Please Wait a Moment

35 Under 35: Mitchell Roush

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.

Mitchell RoushMitchell Roush
Director of Communications and Marketing
Grand Island (Neb.) Public Schools

How many years have you worked in school PR?
1.5 years.

What have you found to be the most rewarding part about working in school PR?
Celebrating our students and teachers. Whether it's catching a group learning exercise, covering a schoolwide event, snapping photos at reading time, tagging along on a field trip, capturing show choir footage or interviewing high school students about their future aspirations, spotlighting our diverse student experiences is what it's all about. And watching our expert teachers invest into their development is about as inspirational as it gets. We're here for the kids. Our community never tires of hearing how our students are learning to grow, do and become. When in doubt visit a classroom. It's the best dose of B12 out there.

What have you found to be the most challenging part about working in school PR? How do you approach those challenges?
The fluidity of social media. While social platforms have been a catalyst for our growing arena, there are just as many inconsistencies as there are treasures. Social media isn't going away and the benefits of having these avenues to showcase our district are valuable. All that being said, the frustrations found within social media are exhausting for any school PR pro, especially our tendency as users (myself included) to over rely on the information shared on social media whether credible or not. Overall, social media brings opportunities to listen and engage in dialogue. The task at hand as school PR pros is to do everything we can to ensure we don't lose nuance and that we cultivate spaces of trust, celebration and respect. Social media is fun and *can be* meaningful... but it's also the wild west.

What has been your most fulfilling professional experience thus far?
Building relationships with the people in our public school district. A person is only as strong as their team, and I'm fortunate to be surrounded by incredible folks who are experts in their field. Our mission at GIPS is "Every Student, Every Day, A Success!" and I can honestly say that everyone—administrators, principals, curriculum coaches, teachers, paraeducators, translators, creatives, nutrition staff—is fueled by that charge. I learn something new from someone awesome in our district every day. Between that and the fun storytelling opportunities, it doesn't get much better. I'm grateful to be here with these people doing this work.

Are there any emerging trends in school public relations that excite you?
Podcasting. While the format has slowly become the "new blogging" in the mainstream the last decade, I think we're about to see a boom of podcasts in school districts — which is fabulous! Podcasting provides avenues to go longform in unpacking deep, nuanced methodologies in education. We have certainly found that avenue valuable in the short time since we've launched ours. Families love learning more about the learning taking place in a classroom. Podcasting provides unique opportunities to amplify teacher and student voices while going more in-depth than a two minute news interview may provide. Because for school PR, it's all about storytelling. Podcasts are a bevy of creative opportunities to spotlight our districts.

Anisa Sullivan Jimenez

Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, APR
Director of Communications
Oconee County Schools
Watkinsville, Ga.

Alma Mater:

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.