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The Superintendents to Watch award recognizes up to 25 school district leaders each year who have fewer than five years of experience as a superintendent and who demonstrate dynamic, fast-paced leadership with strong communication at its core.
What does leadership mean to you?
To me, leadership is the ability to inspire others to greatness by modeling character, commitment and excellence so that we can work together to reach collective goals and provide greater learning opportunities for our number one priority, our students. As leaders, we have a moral imperative and obligation to work tenaciously towards these goals so that our students have the best learning experience possible by building upon their strengths to maximize their potential as they become productive citizens in the global society we are preparing them for each day.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan?
In our district, the Local Control Accountability Plan serves as our district's strategic plan and we have been able to communicate the plan via all of our digital media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, district website and ParentSquare notifications) so that parents can participate in the development and feedback of the goals, action steps, budget and programs. We also utilize and communicate feedback of the plan through student, staff, and parent surveys via Qualtrix to increase participation and engagement. One key communication strategy we are now doing is taking presentations from our Board meetings and sharing them out so that parents have access to what's happening district-wide. Many of these presentations highlight the three goal areas within our plan such as the Conditions of Learning, Student Outcomes and Parent/Family Engagement. Through this process, parents consistently see how we are implementing the action steps within the plan.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district?
The initiative that I'm most proud of is one around the use of videos and postings on our social media platforms. We find that our students and parents are engaged and connected with the district when they see the great things happening across all of our schools. Being consistent is key to communication. Early in the pandemic, I was visiting schools and making small videos to share with the community of my visits. I also held live town halls through virtual platforms to engage our community and keep them informed. Now that we are in-person, we've been able to develop strategic professionally produced videos in coordination with our public relations firm that showcase many of our award winning programs. These are often embedded in the superintendent's communication digital newsletters that staff and parents receive each month.
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.