintendent in our county signed on to support it, but that we also had a breadth of charter school and private school directors signing on. It came across as a strong, unified message from our entire education community.

What emerging trends in school public relations get you excited?
I’m excited that there’s a growing movement to be more inclusive of more diverse voices and perspectives in decision-making spaces. As school PR professionals, we know how impactful silence can be, so it’s invigorating to me to see schools speaking out and taking a lead on issues of equity, diversity and social justice.