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Presidents Award Recipients

The Presidents Award is the association's highest award for an individual. It honors NSPRA leaders for outstanding contributions to the field of educational public relations and to the association. Recipients of the NSPRA Presidents Award are listed below.

Click below to view profiles of the Presidents Award recipients from 2010-present.

NSPRA is pleased to announce Rick Kaufman, APR, executive director of community relations and emergency management at Bloomington (Minn.) Public Schools, as the recipient of the 2023 NSPRA Presidents Award.

“Rick is a true trailblazer in school public relations,” said NSPRA President Catherine Kedjidjian, APR. “It is an honor to recognize his dedication to our profession and to the association. His work, leadership and unwavering commitment to excellence truly embodies the spirit of the Presidents Award.”

Kaufman is a nationally respected consultant and trainer on emergency management and crisis communications. In 1996, Kaufman developed the first full-scale active shooter drill in a school setting while employed at Sheboygan (Wisc.) Area School District. Three years later, tragedy unfolded at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., during the deadliest mass school shooting to date, where Kaufman was serving as the executive director of public engagement and communications for Jefferson County Public Schools. Among the first to arrive on scene, Kaufman provided emergency triage and rescue operations before assuming co-leadership of the Columbine Crisis Response Team; Many of the decisions, messages and processes developed and executed by Kaufman and his team have become part of the foundation of how schools respond to crisis events.

Over the course of his 30 years in school communications, Kaufman has been recognized with a myriad of awards and distinctions, including the NSPRA’s Learning and Liberty Legacy Leaders Recognition and the Public Relations Society of America’s inaugural Public Relations Professional of the Year honor in 2000. He is a five-time recipient of NSPRA’s Gold Medallion award, the association’s top award program recognizing superior educational public relations programs and campaigns grounded in strategic communication best practices, and the author of The Complete Crisis Communication Management Manual for Schools. Kaufman previously served as president of both NSPRA and the Wisconsin School Public Relations Association, a chapter of NSPRA.

“Rick’s decades-long commitment to elevating the field of school communication and emergency management has been invaluable to NSPRA, our members and countless communities across the country,” said NSPRA Executive Director Barbara M. Hunter, APR. “The expertise he’s shared over the years with colleagues nationwide through workshop presentations, publications and articles will have an ever-lasting and immeasurable impact.”

NSPRA is pleased to announce Julie Thannum, APR, senior strategist at CESO Communications, as the recipient of the 2022 NSPRA Presidents Award.

The Presidents Award is the highest honor bestowed on an individual by NSPRA. Each year, the award recognizes a living association member for outstanding professionalism and integrity throughout a career as an educational public relations practitioner and for contributing to the advancement of educational PR. In addition, the award also recognizes the recipient’s active involvement and leadership at a national level as well as substantive professional contributions to NSPRA.

“Julie is a champion of school public relations,” said NSPRA President Nicole Kirby, APR. “It is an honor to recognize her contributions to our profession and to our association. In her commitment to transparency, equity and integrity, she is a model for the rest of us.”

Over the course of her more than 30 years in school communications, Thannum has been recognized with a myriad of awards and distinctions, including the Texas School Public Relations Association’s Most Valuable Member Award in 2018 and NSPRA’s Learning and Liberty Legacy Award in 2018. She’s also served as president of both NSPRA and TSPRA.

“Julie’s unwavering dedication to moving school public relations forward throughout the years has been invaluable to this association and our members,” said NSPRA Executive Director Barbara M. Hunter, APR. “Thousands of NSPRA members have benefited from workshops she’s led, articles she’s written and counsel she’s always generously provided without reserve.”

Thannum will be honored at the NSPRA 2022 National Seminar during the General Session on Monday, July 18, in Chicago.

The National School Public Relations Association is honoring Bob Noyed, APR, with its highest member honor: the Presidents Award. The award recognizes an NSPRA member for outstanding professionalism and integrity throughout a career as an educational PR practitioner. Honorees are chosen for contributing to the advancement of educational PR, for active involvement and leadership at the national level, and for their substantive professional contributions to NSPRA.

Noyed has more than 35 years of experience in creating and executing strategies to help advance public school vision and goals through communications and strategic planning, public relations, marketing and community engagement. He currently serves as a vice president for CESO Communications, LLC, a consulting firm that provides strategic communications counsel and support for public schools and districts. Over the course of his career, he also led strategic communications departments in five Minnesota public school districts and the Minnesota Department of Education.

Noyed is an active member of his state chapter, Minnesota SPRA (MinnSPRA), and of NSPRA. He also has served on the NSPRA Executive Board as the North Central Region vice president and as president in 2006-07.

“[Bob] is the personification of everything NSPRA stands for as an organization. His contributions to our association, strategic mind, deep body of knowledge, thirst to learn new things and enthusiastic ability to nurture and teach other school PR professionals, makes him the real deal: a true NSPRA superstar,” said Susan Hardy Brooks, APR, the director of communications and marketing for the Great Plains Technology Center in Oklahoma, when nominating him for the award.

Noyed was the co-founder of the New Professionals program, which ran from 2001 to 2019 as a workshop prior to the annual National Seminar. Over the years, workshop students have gone on to help shape the culture and aspirations of NSPRA as a whole. Noyed has maintained relationships with many of his New Professional mentees, and he continues to support and encourage them in any way he can.

Kristine Liptrot, APR, the director of communications and community engagement for Yorkville Community Unit School District 115 in Illinois, met Noyed at her first NSPRA Seminar during the New Professionals pre-Seminar workshop.

“Bob's experienced and easy-going nature allowed him to easily form connections with his audience of wide-eyed, way-over-our-heads newbies. He has made it a point to say hello, check-in to see how things are going, and introduce me to others in the profession at every Seminar,” she said.

NSPRA leaders are proud to recognize Bob Noyed, APR, as the 2021 Presidents Award winner.

The National School Public Relations Association is honoring Sandra Cokeley, APR, with its highest member honor: the Presidents Award. The award recognizes an NSPRA member for outstanding professionalism and integrity throughout a career as an educational PR practitioner. Honorees are chosen for contributing to the advancement of educational PR, for active involvement and leadership at the national level, and for their substantive professional contributions to NSPRA.

Cokeley has served as a highly skilled and experienced PR professional in the public and private sectors for more than 30 years.

In 2015, she launched SCoPE School surveys to help school districts uncover what is and is not working in their school communication programs through standardized surveys for staff, parents and community members. Those surveys are aligned with NSPRA’s Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures, which she helped develop in its first edition.

She is also the president and owner of Cokeley Communications, which provides consulting services for school districts, higher education institutions, non-profit organizations, private corporations and professional organizations.

Prior to her consultancy work, she served as the director of community relations and quality for the Pearl River School District in New York.

"Sandy has always been the epitome of professionalism throughout her career, serving as a role model for colleagues and members," said Karen Kleinz, APR, the 2018 Presidents Award winner and past NSPRA associate director.

In addition to her professional career, Cokeley has helped numerous NSPRA members, chapters and the association over the years.

She presents regularly at chapter and national meetings, serves on accreditation panels and counsels fellow members through communication challenges. She maintains an active membership and advisory role in her local New Jersey chapter, and previously, she held various offices including that of president while a longtime member of the New York School Public Relations Association. She served as NSPRA president in 2008-09, and she has also authored numerous articles and worked as a consultant communication auditor for the national association.

"As an APR, Sandy has championed the use of research and evaluation through data analysis and strategic planning. She has done this through her own work, both in schools and in her role with SCoPE Surveys, but also by leading professional development sessions for her school PR colleagues. Through her work, Sandy has helped to define our role as practitioners and demonstrated the value of our profession," said NYSPRA President Adrienne Leon, APR.

Cokeley’s educational PR work has earned many chapter and national awards.

She also helped the Pearl River School District earn a Malcom Baldridge National Quality Award in 2001 and later authored the book Malcom and Me: How to Use the Baldridge Process to Improve Your School. Her experience led her to become a Baldridge senior examiner/alumni examiner assessing quality award applicants for 11 years. She served as a keynote speaker and presenter on the Malcom Baldridge National Quality Program across the United States and globally from 2002-2012.

NSPRA member and past president Frank Kwan, APR, experienced Cokeley’s leadership first-hand during his service on the NSPRA Executive Board. “Sandy brought high quality expectations from her experience with the Baldridge Award and helped colleagues set higher goals for themselves and their districts. She advocated a strong focus on data driven decision making and the research that supports communication strategies,” said Kwan.

NSPRA leaders are proud to recognize Sandra Cokeley, APR, as the 2020 Presidents Award winner.

As a school public relations practitioner for over 35 years, Karen Kleinz, APR, has demonstrated her professionalism and commitment at three levels — as a local school district communicator and state chapter leader, in regional leadership as an NSPRA Vice President, and in national leadership as NSPRA Associate Director for over 20 years.

Karen exemplifies what every school professional should be — focused on two-way, consistent, objective and planned strategic communication, committed to professional development and improvement, and dedicated to helping others build their professional competence and confidence.

In the course of her career at NSPRA, Karen has led our public engagement efforts, representing NSPRA in collaborative partnerships with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and the Kettering Foundation. Early on she helped expand NSPRA’s crisis communication resources, from Bonus Items for members to coordinating regional Crisis Communication Academies, to helping provide on-site assistance to the Jefferson County (Colo.) Public Schools communication department in the aftermath of the Columbine High School tragedy. As manager of NSPRA’s communication audit service she has helped build it into one of our most valuable offerings, positioning NSPRA as the premier provider of audits for school systems across North America.

Members probably know Karen best as a liaison to Chapters and for Accreditation, as a key member of NSPRA’s Seminar planning team, and as an on-call strategic counselor. She never fails to drop everything and answer a call from a member in need of help, taking time to counsel them through whatever issue they are dealing with and then providing a wealth of resources to address the issue. The relationships she has developed and maintained with members over the years have also made Karen a fantastic connector. If a member has a problem, she usually knows several people across the US and Canada in the NSPRA network who have also dealt with their issue, and connects them so they can share experiences and resources.

NSPRA has benefitted time and again because she takes the time to get to know members as PR professionals and as friends. She is quick to spot trends and find NSPRA members who are ahead of the curve on issues so they can share their strategies and tactics. Whether it’s finding mentors for members, identifying timely Seminar workshops and sessions, searching our resources for tools to address breaking issues, or encouraging colleagues to pursue their APR, Karen is always seeking ways to make school communications better and NSPRA stronger. No matter the task at hand or the resource challenges, she is always the one “to make it happen.”

The breadth and depth of her understanding of both NSPRA and our members has been an invaluable asset to our association over the years. Her innate ability to balance the often conflicting needs of the two has helped our leaders make the right decisions as well as consistently position NSPRA favorably in the eyes of our members. NSPRA Past President Jim Cummings, APR, may have captured it best in reminiscing on his 30 year friendship with Karen: “From the start, Karen pushed and taught me how to be a better communicator, to think differently, and to never be afraid to stand my ground if I believed what I was doing was good for students, teachers and my school district. She did that by urging me to reach out and work with fellow ASPRA members and to join NSPRA. She taught me the great value of networking, and of exchanging ideas. She encouraged me to share the things I was doing through presentations at the local and national level. Karen showed me that, when shared, small ideas can become big ones and big ideas help kids and teachers and schools.”

We are very proud to recognize Karen Kleinz, APR, as our 2018 Presidents Award recipient for her dedication to raising the profile and effectiveness of the school public relations profession by helping our members and NSPRA excel in our quest to make a difference for public education.

Over the course of her career, Nora Carr has distinguished herself not only as one of the nation's top school PR practitioners, but also as one of the leading experts in urban school system public relations. As chief of staff for Guilford County Schools (GCS), she serves on the executive team that oversees district operations and also leads the district relations division, which manages internal and external communications, business partnerships, fund development and grants, marketing, branding, policy development, the GCS cable channel and web site, and governmental relations and public affairs.

Nora writes regular columns for eSchool News and the American School Board Journal and makes frequent contributions to NSPRA's publications and web site. She is in demand as a speaker and workshop presenter, consults with districts seeking her advice and offers strategic support to colleagues around the country. As an "early adopter" of communication technology, Nora has become a "go to" resource for using e-communication strategies in schools. She is also one of the top school crises managers in the nation.

After taking a break from education to become senior vice president and director of public relations for Luquire, George, Andrews agency in Charlotte, N.C., she returned to school PR where her continuing contribution to the public relations profession in general, and school public relations specifically, is significant and far-reaching. As one colleague put it, "If we were looking to clone someone as the model school public relations professional, Nora Carr would be the mold from which to start."

  • 2008: Ron Wilkerson, APR
  • 2007: Jeanne Magmer, APR
  • 2006: Burnadine Moss Anderson, APR
  • 2005: Jacqueline Price
  • 2004: Stephen Knagg
  • 2003: Gay Campbell, APR
  • 2002: Rich Bagin, APR
  • 2001: Joe Rowson, APR
  • 2000: Kathy Leslie, APR
  • 1999: Gary Marx, APR, CAE
  • 1998: John H. Wherry, ASPR
  • 1997: Kenneth L. Weir
  • 1996: William E. Jones
  • 1995: Virginia M. Ross
  • 1994: Lew Armistead, ASPR, APR
  • 1993: Pat Jackson, APR
  • 1992: Roy K. Wilson
  • 1991: William J. Banach, ASPR
  • 1990: Bonnie Ellison, ASPR
  • 1989: David E. Smoker, ASPR, APR
  • 1988: Philip A. Toman
  • 1987: Don Ferguson, APR
  • 1986: Don Bagin
  • 1985: Kenneth K. Muir, ASPR
  • 1984: Ann Barkelew, ASPR, APR
  • 1983: Jerome J. Kovalcik
  • 1982: Tom I. Davis
  • 1981: Larry Ascough
  • 1980: Joseph L. Davis
  • 1979: Robert Olds