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Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communications Award Recipients

The Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communications Award recognizes a practicing superintendent of schools or CEO of an education agency, service center or intermediate unit for outstanding leadership in school public relations and communication.

Click below to view profiles of the Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communications Award recipients over the years.

John Villarreal Congratulations to Rockwall (Texas) Independent School District Superintendent John Villarreal, Ed.D., for his selection as the 2023 recipient of NSPRA's Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communications Award! The award recognizes one district leader annually for their outstanding leadership in and support of school public relations and communications. It is given in memory of Robert L. Grossman, ASPR, an NSPRA past president who believed that the support and commitment of our top education leaders is vital to successful school communication.

This year, NSPRA received a record number of nominations for district leaders from around the United States.

Since his arrival as superintendent in 2016, Dr. Villarreal’s focus on improved communication with district staff, students and community has established an important foundation of trust and authenticity. A proponent of open and transparent communication, he is overseeing implementation of the district’s newly adopted 2023-2028 strategic plan with five goal areas, one of which is communications and the desire to “partner with our community to enhance the learner experience.” The value he places on communications is further underscored by the role of communication director being a cabinet-level position.

During Dr. Villarreal’s tenure, the district has established a number of strategic communication-focused programs and opportunities to encourage input and feedback from the school community. Following are just a few examples:

  • Staff “Lunch’n’Listen” sessions,
  • A Parent Leadership Academy that provides families and parents with an inside look at district planning and programming,
  • A Silver Club for senior citizen community members aimed at encouraging engagement and involvement,
  • “Howdy Y'all” coffee gatherings designed to provide parents new to the state with an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about Texas public schools and the district, and
  • Monthly “Keeping it Real” meetings with leaders of parent-teacher groups.

In addition, the Rockwall Safe program was recently implemented to provide parents with the most accurate information regarding school safety events at each campus.

“Dr. Villarreal wants to reach people where they are,” said Linda Mitchell Duran, president of the RISD Board of Trustees, in her letter of support for the nomination. “More importantly, he is always open to new and innovative ideas to communicate better. Through normal times and difficult times, Dr. Villarreal has established and promoted open, honest and transparent communication to our community stakeholders.”

Dr. Villarreal will be honored at the NSPRA 2023 National Seminar during the General Session on Tuesday, July 18, at the St. Louis Union Station Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri.

“The award selection committee was impressed with Dr. Villarreal’s commitment to ensuring that strategic communication is a top priority for his district,” said NSPRA Executive Director Barbara M. Hunter, APR. “We’re proud to recognize his passion for championing effective communications and authentic public engagement.”

Anita Murphy Congratulations to Anita Murphy, district superintendent of Capital Region BOCES, who has been selected as the recipient of NSPRA's 2022 Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communications Award! The award recognizes one district leader annually for outstanding leadership in and support of school public relations and communications.

In her role, Murphy focuses on state-level responsibilities such as assisting the education commissioner with implementing statewide initiatives, overseeing the administration of state grants and working with the regional information center on data warehousing, testing and regional planning. Capital Region BOCES provides shared educational services to 24 component school districts with a combined 80,000 students. Since her arrival there in 2017, Murphy has been instrumental in growing the BOCES communication team and function in both size and scope, and it will become an independent division of the organization beginning in July 2022.

“Through Anita’s leadership and approach to communications, a true sense of regional community has been fostered,” said Dr. L. Oliver Robinson, superintendent of the Shenendehowa Central School District in Clifton Park, N.Y. “She has changed the way we do business in New York’s Capital Region for the better.”

The Grossman Award is given in memory of Robert L. Grossman, ASPR, an NSPRA past president who believed that the support and commitment of top education leaders is vital to successful school communication. Murphy demonstrates this commitment in part through her close work with Director of Communications and Public Relations Adrienne Leon, APR, whom she strategically placed on the BOCES senior cabinet to ensure that communications efforts align with the BOCES’ strategic plan.

“The award selection committee was impressed with Superintendent Murphy’s commitment to ensuring that strategic and effective communications are a top priority for the Capital Region BOCES,” said NSPRA Executive Director Barbara M. Hunter, APR. “We’re proud to recognize Superintendent Murphy for being a proponent of open and transparent communication, and for integrating communication into the BOCES decision-making processes.”

Dr. Baron Davis Since beginning his tenure as superintendent at Richland Two in 2017, Baron Davis, Ph.D., has been on a mission to dismantle systems of inequity and inequality in public education. He has made strides to close the equity, inclusion and knowledge gap in South Carolina’s fifth largest district. Davis ensured that the work of his partnerships and communications department was incorporated in the district’s strategic plan.

Dr. Davis understands the importance of communicating well and often. His team of communication professionals helps him deliver honest, impactful messages across a variety of mediums.

To enhance two way communications and streamline operations district wide, Davis has added tools such as Let’s Talk! to organize online inquiries from parents and community members, and Happeo, an intranet system for the district’s 3,770 employees.

Students, families and the community also are invited to share their stories with the district through social media using the hashtag #PremierStartsHere. Each post shares an experience that cultivates premier students and instills a strong culture within the district.

Dr. Joelle Magyar Superintendent Magyar’s robust and dynamic communications approach elevates her district’s success. In order to sufficiently ensure that all stakeholders have access, trust and engagement in the school community, she leads the effort to communicate in practically every communications medium through her program "Multiple Mediums Maximizing Message" (M.M.M.M). The work she has done with her M.M.M.M. program solidified Magyar as a comprehensive communication leader, where her communications are not 'email only' or 'print only.

Magyar has a “Superintendent’s Column” in three local periodicals mailed to 12,000 homes monthly. Magyar emails approximately 4,000 stakeholders nearly 50 times a year with relevant messages and community updates. These emails have a 60% open rate. She has also developed individual building profiles in hard copy and electronic copy for each of the five schools in her district of 3,700 students. She regularly posts from her twitter account, @SuperBeeBBH.

Another one of Magyar’s accomplishments is incorporating video into her communications. She recently developed her own video chat, “Honey from the Hive,” a weekly update to the community.

Dr. Patrick MurphyrSince beginning his superintendency at Arlington in July 2009, Dr. Patrick Murphy has been on a mission to “build a community of communicators” in order to highlight student success, engage the community and underscore the importance of communications as a tool for learning and life. He’s a charismatic leader who is committed to his students and values the diverse perspectives of all families by considering their individual needs.

Murphy was an early adopter to Twitter, and his presence on the platform had a ripple effect in his community. He connected with students, families and staff and encouraged district leadership to create their own accounts and expand their reach. There are now more than 750 Twitter accounts associated with Arlington Public Schools, and more than 4,000 people follow his account @SuptPKM.

Since 2016, Murphy has participated in more than 50 videos, including a signature video series on Vimeo that are a regular part of the district’s annual school year milestones. The videos include messages for Back-To-School, Thanksgiving and Arts in the Schools Month. Murphy launched his In the Loop with the Supe series during the 2018-19 school year to highlight key messages to school staff on a monthly basis.

Over the past decade, he expanded the School and Communications Relations Department by adding new positions to boost leadership. He also instituted a practice that a communications plan must accompany each new program introduced or launched in the district, which allows for transparent communication among staff and the school district community.

Murphy worked with his team to develop the 2017-18 Strategic Communications Plan, the first in the district’s history, which served as a roadmap for the communication efforts supported by the superintendent’s office. This in turn led to the 2018-2020 Superintendent and Executive Leadership Team Strategic Communications Plan, which guides the district’s work around employee engagement, grassroots communications and customer service management.

Another of Murphy’s accomplishments is the establishment of the communication hub Engage with APS!, where new initiatives, the district’s strategic plan process, capital projects and policy revisions can be found for timely community input. As a result, community engagement has become the hallmark of the district and an expectation from families and staff.

Dr. Steven Webb Since taking the reins as superintendent of Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) in 2008, a hallmark of Dr. Steve Webb’s leadership style has been timely, two-way communication and public engagement that:

  • Ranks consistently as a primary operating principle;
  • Is prioritized even during times of budget cuts or reallocations;
  • Expands in accordance with increasing poverty and changing demographics; and
  • Accounts in large measure for the district’s success.

Dr. Webb holds a strong conviction that an investment in a year-round communication and relationship-building program is essential and the VPS communications office includes nine staff members serving an urban-suburban district of 24,000 students. The annual budget for communication and stakeholder engagement activities that support VPS’ strategic goals and initiatives is nearly $1.1 million. A variety of communication tools, techniques and vehicles are deployed and translated into multiple languages.

The development of the district’s strategic plan involved gathering input from thousands of internal and external stakeholders to craft and refine the plan, which focuses on six key areas of student achievement. This type of open and transparent communication leadership has also resulted in strong community support for levies and bond elections, with 70% of voters approving a $458 million bond in 2017.

Empowering communicators and building capacity is a priority for Dr. Webb. Effective public relations skills are a component of the annual performance evaluation for all administrators, including the superintendent. The communications team provides regular training on mass notification systems and websites and principals participate in Future Ready Administrator training that empowers them to use digital tools and resources to support staff and students and communicate with families. Orientation programs are provided for school board candidates and elected board members.

Dr. Webb is quick to embrace new communication tools and strategies, including mobile-friendly, responsive websites, social media and one-to-one devices for students in grades 3-12. An award-winning network of 18 Family-Community Resource Centers and two mobile centers ensures families, volunteers and community partners are connected to their schools.

His personal communication skills set the tenor across VPS as he models effective communication and demonstrates the use of the communication tools in place in the district. VPS is known as a “destination” district for families moving to Vancouver, and Dr. Webb’s advocacy and investment in school communications has been vital to building and maintaining that reputation. The communication highlights we have noted here are only a few of the long list of Dr. Webb’s accomplishments as a “communicator” superintendent. His leadership has allowed the district’s communication and public engagement program to grow as he continues to empower everyone in VPS to play a powerful role in the schools.

Dr. Steven Webb truly exemplifies the communication leadership this award seeks to recognize and we are proud to honor him as our 2018 Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communications Award recipient.

Dr. Debbi Burdick A cornerstone of Dr. Debbi Burdick’s leadership style is her commitment to providing excellent and ongoing communication to Cave Creek Unified School District’s constituents in spite of increasing budget cuts by the state. Since 2008, the district has had to cut a number of key personnel in order to meet financial constraints, including the entire public relations department.

However, sharing information and opportunities with the community is a priority for Dr. Burdick, so undeterred she continues to find funding for communication and marketing even when it seems impossible. Her “over-the-top” support for the communications function and unwavering dedication to telling CCUSD’s story keeps the community informed and celebrates the continued success of students in this A-rated school district.

Communication components are incorporated into the district’s Strategic Plan and are focused on student achievement goals. In addition, Dr. Burdick holds all administrators accountable for communicating with their school stakeholders. She follows up with them, reads or listens to all communication, and makes sure there is a common theme personalized to individual schools. To ensure their success, she provides communication training for all administrators, staff and Governing Board members. Administrative meetings begin with a lesson on customer service and staff meetings include examples of communication techniques and styles. As an NSPRA member and a member of our Arizona Chapter, Dr. Burdick is always looking to improve her own skills and learn about best practices in school communication.

Along with monthly newsletters and a vodcast on the website, Dr. Burdick has embraced social media as a tool to disseminate accurate, timely and celebratory information. She is on Twitter daily, tweeting tidbits of news and information she gleans from teachers, principals, administrators and parents every 4-6 hours. With the help of her executive assistant, she makes sure the CCUSD Facebook page is updated daily. The bottom line — if a unique communication tool exists. Dr. Burdick will embrace it and run! Instead of shying away from innovations, she quickly incorporates the newest technologies.

Engaging the public remains at the core of operations in CCUSD and for Dr. Burdick. She schedules monthly “Coffee with the Superintendent” dates for parents and community members and twice a year hosts a “Coffee Chat” at each school, making herself available to listen to concerns and comments from staff and parents. She holds a Superintendent’s Community Council meeting one evening a month as well as a monthly Superintendent’s Student Advisory meeting. As part of the district’s new Strategic Planning cycle this year, Dr. Burdick has engaged staff, parents and community members to develop the next steps for supporting students. The key to her success is her willingness to communicate and listen to all stakeholders, while also honoring all ideas.

Recognized as AASA’s 2016 Arizona Superintendent of the Year, Dr. Burdick is known as a strong communicator who speaks with ease and authority. She is well respected within Arizona’s professional education community for her leadership, strategic vision, energy and management and communication skills. Her work in public relations and communication has also paid dividends in community support at the ballot box, as evidenced by CCUSD passing its first bond initiative in 14 years.

It is evident in everything Dr. Burdick does that the foundation of her public relations philosophy is sharing the work being done for kids and to make CCUSD schools the best in the nation. She does not understand the word “no” and when asked for help or to speak to a group, she always finds time in her busy schedule. But the primary reason she always says “yes” comes from the very fabric of her being: to communicate with the people she is dedicated to serve. Her door is always open, day and night, to ensure that she continues to deliver on the charge of excellent communication in CCUSD.

Dr. Debbi Burdick truly exemplifies the characteristics of what NSPRA likes to call a superintendent who “gets it” when it comes to communication and we are delighted to recognize her as our 2017 Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communications Award recipient.

Dr. David Schuler Several years into his job as superintendent of Township High School District 214, Illinois’ second-largest high school system, Dr. David Schuler realized that he needed to make communication a priority. However, his vision went far beyond the district’s long-time one-person PR shop model. Instead, he executed an innovative plan to completely redesign the communications department.

The new department he championed would include a creative team to: oversee media relations and public affairs; build fundraising through an expanded Education Foundation; launch and operate an alumni relations program; lead strategic communication initiatives to promote relevant K12 education; streamline and align engagement strategies with the existing community education program; and enhance the district’s social media presence. This new Community Engagement and Outreach Department was then tasked with engaging the local community in District 214’s mission, telling the district’s story broadly and positively influencing the national dialogue on public education.

After creating the new department, Dr. Schuler worked with the Board of Education to amend the district’s goals, adding community engagement and outreach as a specific tool for promoting and expanding learning opportunities for students. He also elevated the department director to a cabinet-level position.

As a communication leader, Dr. Schuler clearly saw the outcomes that could be generated by taking a more forward-thinking approach to communications that at its heart had a goal of supporting and advocating for student achievement.

These have included:

  • Writing, championing and passing legislation requiring every public Illinois college and university to accept Advanced Placement scores of 3 or higher, eliminating disparity and ensuring better access to early college credits for thousands of high school students.
  • Launching the “Redefining Ready!” initiative in partnership with AASA in 2016 using District 214-created materials and a strategic communication plan focused on redefining college and career readiness nationwide.
  • Launching an Education Foundation to support student success and innovation that fundraised in excess of $100,000 in its initial year through awareness-building events.
  • Initiating an alumni survey to guide the future of alumni engagement, resulting in a 32-member Alumni Advisory Council which is creating initiatives that engage alumni and also enhance student learning.
  • Executing a listening tour with parent, teacher and student audiences at all schools, soliciting feedback regarding preferred type and timing of communications at the district and school levels and using the input to direct a strategic communication plan.
  • Hosting more than a dozen public listening sessions on significant district decisions, including the spending of reserve funds and the redesign of the school calendar.
  • Holding an award-winning year-long Centennial celebration.
  • Developing a new district brand, logo and tagline — Discover Your Future — that speaks to District 214’s relevant, innovative education.
  • Launching the “Everyday Hero” campaign to celebrate staff members who go the extra mile.
  • Planning and executing “Engage,” a parent-focused learning summit to provide an enriched understanding of 21st century classroom technology.

Dr. Schuler truly exemplifies a 21st century communicator. He has personally embraced innovative communications, championing a #LeadExcellence hashtag campaign as president of AASA and co-leading a Twitter-based #SuptChat conversation. His understanding of the importance of effective communication and its role in schools today is unparalleled. He treats his communication team as a true partner in education, and has the confidence to offer guidance and then let the work happen — ultimately leading to better outcomes. He recognizes, more than ever, the importance of developing ambassadors and building a brand that tells the story of public education.

Whether it is meeting with students, staff and families, engaging District 214 alumni and community leaders, getting the district’s message out over social media, or using his national platform to build support for public education, Dr. Schuler’s advocacy and passion for students and schools is clear to everyone. He truly embodies the qualities at the heart of this award, and we are very proud to recognize him as our 2016 Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communications Award recipient.

Dr. Terry Greir Dr. Terry Grier is no stranger to the national spotlight. Under his leadership as superintendent of the Houston (Texas) Independent School District, the nation’s seventh largest, the school system has received numerous awards and accolades, including the Broad Prize for Urban Education. In 2014 Dr. Grier was Texas Superintendent of the Year and the Council of the Great City Schools Urban Educator of the Year, and in 2015 has been named a Children’s Defense Fund “Champion of Children” for his leadership in connecting children to healthcare coverage. But it is as a communicator that we think Terry truly shines. It’s not uncommon to hear a leader described as someone who “talks the talk” and “walks the walk,” but in Terry Grier’s case this is at the core of who he is, as an educator and a superintendent. He is at the forefront of HISD’s communication efforts and is committed to face-to-face, two-way communication that engages and motivates people to take action on behalf of students. The personnel and resources Terry has dedicated to ensuring a targeted communication effort that delivers successful outcomes is unmatched.

Under Terry’s direction and insistence, all information and feedback on matters of districtwide importance are available on multiple communication platforms that include multimedia websites, toolkits for principals, social media, and tele-town halls to name a few. As a result, HISD has been a statewide leader in Texas in providing communication leadership on state legislation defining graduation standards and pathways.

Under his leadership, HISD has reached new levels of local community engagement through strategic partnerships with businesses, organizations and community leaders along with expanded efforts to engage families and community members in boosting student achievement.

Terry embraces new technologies and maintains his own Twitter account at @tgrierhisd as well as a weekly blog, “Talk Supe,” on the district’s website. He has implemented an online customer satisfaction survey, “Your Voice,” that lets parents, staff and students offer their opinions on how HISD is progressing toward district goals and helps the district understand the needs of its school communities. Last year HISD received an NSPRA Gold Medallion Award for their “PowerUp” digital transformation plan which includes a 1:1 laptop initiative in the high schools and a “Hub” for shared content and communication.

Terry is widely considered a “thought leader” in Houston whose impact on the lives of over 215,000 students and their families is evident. He has been on the forefront in leading a campaign to eradicate illiteracy in the city and is not afraid to confront controversial issues head-on, including eliminating culturally insensitive mascots and embracing refugee children from around the world.

These accomplishments only just begin to scratch the surface of what Terry Grier has set in motion in HISD during his tenure as superintendent. In every district he has served, he has made communication a key component, and that has included active involvement in NSPRA and several of our chapters. During his time as superintendent in Williamson County Schools, Tenn., he was instrumental in reviving the state chapter and served two-terms as chapter president. He was NSPRA's Vice President at-Large for superintendents from 2002-2004.

From the multiple communication channels that have been established in Houston ISD to the commitment to authentic engagement, transparency and accountability at all levels, there is no question that as superintendent, Terry leads by example. His support of strategic communication as a management function is unparalleled, but it is his passion for students and relentless focus on meeting all their needs to ensure success in school and in life that make us truly proud to recognize Dr. Terry Grier as our 2015 Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communications Award recipient.

Dr. April DomineDr. April Domine’s resume includes a stated Vision — “to energize a district by reinventing education through collaboration, innovation and a relentless focus on the highest level of achievement for every student, in every area.” As superintendent of New Albany-Plain Local Schools in Ohio, she firmly believes that communication is essential to shared success, not only from an internal perspective but as a comprehensive learning community that includes students, staff and the community at large.

Dr. Domine’s commitment to providing timely, relevant and vital communications to all stakeholders is not only at the heart of the communication program, but is core to the decisions made in the district as well. She is responsible for featuring communication as one of five district goals that resulted from the strategic planning efforts with the Board and a host of community volunteers.

She has carefully charted a course of success for the district’s communication program, establishing a three person team to ensure the school system’s vision and goals are fully carried out. The director of communications is a member of the leadership team and cabinet, and Dr. Domine fully supports and encourages his active involvement in NSPRA and OHSPRA.

Dr. Domine believes in assessing the needs of all audiences in daily communications about the work and efforts of the district, and a three tier process has been established under her leadership. Staff are Tier One and are kept updated via a variety of tools to prepare for interactions with parents, students and community members. The Second Tier is parent and community engagement through presenting factual, timely and concise information to build understanding and awareness about what is at the heart of decision-making in the district. The Third Tier is business, community and media partners in an outreach effort to fully engage them in the work of the district. A host of tools and resources are used in this ongoing communication effort, including a revamped website, social media, video, and local media, and Dr. Domine believes in using as many tools as possible to convey key messages along with thorough measurement and analysis of efforts.

She is a leader who works collaboratively to engage the community and the district has numerous advisory committees in place, including a Student-Superintendent Advisory Committee to better understand the needs of students. Like many districts, New Albany-Plain Local Schools faces a number of communication challenges, from new construction and related changes, to the addition of four new model options to the traditional education program, and an upcoming finance election. New communication tools are being launched to support these efforts including online lunch chats, coffee chats in homes, superintendent open office hours for community and staff, and telephone town hall meetings.

Dr. Domine sets the bar high in terms of expectations for district leadership. Frequent and concise communications are expected of principals, teachers and staff at the building level. Rubrics are tied into new teacher and principal evaluation systems on communication practices. Ongoing training is an additional focus, not only for leadership, but for all staff, with a commitment to professional development on communication, customer service, diversity and inclusion throughout the year.

Dr. April Domine is passionate about her work and is the dynamic life force of her learning community. She has made an indelible impact on the students, staff and community in New Albany as she works tirelessly to communicate and advance the mission of “ensuring the development of high-achieving, ethical, self-directed and intellectually curious citizens of the world.” She embodies the spirit of this award and we are proud to recognize Dr. April Domine as our 2014 Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communications Award recipient.

Dr. BJ Worthington When Dr. B.J. Worthington took over the reins of the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS) in July 2012, he had been preparing for the role of Director of Schools (superintendent) for most of his career. He rose through the ranks of CMCSS as a teacher, principal and administrator, earning respect for his leadership as he did and distinguishing himself as a dedicated and caring educator who understands the importance of building strong relationships.

From the beginning of his superintendency, Dr. Worthington made communication a key component of his leadership style. His entry plan relied heavily on face-to-face communication with both internal and external stakeholders. He started the 2012 school year by meeting with all 4,100 employees, visiting the school system’s 39 schools as well as support departments, which sent a powerful message and was enthusiastically received by staff. He set an expectation for himself and his senior staff to engage in as many communication opportunities as possible with all groups of staff, students and the community.

Dr. Worthington’s commitment to communication has increased during the 2012-13 school year with an expansion of the stakeholder groups that meet with administrators on a regular basis. He redefined what is considered “diversity” to create multiple groups from a minority representative stakeholder group, to ensure that those who may have been marginalized or largely ignored in the past now have a voice. In addition to a multi-cultural/multi-ethnic group, CMCSS now has stakeholder groups of parents of special needs students, military dependents, and English Language learners. He continues to devote the time and resources needed to meet with and listen to these stakeholders and take their concerns back to staff so that needs are addressed.

Over the years, CMCSS has faced some difficult budget issues that impacted the school system’s relationship with the County Commission (which approves the annual budget) and elected officials in the City of Clarksville. Dr. Worthington has reached out to elected officials and community leaders to deepen communication with them and restore relationships, resulting in a level of trust that has never been higher. He understands that building “trust equity” is necessary and character is critical to success, as evidenced by the community fully supporting CMCSS’ impressive “100% Graduation” campaign.

After NSPRA conducted a Communication Audit for the district in September 2012, Dr. Worthington embraced the feedback and recommendations and charged the Communications Department with leading the charge to collect “bragging points” to share, create meaningful opportunities for him and the leadership team to share CMCSS’ message, and design a communications plan so that information can be widely shared. He uses feedback from the community and research data in identifying more educational opportunities for the district’s 31,000 students.

Dr. Worthington also has been an outspoken advocate for public schools in Tennessee, and has not shied away from meeting with and calling elected officials and the state commissioner of education to challenge them on legislation detrimental to public education.

With a leadership style that embraces everyone and a welcoming and engaging persona that builds trust and confidence, Dr. B. J. Worthington embodies the core values and commitment to public schools and effective communication that this award honors. We are proud to recognize him with the 2013 Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communication Award.

Dr. CJ Huff When Dr. C.J. Huff became superintendent of Joplin (Mo.) Schools in 2008, one of his first acts was to develop and implement a comprehensive, strategic communications program, something the district had never before had. He immediately hired a director of community development to oversee the new program and together they began building what would become a critical communication infrastructure for both the school district and the greater community.

When a superintendent understands the value of public relations and communications and then supports it through the budget process and staffing decisions, NSPRA members like to say, “He gets it.” Dr. Huff does indeed “get it.” He walks the walk of a superintendent who uses public relations as a strategic management tool. He uses his communications team as counselors, values them with both compensation and a seat at the table when decisions are made, and champions continuous improvement through training and a district-wide emphasis on effective, two-way communication. He also understands that building relationships is key to ensuring that students have every opportunity they need to succeed.

When he arrived in Joplin, Dr. Huff’s vision and leadership opened school doors to the community as never before, raising awareness among business leaders of the basic needs that needed to be addressed, from students who were sleeping on floors to those coming to school in flip flops in the winter because that is all they had to wear. His efforts led to the creation of the Bright Futures program in Joplin which brings together business, social/human services, and faith-based organizations to create support structures that allow students to learn and thrive and which has also created a culture in the community where education is valued.

The core values and communication structures that Dr. Huff put in place would prove to be essential to the recovery efforts of the Joplin community in the aftermath of the tornado that destroyed the city and schools on May 22, 2011. The groundwork that had been laid to build strong connections between the schools and the community would save lives, provide comfort and help to facilitate the massive recovery effort. When Dr. Huff stood before the community two days after the tornado and announced that schools would open on time 87 days later, his conviction jump-started a community badly in need of direction and captured the attention of the nation. We all celebrated last August when school started on time, as planned.

In his letter of support for Dr. Huff’s nomination for this award, NSPRA member David Luther in Jefferson City (Mo.) Public Schools noted that, “Taking a stand for what is best for students — that’s what educational leaders do. Taking a stand for what is best for students, staff, families and an entire community when the situation is seemingly impossible — that’s what we see in rare instances of leadership.”

There is no doubt that Dr. C.J. Huff epitomizes the best traits of communication leadership, but more importantly, he is a humble leader who works passionately on behalf of the students and community he serves and is a true champion of public education.

Dr. Maurice Green When Superintendent Maurice “Mo” Green joined Guilford County Schools in 2008, he set in motion a thoughtful, deliberate plan to rebuild public confidence and trust in the schools and to create a culture of inclusivity and transparency. This has been accomplished through open communication, leading with integrity, and building relationships with employees and community members.

To re-engage employees and the community, Green first set out on an ambitious listening and learning tour that included dozens of face-to-face meetings with staff and community members and five town hall forums. In addition, he launched the “Mo Wants to Know” campaign which gathered over 3,500 comments, thoughts and opinions on the district’s first-ever strategic planning process.

Green supported the communications office as it shifted public relations strategy accordingly, moving away from mass communication to public engagement and grassroots outreach backed by more personalized and targeted communications. Among numerous public engagement/communication initiatives, he established superintendent advisory councils for students, teachers and principals, launched internal and external key communicator groups, created a project management process that requires internal and external stakeholder involvement, increased partnerships with faith, business and community organizations and implemented the Guilford Parent Academy, and established regular media briefings and editorial visits resulting in improved coverage of the district.

Green works closely with the communications office staff and is in constant communication with stakeholders through e-mails, blogs, podcasts and a weekly e-newsletter. His goal is to “get there first,” whether the news is good, bad or somewhere in between. Due to Green’s and the Board’s commitment to communications, the communications office budget and staff have been preserved despite massive state budget cuts. Through Green’s leadership and support, Guilford County Schools’ communications effort has engaged employees and the public in decision-making processes that have become a way of doing business rather than an ad-hoc strategy.

Dr. Steven Walts Steve Walts is truly a school PR professional's superintendent - one who not only understands and values the importance of good communication, but supports it with adequate funding in the budget. He doesn't just "talk the talk" but "walks the walk" as well. He set the stage by starting his tenure in Prince William County Public Schools with an "82 Schools in 82 Days" tour to visit and learn about all the schools in the system. Staff and community members could track him on the tour through daily web postings and regular TV news updates.

Within a year of taking the helm, Dr. Walts reorganized the Office of Communications Services, merging communications and technology and creating a new, cabinet-level position of Associate Superintendent for Communications and Technology to oversee a comprehensive and cutting-edge communication program. But Dr. Walts also realizes that new communication technologies don't replace the important role of face-to-face communication in building relationships, so he remains highly visible in the schools and active in the community, hosting several outreach functions, such as the annual Superintendent's Business Breakfast. He recognizes the importance of communicating with the large non-English-speaking population in Prince William County, embracing the diversity of the community and directing the district to provide consistent bilingual communication.

Dr. Walts notably led a major re-branding effort for the district and has not been afraid to break new ground in aggressively marketing the schools and garnering corporate sponsorships. He is a leader committed to proactive communication that is integrated into all programs and initiatives as a key component of providing a "World Class Education" for all the students he serves.


  • 2009: Timothy R. Jenney, Ph.D., superintendent, Fort Bend ISD, Sugar Land, Texas 
  • 2008: Vincent F. Cotter, Ed.D., superintendent, Colonial School District, Plymouth Meeting, Pa.
  • 2007: John A. Kriekard, Ed.D., (retired) former superintendent, Paradise Valley Unified School District, Phoenix, Ariz.
  • 2006: Ralph M. Nuzzolo, (retired) former superintendent, Pennsbury School District, Fallsington, Pa.
  • 2005: Rodney R. Lafon, Ed.D., superintendent, St. Charles Parish Public Schools, Luling, La.
  • 2004: Winston C. Brooks, former superintendent, Wichita Public Schools, Wichita, Kan., currently superintendent of Albuquerque (N.M.) Public Schools
  • 2003: Curtis Culwell, superintendent, Garland Independent School District, Garland, Texas
  • 2002: Harold Brathwaite, (retired) former director of education, Peel District School Board, Mississauga, Ontario, Can.
  • 2001: Lois Gray, former superintendent, Hardin County Schools, Elizabethtown, Ky.
  • 2000: Dr. Marvin E. Edwards, former superintendent, School District U-46, Elgin, Ill.
  • 1999: Dr. Yvonne Katz, former superintendent, Beaverton (Ore.) Public Schools
  • 1998: Dr. Gerald Freitag, (retired) former superintendent, Franklin (Wis.) Public Schools
  • 1997: Dr. Karen Forys, superintendent, Northshore School District, Bothell, Wash.