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NSPRA recognizes as "Superintendents to Watch" those school district leaders who have fewer than five years of experience as a superintendent and who are using communication technology in innovative, effective ways. These superintendents demonstrate dynamic, fast-paced leadership with strong communication at its core. They engage and inform their school communities using new communication tools combined with tried-and-true techniques.
Following are Superintendents to Watch honorees from over the years.
2022 Superintendents to Watch
Travis Bracht, Ed.D.
Kristin Brown, Ed.D.
Independent School District
Sharon Byrdsong, Ed.D.
Shaun Carey, Ed.D.
Enumclaw School District
Joey Castilleja, Ed.D.
Mabton School District
John Gordon, III, Ed.D.
Suffolk Public Schools
Portland Public Schools
Peter Hannigan, Ed.D.
Hawthorn School District 73
Vernon Hills, Ill.
Eduardo Hernández, Ed.D.
San Antonio, Texas
Lupita Hinojosa, Ed.D.
Sean Maika, Ed.D.
North East Independent
San Antonio, Texas
Alex Marrero, Ed.D.
Adam Swinyard, Ed.D.
Spokane Public Schools
Ameca Thomas, Ph.D.
Laurens School District 55
Benjamin Wiggins, Ed.S.
Colquitt County School District
Expand each section to read more about each recipient.
What does leadership mean to you? When I think about leadership, I am always reminded of a quote from John Quincy Adams, "If your actions inspire others to dream more learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." True leaders have a unique ability to rally others around a focused vision and communicate in a way that everyone can relate to and understand. Leaders must value relationships, lead with a servant heart and understand that communication is a two-way street. Great leaders set the vision, chart the course and empower their teams.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? Clarity and focus are foundational to the District's strategic vision. To accomplish this, I worked with my Board and team to align and define the District's strategic vision and priorities. To ensure understanding, and focus, we created a Strategic Framework. Through visuals, collateral materials, consistent messaging, presentations and videos, I have ensured that all stakeholders hear the same message to create shared understanding and alignment on behalf of the students we serve in Spring Branch ISD.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? My superintendency started in a unique school year. Only five months into the role, we found ourselves sending out our first COVID messages. Since that time, keeping our community well informed has been a top priority. I championed the implementation of the communications tool, Lets Talk, through which parents, students and employees have a one stop location to ask questions and receive answers. To date, several thousand messages have been received. Through videos, social media messages and other more traditional communication tools, our team was able to focus messaging. As an example, the Communications team, my senior staff and a representative from the Board of Trustees met weekly to carefully craft separate messages for parents of in-person learners and on-line learners. We leveraged zoom, including its translation capabilities, to increase outreach, engagement and education amongst all our families in our highly diverse school district.
What does leadership mean to you? I believe leadership should be grounded in open communication, collaboration, shared governance, trust, respect and mindfulness. I work at being reflective about how I show up as a leader. It is important to me that I model the expectation for those I work alongside to ensure my team knows I am not expecting them to do anything that I myself am not willing to do. I encourage collaboration within the organization. It is important that when we make decisions in the district, we are intentional about the individuals we invite to be a part of the think-tank and planning. I stress to the team to make sure there are multiple perspectives invited to the table, as I believe that is key when making big, important decisions. As I think about multiple perspectives, I want varied groups represented at the table. It's important we honor the perspectives of ALL stakeholders when discussing the pros and cons of a decision.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? The development and approval of our strategic plan was grounded in communication. While working on developing the Five Year Strategic Plan, we sought feedback from our constituents to ensure we were clear regarding their vision for the district. We provided updates to the Board of Education and community regarding the proposed goals before seeking final approval. Once approved, we shared the new strategic plan with our constituents. Additionally, we have used a new tool this school year, ThoughtExchange to seek implementation ideas from parents, students and staff regarding components of the strategic plan. It has been important for us to know how our stakeholders envision meeting the goals of the Five Year Strategic Plan.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? Starting a new job during a pandemic, I needed to be strategic about connecting with our stakeholders to earn their trust and respect as the new Superintendent while also modeling safe practices. With the support of the Public Relations Director, we were able to offer virtual meetings as a way for me to connect with our stakeholders. Over the last two years, I have hosted virtual monthly Coffee Chats and Office hours, community forums and Listening and Learning sessions with staff via Teams. I could not have imagined starting a new job as Superintendent and not being able to begin building relationships with our stakeholder groups. We have focused efforts on timely communication district wide. Following the Listening and Learning sessions with staff and meetings with our teacher union representatives, we release a publication that shares what we have learned in relation to what is working well, recognition of staff and the areas we need to focus attention on to address challenges.
What does leadership mean to you? Leadership is a dynamic characteristic and can be developed over time. We become better leaders by persevering through challenges, and by actively reflecting on successes and failures. It’s been said that a calm sea never made a skilled sailor; likewise, many skilled leaders have developed and honed exemplary leadership skills by persisting through difficult times and learning from every experience, positive and negative. Over my career I’ve been most impacted by leaders who are both transparent and visionary. To be a transparent leader means to be visibly honest, to communicate regularly and effectively, and to acknowledge mistakes. To be a visionary leader means to inspire, to bring out the best in others, to energize the team around common aspirations, and to support the growth of the organization by focusing on the future. Transparent leaders successfully communicate how things are; visionary leaders successfully communicate how they wish things to be. The best leaders do both.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? Our strategic plan includes three overarching goals; Goal 3 (“Engage parents, staff & community to promote unique educational opportunities for students) intentionally prioritizes effective communication. Our staff works closely with the Board of Trustees to ensure that the community is regularly apprised of the district’s progress toward each of our goals. In support of our strategic plan, we prioritize community partnerships as a mechanism to drive innovation in schools, with a key focus on soliciting stakeholder input to respond to diverse community interests and needs. A point of pride for the Carlsbad community is our Graduate Profile. Supported by the school community and developed collaboratively with input from diverse stakeholders, our Graduate Profile describes learners who are effective communicators and collaborators; critical thinkers; self-directed individuals; and ethical and responsible citizens. The Graduate Profile is embedded throughout our strategic plan.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? I’m most proud of the increased use of social media by our schools and our district. Educators and leaders have an obligation to widely share the wonderful things happening in schools, and social media is an indispensable tool for sharing the good news about public education. We’ve been clear with school and district leaders about expectations for regular social media use, ensuring that each school site and school site leader has at least one active social media channel (initially prioritizing Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and now encouraging school leaders to think intentionally about how best to use other popular platforms like TikTok and Snapchat). By setting these expectations, providing opportunities for professional learning, and modeling positive and intentional use of a variety of social media tools, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the volume and quality of crowdsourced storytelling and communication from our school sites.
What does leadership mean to you? Leadership brings thinkers and influencers together to create innovative solutions to improve the lives of others.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? The "Engage Our Community" strategic goal is focused on transparency, two-way communication and including our community in decision making. Examples included virtual community stakeholder events prior to developing the final school reopening plan in July 2020, a “Meet the Board Candidates” virtual event in October 2020, May 2021 budget feedback virtual events and surveys, and the live-streaming of all board meetings and study sessions. "Engage Our Community" also incorporates communications goals and strategies for reaching non-English-speaking communities. The strategic plan and Portrait of a Graduate are incorporated into board meeting presentations through custom Google Slides themes, along with my superintendent updates at board meetings.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? The launch of our Safe.Strong.Ready. school-reopening plan which included a 170-person school-opening task force who spent thousands of hours analyzing community feedback, consulting experts and poring over data to create the plan, which incorporated more than 27,000 survey responses from parents, students and employees, and feedback from virtual WebEx community events. The district’s bilingual communication plan included a comprehensive website, videos demonstrating a “Day in the Life” at each school level, and health and safety videos. Paper copies of the plan and other flyers were produced and distributed to families during student device pickup. In late July, I sent a “welcome back” letter to every family’s home. On July 27, the district launched Safe.Strong.Ready. LIVE, a daily Facebook Live event hosted by me discussing the district reopening and answering questions. A dedicated webpage provided regular updates and surveys were administered to gather stakeholder feedback.
What does leadership mean to you? In my current role, I view leadership as an opportunity to help others reach their potential and become leaders themselves. Leadership allows one to create positive changes for individuals as well as the community at large. Even though being an effective leader can be challenging at times, my focus is always on what is best for students, parents, and other stakeholders.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? Goal 5 of our strategic plan is all about communication and community engagement. It focuses on fostering dialogue with all stakeholders. We encourage equitable and collaborative partnerships where all stakeholders feel welcomed, valued, and informed. Key to that is ensuring that the communication is transparent and accessible. We communicate via different social media platforms, School Messenger, and hosting events where students, parents, and community members are active participants. We’re also conscious of our diverse communities and provide information in their native languages.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? I would have to say that it’s our focus on more parent and community engagement. We recently launched Let’s Talk! which is a platform that allows all stakeholders to seek answers to questions or leave comments about their concerns. All questions or comments, whether positive or negative, are addressed within a short time frame.
What does leadership mean to you? The success of an organization is contingent on the talents and development of its people. I believe that leadership, therefore, is a process of growing others (and oneself) to realize goals beyond the perceived ability of the individual. Leadership requires developing, sponsoring and emancipating the power of people. To do this, I must first know those with whom I work well enough to recognize growth areas and strengths alike. This personal connection - knowing our people by name, strength and need - affords insight and intentionality to place people in positions to stretch their abilities, realize success and/or "fail forward." As a leader, I organize and collaborate with others, provide and develop goals and incentives to inspire others and model and expect accountability. I can only exact that which I sustain, therefore, reciprocal accountability demands that I sponsor and support others with tools, resources and processes to achieve beyond the vision that they see.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? Communications and engagement are foundational elements of the strategic plan and are manifest through the following leadership examples:
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the glaring inequity of inequitable broadband access, as many students lacked reliable Internet access. Realizing I had to connect the entire community with free Internet access, I first leveraged philanthropic connections to secure over a laptop for each student. Then the technology director and I brainstormed a solution to develop a relaying signal, or mesh Internet network, across the city. Under my leadership, the District used the concept of crowdsourcing Internet and leveraged community partners to boost and broadcast Wi-Fi coverage. Partnerships with the faith and business partners assured the establishment of a crisscrossing mesh of Wi-Fi signals throughout the city. This innovative, partnership-based concept allowed all district students to access the Internet and communicate broadly at no cost. The realization of digital equity through this communications technology network is the highlight of my tenure.
What does leadership mean to you? To me, leadership means to be a listener first, a collaborator, a partner, a servant, and transformational. Our purpose in education is to serve the students and the communities that we are privileged to work with as superintendents. Leadership is collaborating and communicating with all stakeholders. It is the different and even challenging perspectives that support us to make equitable decisions that best meet the needs of our communities. Leadership is supporting the growth and development of others and allowing them to shine. Leadership is being able to understand a community and adapt leadership styles to be what the community needs while holding true to equitable, educational best practices that will best serve the students. It’s not about being in the spotlight, but about shining the spotlight on the work being done in the district and the community that directly benefits our students.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? During our community-focused strategic planning process in early 2021, I was honored to be able to work with a wonderful group of dedicated staff and school board members, students from our middle and high schools, and parents and community members to establish the vision for our district for the next five years. In every aspect of our strategic plan, there are opportunities to increase communication. Whether it is sharing stories and points of pride from the area of student achievement, or being transparent about finances and budget decisions, I aim to make sure that our community feels as though they are part of the process every step of the way. We do this not only to increase transparency and to take down barriers in our community, but to be able to share the story of our school district and the amazing work being done here. The communities that we serve are filled with dedicated and passionate people, and utilizing their strengths makes us a stronger district overall.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? I started at GFW Public Schools in July 2020 and the district had an operating levy referendum on the ballot for August 11. I immediately met with city officials, business owners, staff, parents, and community members to get a crash course in our district and community situation. People are passionate in our district and they want to be heard and be part of the process. I worked with my dedicated team to seek out groups like this and have more voices heard. Ultimately, our community supported our operating levy request, essentially saving our district and allowing us to focus directly on our students. I launched GFW Supt Talk which was a virtual meeting once a month with different community groups including a gathering of our Latinx community held in Spanish with help from our cultural liaison for translation. The opportunity for two-way communication and a direct connection to district leadership in the community is what I am most proud of.
What does leadership mean to you? Leadership is the gift of opportunity…the opportunity to work with others to meet a goal. That gift of opportunity may manifest itself in goal setting, planning, teaching, learning, empowering, and following. Whether in a small group of a few or groups of thousands, leaders have the trust of those with whom they are collaborating to lead the group confidently, safely, and efficiently toward the established goal. The act of leadership involves the wise use of resources, including but not limited to financial, human, knowledge/expertise, appropriate communication, and time. An effective leader inspires, motivates, thinks creatively, encourages and facilitates capacity building, models lifelong learning, and is always willing to improve. Leadership is defined more by behavior than it is by title. I firmly believe that one can lead from any chair. It is what one does with the opportunity to move others successfully toward an established goal that defines a leader.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? I am proud to note that our district's strategic plan includes communication as an integral component in every facet. From instruction to governance to finance to family engagement/strategic partnerships to human resources, communication has a significant role in ensuring that all stakeholders- internal and external know what we are doing (and plan to do) to meet our mission and vision. I am especially pleased that we have expanded the various means of communicating with all parties- from the traditional platforms (written documents, email, telephone calls, meetings) to additional platforms like YouTube, social media, community newsletters, video messaging, public billboards (outdoor advertising), district -sponsored interviews, and informational newspaper/magazine inserts. Our website has been redesigned and is the "go to" location for the most accurate and up to date information on district operations and progress on our strategic efforts.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? I am most proud of the tools we now use regularly to ensure our internal and external stakeholders are kept up to date on district operations, initiatives, and achievements. In addition to a robust district website, www.sccpss.com, we maintain a SMUGMUG gallery, and social media feeds that keep everyone informed. We also issue electronic publications like the Board Brief, which summarizes actions taken during Board of Education meetings (we also provide a video of this brief), In Case You Missed It (ICYMI), which includes the achievements of district students and staff, and our video series of interviews of various community and district leaders on their efforts which support our core mission. Each year, we also issue two local newspaper inserts that highlight back to school and end of year information. Several OP ED pieces are shared throughout the year with all local newsletters. Newspaper ads celebrate our graduates, their colleges of acceptance, and other great news.
What does leadership mean to you? A vital component of leadership is communication. To effectively lead, one must be able to communicate in ways that engage and inspire others to the needed action for students and for continuous improvement of the system. Beyond engaging and inspiring others, clear and consistent communication is foundational to ensuring that all stakeholders are aware of and understand the values, expectations, and specific actions that have been identified as fundamental to realizing the collective outcomes of the organization. Taking communication as part of leadership a step further, engaging in authentic reflection on one’s communications as a leader cannot be understated. It is one thing to ensure communication occurs as a part of leadership, and a very different thing to ensure that a leader holds oneself to a standard of continuous improvement in communication with each and every stakeholder with whom they interact.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? The School District of Indian River County’s (SDIRC) ACHIEVE 2025 District Strategic Plan incorporates five Focus Areas. One of these Focus Areas is “Communication & Engagement.” Within this area, our collective aim is to “Establish connections and trust among all internal and external stakeholders.” During the 2020-2021 academic year, our district implemented three specific strategies in the area of “Communication & Engagement” and set associated annual and five-year targets. Strategies focused on expanding opportunities for community member engagement in district activities, increasing the number of parents accessing our Focus Parent Portal, as well as increasing the number of parent workshops being offered. Despite the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SDIRC continued with the implementation of all strategies outlined through the District Strategic Plan, including the strategies within the Focus Area of “Communication & Engagement.”
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? I am the most proud of the innovation and adaptability that our district has demonstrated in communicating with students, families, and our larger community during the COVID-19 pandemic. When districts across the state of Florida were hit with sweeping school closures in the Spring of 2020, our district was nimble in responding to the need to drastically alter the way we communicated, as well as the manner in which instruction was provided to students. To smoothly and effectively transition to remote instruction for all students, and subsequently transition to three different instructional models, our district team leveraged our technological resources and existing technological expertise in ways that had not been done before to build capacity across our system of schools and to collaborate and work in the face of quickly changing circumstances.
What does leadership mean to you? Leadership means inspiring others to work together toward a common goal. It encourages and enables people to do their best work. Leadership is understanding your own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of the team, then leveraging individual strengths to compensate for individual weaknesses and overcome insurmountable challenges such as the ongoing pandemic. From my time in the U.S. Navy, I am often reminded about one of the Laws of the Navy: “On the strength of the link of the cable, dependeth the might of the chain, who knows when thou mayest be tested? So live that thou bearest the strain." We are all being tested in education, but we are undoubtedly stronger together.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? The unification of internal and external communications across various media helps our community understand the mission of our organization. Strategic communications aren’t only beneficial to our board of education and administrators but they are also critical for our employees. Integrated messaging from leadership provides employees with a clear roadmap of the organization’s future. In South Colonie, our families were asking for a more unified platform for communication between school and home and we wanted to make sure that our messaging was being heard in a timely manner. Integrating a communications plan that was clearly understood by administrators and employees and thus enabled us to better communicate with our families was part of our plan. Coordinating all messages into one unifying strategy fills each piece of communication with purpose — promoting action, engagement or change to serve our school district’s mission.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? In March 2020, we abruptly shifted to distance learning as everyone throughout the country were dealing with the pandemic. It was tough on everyone: educators, students, staff and families. Switching to remote learning drastically impacted the way teachers communicated with their students and families. As a school district, we had to adapt to find new ways to communicate our plans. At the advice of our Communications Specialist, we adopted ParentSquare as the one-stop shop for all things school related. Not only was it an easy platform to use, but it provided a clean and consistent platform to communicate with families across the K-12 continuum. It certainly helped us remain engaged with our families and improve the communication between home and school. I am proud of the way that our district embraced this new platform and the fact that as a leader, I was open to the suggestion to try something new, thus leveraging the talents of people within our organization to make it happen!
What does leadership mean to you? Leadership means accountability, respect, service, listening and love. Leadership requires tough conversations and transparency. Leadership fosters an environment for teams to speak freely in order to collaborate, innovate and engage. Leadership requires trust. In order to lead in our District, one must believe in children. Our victory roar in Memphis-Shelby County Schools declares: Together, we MUST BELIEVE. Together, we WILL ACHIEVE. Together, we are REIMAGINING 901.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? Transparency at every level has been a District priority, and we have emphasized its importance by providing opportunities for all – stakeholders, parents, students, teachers, staff and community partners – to share vital feedback and to be privy to important information and data via surveys, listening tours and regional community meetings. As part of our strategic plan, we’re committed to increasing opportunities by sharing good news and telling our own story. SCS continues to expand our story-telling through strategic media relations and the SCS Newsroom, the nationally recognized, award-winning online hub for District news. SCS social media pages produced over 15 million impressions and nearly 2 million engagements this year, including multiple platforms specifically for our Latino community. We are committed to reimagining our communication and community engagement strategies.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? African American Male Empower is one of the initiatives we are most proud of in Memphis-Shelby County Schools. It was launched to help bridge the achievement gap and eliminate explicit and implicit bias in schools. We galvanized the community beginning with strategic public messaging and compelling data that exposed the downward trend of African American male student performance, access to advanced programming and experiences with critical social issues that impact achievement. The District spurred community engagement using the hashtag #OurBoysNeedUs which led to a visually captivating march of students and dignitaries that has become a part of the District's rich history.
What does leadership mean to you? Leadership is the opportunity to develop or improve existing relationships, systems, or processes to make life better for people. No matter the calling, if at the end of your leadership tenure life is not made better for the people under your care, you may have managed but you have not led. The way I operationalize this leadership statement is around a belief to which I hold passionately: Everyone Is Created To Flourish. I believe all of us are aware of the literature that extends the definition of leadership to include vision casting, use of influence, empathy, integrity, humility, and a host of other definitions. Indeed it can be any one or even all of these. But at its core, leadership is the opportunity to make life better for the people who have been placed in your care. I do that by passionately believing that Everyone Is Created To Flourish and working to create relationships and opportunities so that belief is realized. It is why I exist.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? Communication strategies are the driver of our strategic plan. I do not see communication as a stand-alone part of the plan, but rather something to be woven into everything in the plan. The challenge is to tell our story better than anyone else. The strategic plan is all about what our community, staff, students, and Board of Education dream about for the future. That’s the story. A communication plan is a part of nearly every objective in the strategic plan. I am especially happy that we have broadened our use of several communication mediums to tell our story. New or renewed over the past couple of years has been the use of video interviews with staff talking about components of the strategic plan, shorter informational video updates from administration, and leveraging the growing sophistication of social media. Planned for the future will be a communication focus on the strategic plan from the student’s point of view that will be written and produced by students.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? The communication initiative that I am most proud of is the daily interaction I have with parents, students, and staff in carlines and school entrances across our district. Those interactions are personal, informative, and real. We are a school district of 6,400 students. On the first day of school in August 2020, I went to schools to welcome students, as any new superintendent would do. I arrived so early at the first school that I was unsure of what to do with my time. I decided to get out of my car and talk to our parents. I met with many parents at two schools that morning and began to build some very good relationships. Excited about how well that first experience had gone, I did the same thing the next day. I decided from then on, from 7 am to 9 am each day I would commit myself to be at carlines and school entrances with parents, students, and staff. The personal interaction with those groups is a blessing of this job and is something I have made the first priority of each day.
What does leadership mean to you? My philosophy on leadership is being a good servant to bring out the very best in others and encourage growth in the leadership capacity within an organization. With a shared common vision, I surround myself with people who are knowledgeable, driven for success and respected for their integrity and ability to build solid relationships. As educators, we are in an industry where our actions influence lives on a daily basis. This responsibility carries a great weight that can only be shared with those equally dedicated to helping others grow and learn to develop and utilize their own talents. One leader is restricted to his/her sphere of influence where building leadership capacity empowers others. Only when you have earned the trust of others can you really begin to influence your organization and maximize your reach and impact.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? Communication is an integral part of Forney ISD’s strategic plan. At the center of our district values we place “relationships first.” We know that our district is only as good as the relationships we have with students, parents, the community, and business partners. With our focus on building relationships, we have a collaborative approach from the start to encourage input and creative strategies to align with our plan. We involve students and other representatives from our key stakeholder groups to listen and determine the direction and focus. We use multiple channels for communication to tell the district’s story throughout the year. Another one of our district core values is “voices,” defined as listening to the voices in our district and community.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? In 2018 we rolled out the #ForneyFamily initiative alongside our 7 district values: relationships first, excellence, learning, individualization, perseverance, voices, and collaboration. This campaign was designed to authentically connect all the things and all the people who make make-up the Forney Family through our common values and tell the story of all the amazing work. This included students, teachers, staff, the community and business partners. There were Forney Family signs, window stickers, t-shirts, social media posts, Facebook Lives, videos, posters, awards and more. The communications team received the highest honor for the Forney Family campaign at the Texas School Public Relations Association annual awards ceremony. The campaign is in year 4, and going strong with a new push to thank our Forney Family Bright Lights, those infusing hoping and positivity in our community.
What does leadership mean to you? To me, leadership means knowing and leaning into your strengths, keeping people at the forefront of every decision that is made and focusing on a spirit of service in all we do. Leadership is building a team that is engaged in meaningful work that makes a difference in the community. Leadership is all about relationships and it is all about people. We've heard the adage applied to the classroom, "they won't care how much you know until they know how much you care." The same principle applies to leadership; it requires service above self.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? Communication is an integral part of our district's strategic plan and our daily work in Terrell ISD. We are guided by four pillars: expect staff to deliver and students to engage in rigorous learning for high achievement; expect a high quality and safe learning environment - both physical and emotional - for high student achievement; expect transparency and decisions that support long term financial stability; and expect engagement with families and the community for high student achievement. Each pillar directs our daily work and communication is the most critical component of that work. As a newcomer to the community, it was so important for me to establish trust with staff, parents, community leaders and business partners. Trust is truth over time and the strategic communication plan has been an ongoing way to build trust in our community.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? Moving to Terrell in January of 2020 did not give me much time to become connected to the community prior to the start of the pandemic. We have utilized tools like Facebook live and video chats to connect with our community. Sitting on my porch with my Terrell Tigers hat on, I filmed multiple messages for our community during a very scary and uncertain time. That authentic approach has really allowed our community an insight to who I am as a person, outside of the role of superintendent. It has allowed people to get to know me in a time when we have been physically isolated or distanced. We launched a series called "Wednesdays with Warnock" to highlight students, teachers and programs. In addition to our district communications, I have learned so much from other teachers and leaders from interactions on TikTok (@subbingsupt) and Twitter (@subbingsupt). The ideas and feedback I glean from interacting with educators all over the nation have led to improvements in our district.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? During the early part of 2021, my team and I decided that our current strategic plan, "A Framework for Excellence," needed a reboot. The pandemic changed our needs, including how we communicate. The relaunched plan is extended to 2024 and includes expanded communication in Area II (Culture, Climate & Community), customer service excellence in Area III (Leadership & Governance) and lifting student voice through self-care and mindfulness in the new Area IV (Safety & Wellness). Expanded communication includes adding more intimate, personalized spaces for focus groups through virtual advisories. Improved customer service is listening and being responsive to our internal and external needs from school lunch to tech support. Lifting student voice happens through restorative circles, wellness rooms, mentoring and peer mediation - all a part of Project SAFE, our Student Advocacy Framework for Equity. Communication must include listening and we provide a variety of ways to engage all stakeholders.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? Team Selma has a robust social media presence and I am proud of our YouTube channel, the weekly news articles that I write, our Talk Supt, Chat and Chew, daily Morning Joy (MoJo) emails and flipped board meetings. What I am most proud of, though, was when decided to go "old school" with our "Did you Know?" campaign. A few summers ago, we took our message to the streets and went door-to-door. Board members accompanied us when we walked in their district. Our community engagement specialist created flyers that served as brag sheets with facts about the accomplishments and new initiatives of our district. We were greeted with surprise and gratitude for taking the time to have authentic conversations with our community members. In the process, we found new PTO members, volunteers and student leaders. Over the last two years, we have gone virtual and used the same "Did you Know?" messaging with videos and flyers to share details of our relaunched strategic plan and to tell our story.
What does leadership mean to you? It is a privilege to lead. The trust individuals and teams place in a leader needs to be earned every day - by modeling what you expect of others, living and learning with those you serve, and making decisions that make the organization more effective at reaching its primary goals. Leadership has too long been depicted as being owned by the one standing in front. While there are moments this is important, leadership is more often essential behind-the-scenes, in the partnerships formed with others on the team, and leading the work that people only notice when it isn't done well. True leadership doesn't require a spotlight. The leaders I most admire recognize the value of every member of the team, share the work - and the credit - and create environments of meaningful challenge and high support.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? Support of our community is essential to achieve our district's strategic goals. This support isn't inevitable, and can be a challenge to maintain when nearly 75 percent of residents lack a direct connection to the district through students currently in school or jobs working in the schools. The district must accept responsibility to communicate about the teaching and learning taking place, the activities in which students are engaged, the accomplishments and areas of struggle, and the role every resident can play in the future success of our schools. We accept this responsibility by engaging our community in listening sessions, sharing updates on construction projects and initiatives online, in newspapers, and via utility bills, and by welcoming our community into our schools. Sauk Prairie loves its schools and is proud of what we have accomplished together. The current stewards of the district are committed to communicating about the district to earn this amazing support.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? From March 2020 through most of the 2020-2021 academic year, our families and community had limited access to what was happening inside the walls of our schools. Those of us fortunate enough to be with our students had a responsibility to share the story of what we were seeing and hearing. I am proud of many of the communication initiatives our district has implemented over the past few years, but most proud of how we kept our families and community informed throughout the pandemic. Through different social media outlets, we shared photos and videos. We added a weekly email in English and Spanish to all of our families with updates from the district and a transparent reporting of all COVID activity in each building. Each school created online newsletters to start each month, filled with photos. We often hear that if we do not tell the story of our schools, someone else will. During the pandemic, we had even more responsibility to share our story - and we had fun sharing it.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan? The preamble to our district's strategic goals is “In cooperation with our community, we will....”. Long before I became Superintendent, our district leaders worked to build a high degree of trust, transparency, and collaboration with our community. I became Superintendent just weeks before our district was one of the first in the country to return to in-person learning on July 29, 2020. It was challenging to become Superintendent at a time when parents weren’t allowed in schools, meetings were virtual, concerns were heightened, and we were preparing to open school in a pandemic. Our approach to integrate communication was to reach our community and families in multiple ways. Written communication, short videos, a re-vamped website, and a podcast have provided information in varied formats to reach our stakeholders. Our mission is we want ALL students to belong, learn, and grow in our schools and as a result, we need to ensure our communications are attempting to reach all as well.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district? I am most proud of our podcast, Orioles in the Know. We release a new podcast twice a month and highlight various aspects of the district. We’ve featured teachers, administrators, community leaders, and elected state officials. However, my favorite episodes are those that involve students. We’ve had a kindergarten student break into song at the end of a podcast and high school seniors share how our schools have prepared them for the next steps in their lives. One of my favorite episodes was highlighting our district’s Support Staff of the Year – a custodian from one of our elementary schools. We don’t celebrate our Support Staff often enough, but through this format we were able to shine a light on their hard work. I’ve had prospective hires tell me they listened to a podcast as they were researching our website, so we are trying to leverage this medium for recruiting purposes as well. There is never a shortage of great stories to tell about our staff, students and community!