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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?
Leadership is defined as the ability to make distinctive and sound decisions that work towards a common goal. I feel that we not only should teach the whole child, but we should also incorporate aspects of leadership development that will allow society to grow and survive. I model my leadership style of being caring, dynamic, energetic and focused on student achievement and safety to the entire school community of Suffolk Public Schools. It is my hope that our over 14,400 students will see themselves being leaders, and that we have a staff that will foster that leadership growth. I also believe that being a leader is not easy, but it is very rewarding when you can see the impact of your leadership.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan?
As we recently revised our Suffolk Public Schools strategic plan "Destination 2028: Connection, Educational Excellence, and Innovation," the ability to establish two-way communication remains at the forefront of our goals. Community engagement and communication that focuses on increasing engagement opportunities for families, school communities and business partnerships allows Suffolk Public Schools to strive for excellence in education, to celebrate diversity, and to be committed to students, staff and the school community. I believe that it is important for constituents, staff and students to participate in multiple forms of communication, and to also be able to interact with the school division and staff. Communication metrics such as surveys, family engagement events, advisory groups, associations and clubs allows both the community and school division to determine if communication strategies have been both efficient and effective.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district?
I have been the most proud of improving communication methods that the school community was already familiar with to increase two-way communication. During my tenure in Suffolk Public Schools, I have held "Meet the Superintendent" town halls and established Facebook Live sessions since the community already used Facebook as a platform to share information about the school division. I believed that taking ownership of the platform has had a tremendous benefit. I have also created SPS Starcast, which are podcasts that highlight new and innovative things that are happening in the school division. I am also extremely proud of the increase in social media use by the school division. For example, when I began in 2019, the school division Instagram page had one follower, and now it has 2,300. Good communicators adapt their communication strategies to best fit the needs of the school community while keeping in mind usability, and frequency of use.
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.