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Every other year, NSPRA's 35 Under 35 program recognizes school public relations professionals who are making a difference for their school districts or education-related employers. The sixth class of NSPRA's 35 Under 35 program is sponsored by Rhodes Branding.
How many years have you worked in school PR?
What have you found to be the most rewarding part about working in school PR?
School PR is a unique field. As a professional, we have the opportunity to not only impact the students attending our schools, but the communities that are connected to our schools as well. Since I began my career at the SC Whitmore School, I have had the opportunity to impact the lives of students across the state of South Carolina from the coast to the mountains of our great state. For me personally, the most rewarding part so far has been the opportunity to help build a community of people who can see, advocate, and apply education in an innovative way. At SC Whitmore School we are unique to most in that we allow our students to complete their school work in the comfort of their own environments and on a schedule that works best for their lives. Although this is unique to the traditional brick-and-mortar model of education we have been able to show the community that public education will thrive in multiple environments.
What have you found to be the most challenging part about working in school PR? How do you approach those challenges?
The most challenging part about working in school PR has also been one of the biggest benefits. I would say this is the multiple communications platforms we have to connect with our school community. We are a virtual school and connecting with our community can be challenging at times, but I am thankful for the current times. We have numerous platforms that allow us to connect with our students, faculty, and staff. We believe in meeting our community where they are whether that be on social media, through Hulu or Spotify Ads, radio spots, website news, or in traditional print media. We are continuously working to make sure we are in spaces where people can learn about us and we can be of service to the community.
What has been your most fulfilling professional experience thus far?
My most fulfilling professional experience thus far has been the opportunity to hear that our school is making a positive impact on the lives of students across South Carolina. SC Whitmore has been open since 2011, our school has had the opportunity to graduate more than 1,000 graduates. It warms my heart each year at graduation when students share with us that because our school took the time to invest in their success they are graduating early or finishing high school and beginning their dream careers. A direct testimonial or thank you from a current student is all you need to keep pushing to make sure we have the opportunity to impact the lives of students in the next generation. Our current students and alumni help us know every day we are helping make a difference in their lives.
Are there any emerging trends in school public relations that excite you?
Emerging trends in school public relations that excite me are people’s willingness to use new technologies to connect. As we live in an ever-changing technological world the use of new technologies is constantly evolving. I love the fact that I work in a career field that allows me to help introduce new technologies to our communities while still keeping all audiences engaged.
B.A. - Mississippi State University; MPA - University of Georgia
I believe school PR/communications is what I was born to do! One of the biggest decisions a parent can make is where to send their child to school, and it’s an honor to share with our parents the engaging work that their children are doing under the guidance of world-class teachers and leaders. On any given day, in any given school, there are many stories to be told and I take that charge seriously. As school communicators played a key role in COVID-19 communications, storytelling was more important than ever – not only did I share information with parents about our protocols, but I also made over 80 visits to schools last year and told a variety of stories about how students were thriving with both in-person and distance learning options. I also worked with principals to determine best mitigation practices and helped make those pervasive, because positive action must be the foundation of what we are ultimately communicating. School public relations is incredibly complex and I love that each day brings a new challenge.
My greatest school PR success was completing 11 nationally-innovative school communication audits using a process of research, planning, implementation, and evaluation. I am now in phase two of this project and am attending school council meetings to garner feedback from parents about school-level communication and how I can better support the work of their schools. One of the most significant findings is that as students take more ownership of their learning, they also take more ownership in parent communication. Therefore, next steps are to better prepare parents for this transition and to also determine best practices from exemplar teachers and coaches at the secondary level so we can strike the right balance with parents feeling informed and fostering student independence.
My greatest school PR challenge is overcoming rigidity. Like many PR professionals, I am detail-oriented and a self-described perfectionist. It’s a blessing and a curse to see when something is one pixel off, but the greatest challenge I have faced in my 13 years in this field is to learn to be more flexible. I might have an aversion to Comic Sans or Curlz, but it’s not the end of the world if those are a font favorite elsewhere. What’s more important is the bigger picture – staff and parents feeling well-informed and students growing and learning in positive school cultures. Instead of telling someone their website isn’t formatted properly, I now make a 2-3 minute screencast if I think there’s a quick tutorial I can offer to provide ongoing professional learning. By being much more flexible, I have deepened relationships and become better at supporting the most important job that occurs in our school system: teaching.
My favorite part of my job is the relationships. I often say that there is no substitute for showing up, and that’s why I make so many school visits each year. From getting to hold a gorgeous monarch butterfly to watching a vibrant student musical to seeing 3-D printing in action from engineering students, I have witnessed countless unique opportunities, and these experiences are just a small piece of what our students get to take part in each and every day. If I didn’t take the time to form relationships, I wouldn’t know that what students value is knowing that the photos I take may show up in their yearbooks. I wouldn’t know the myriad of annual activities that teachers do across our schools because I wouldn’t have witnessed them firsthand. I wouldn’t know about the families of our principals or what they believe makes their school unique. All of that is invaluable because at the end of the day and at the end of this career, relationships are what will remain – both professionally and personally.
The communication tool I use the most is Canva! I would be a brand ambassador if they asked! I am not very mathematically-minded and it can be challenging for someone with an eye for good design – but not an eye for rulers and gridlines – to be a graphic designer. However, Canva has made it possible and I am able to create aesthetically-pleasing graphics with short turn-around times. I have trained communication ambassadors at our schools how to use it as well. Right after Canva, the tool I most use is iMovie. I am completely self-taught in videography and using iMovie and Canva together has made me someone who can add “videographer” to their list of expertise.