35 Under 35 Class of 2020-21: Melissa Reese

Melissa ReeseMelissa Reese

Communications Manager 
Allentown (Pa.) School District
Twitter: @Melissa_ashleyy, @AllentownSD


What does leadership mean to you?
A good leader is someone who is passionate and works every day to raise up others. Leaders set the tone for an organization when it comes to everything from work-life balance to overall employee morale. Those who may not hold leadership roles can still be seen as leaders if they have a positive impact on others around them. Leadership for up- and-coming professionals means having the ability to take risks and step outside of your role or comfort zone. In my district, I am not cabinet level staff, but I have been given the space and opportunity to take a seat at the table, so I can be informed in communicating important details to our families.

What was the most fulfilling professional moment you have experienced?
My most fulfilling professional moment was organizing the groundbreaking for our new elementary school in October 2018, after just about a year in my role. Our district hasn’t had any new buildings in over a decade. State and local legislators joined us for the ceremonial groundbreaking. While that was a major professional accomplishment, there have been so many smaller moments I have captured that fill me with gratitude and remind me why we all do what we do. These moments include watching one of our graduates stand out of his wheelchair to walk across the stage in 2019 or watching our staff do bilingual readings of books on Read Across America day. Anytime I can make a meaningful connection with someone else around me, it inspires me to continue when the work gets difficult.

What are the most challenging and/or rewarding parts about working in school PR?
Right now, the most challenging part of school PR is…living through a pandemic! Who knew 2020 and 2021 would be like this? 

In addition, the evolution of digital media and understanding the changes that come with social platforms is a challenge for me as a department of one. I'm constantly updating my approach to sharing information on our social platforms and figuring out how to supplement that with our district wide robocalls, emails and texts, on top of everything our schools are sending, and the last minute requests to “just put this out there.” So much of our social media  presence takes time and strategy to manage that most don’t get.  

The most rewarding part of my job is when I get to connect with our students and hear their stories. I enjoy checking in with families as they pick up laptops or Wi-Fi hotspots, and  once school started, meals or supplies from teachers. I may be taking a photo for social media, but checking in and asking how they are doing goes a long way.

How have NSPRA and your state chapter guided you along the way?
NSPRA has been hands down the most amazing resource to find documents and guides that help frame my work. I am constantly pulling from the discussion boards and documents housed on the website. I have not been able to attend an NSPRA Seminar yet, but have found online professional development workshops to be very helpful. My local chapter PenSPRA  has been great for connecting me with other local PR pros, whom I can bounce ideas off of and look to for help when I need it.

What are your favorite work and personal apps?
I love using Twitter for work and in my personal life. Top personal social apps are Snapchat and Instagram, and I can't live without Simple Habit (meditation) and Yahoo Fantasy Sports to keep up with my fantasy football team.  For work, I couldn't be without Repost for Instagram, Survey Monkey and my entire Google drive.

What book has inspired you professionally?
This may come across as strange, but I don't read a lot of books for professional development. I can read an entire book in one sitting, but more for entertainment. I keep up on trends and best practices through newsletters, blogs and videos.

What is a recent communications/media campaign you enjoyed – either one of your own or one you saw nationally?
I enjoyed the #WhenWeAllVote campaigns.  I tuned into the one fairly early in June 2020.  During the end of the school year, one of my district's high schools participated in MTV’s Prom-A-Thon, which was sponsored by When We All Vote. Twenty schools were selected from across the country for their efforts in registering voters and encouraging Gen Z to understand that they can make a difference.  Michelle Obama does a lot with this organization, and I love how she connects with the younger generation. They do a great job using Instagram stories on a consistent basis, and their feed posts are great.

What emerging trends in school public relations get you excited?
The evolution of digital learning during the pandemic and focusing on how schools have worked to close the digital divide gets me excited. We were nowhere close to 1:1, but our board made investments in technology and Wi-Fi hotspots to ensure that our students had equitable access and opportunity to learn online. Now I  write press releases on grants to cover more devices and connect with students over Zoom to share how they are using our online learning platforms.