Please Wait a Moment

2023-24 NSPRA Front-Runner: Andrew Robinson

NSPRA Front-Runners are members identified by the NSPRA Executive Board as emerging leaders who are doing outstanding work for their schools, their chapters and for NSPRA. The annual distinction recognizes four members, each from a different NSPRA region.

Andrew RobinsonAndrew Robinson 
Assistant Director of Communications 
Arlington Public Schools
Arlington, Va.
NSPRA Mideast Region

I believe school PR/communications is a vital piece of the educational ecosystem. It serves as the bridge between schools, students, families and the community at large. It's about more than just disseminating information; it's about building relationships, fostering trust and creating a supportive, inclusive environment where every student's potential can be realized. Effective school communications involve actively listening to and engaging with various stakeholders, ensuring transparency and sharing the stories that embody the mission and vision of the educational institution. By doing so, it not only informs but also inspires, and plays a crucial role in shaping the public perception and overall success of the school division.

My greatest school PR success was joining both NSPRA and chapters, the Chesapeake School Public Relations Association (CHESPRA) now and the Pennsylvania School Public Relations Association (PenSPRA) before that! I don’t think it’ll be a surprise to any member of NSPRA or our local SPRA’s that these organizations provide us with rich and rewarding experiences. The number of professional connections and close friends with people I’ve made in the profession is a direct result of my membership within these organizations. When I first joined school PR about eight years ago, I intended to stay for only a few years. I looked at it as a transition out of the broadcast news industry to something completely new. After joining NSPRA and PenSPRA at the time, I realized not only how supportive everyone was but also how much the field of school public relations aligned with my passion for public education. The opportunities to learn, grow and collaborate with colleagues across the country have been invaluable. Attending conferences, participating in workshops and engaging in meaningful discussions have all contributed to my professional growth.

My greatest school PR challenge was finding the optimal balance between immediate, reactive communication and strategic, proactive planning. In our fast-paced environment, there's a constant stream of information that requires immediate attention and dissemination to our stakeholders. However, equally important is the strategic planning side of our work, which is often overlooked. It involves thorough research and careful planning to ensure our messaging aligns with the division’s mission and vision. Convincing our leadership team of the importance of this balance is crucial. We demonstrate how strategic communication, grounded in research and aligned with our long-term goals, isn't just beneficial but essential, even though sometimes they have already decided what they want. It ensures that we're not only addressing immediate needs but also shaping the future narrative of our division. This proactive approach helps us create a more informed, engaged and supportive community.

My favorite part of my job is our APS All Stars Program. I created this Golden Achievement Award-winning program when I first came to APS. Since its inception, I’ve had the pleasure of awarding over 100 staff members with this title. For me, the superintendent and several people on both our communications team and division cabinet, surprising people has become a highlight for us each month. We look forward to seeing the reactions of teachers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, counselors and everyone who can reaffirm that the work they do matters and bask in the recognition they receive from our superintendent. Beyond our All Stars program, at APS, my role offers a unique vantage point to witness and contribute to the creation of our future, making every communication an integral part of the school division’s vision and success. That is what keeps me going every day.

The communication tool I use the most is ChatGPT. While there are many incorrect ways to utilize this tool, it becomes beneficial if you harness its powers correctly. I’ve used it to help speed up social media posts and stay within the character limitations of certain platforms. I’ve also used it to assist my brain in brainstorming new and innovative initiatives or monitoring engagement with our audiences. ChatGPT is also a stellar tool to assist with sentiment analysis and community feedback. I’ve used it to analyze sentiment in communications received by our division such as survey responses. This allows for a better understanding of our community's perceptions and needs. By analyzing the tone and content of these communications, it helps to identify trends, concerns or areas of interest among students, parents and the broader community.

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.