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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 begins not with formal titles or positions, but with a drive to do better for the entire community. My interest in leading academic growth did not start with the title of assistant principal or principal. It began as a teacher. Schools and school districts need strong leaders at all levels to be successful. As superintendent, I am a servant leader. Servant leaders listen, build trust and understand that success happens when all stakeholders are empowered. My leadership has evolved. I am not afraid to take risks, establish bold aspirational goals and empower those around me to work as a team to accomplish those goals. Building strong teams of students, faculty, school leaders and district leaders has been a hallmark of my career. It matters that leaders are present, show care, concern, empathy and, when needed, direct leadership. Leading as a servant, being clear and consistent, and guiding others towards success should be foundational in all leaders, regardless of title.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan?
Communication is a vital component of our district’s strategic plan. Before becoming superintendent, I initiated a plan to reach out to employees, families and community members through meet-and-greets called Listen & Learn Sessions. I wanted everyone to get to know me and my vision for the district, but, even more important, I wanted to get feedback from students, staff, families and community members. Each session had a theme, and participants could take part in-person or virtually. I incorporated my plan for Listen & Learn sessions into goal 7 of our strategic plan. This goal includes action steps to gather input from stakeholders, train staff to better communicate with families, enhance communication tools, increase outreach to community organizations and business partners, and build positive communication with students, families and employees. I also created a specific plan to engage all PCS staff in various activities to connect with the district’s core values.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district?
One of my top priorities as superintendent is to make sure that every employee feels valued. Since I was appointed superintendent, I focused on connecting face-to-face with staff members, with a goal of visiting employees in all areas of our Pinellas County Schools family. At the beginning of the school year, I launched an employee recognition program called PCS Praise. It’s a teambuilding initiative that gives all employees opportunities to recognize and celebrate colleagues who exemplify our strategic plan core values. When PCS Praise forms are submitted, supervisors are notified so employees can be recognized and celebrated by everyone in their department. I visit many of the PCS Praise nominees to congratulate them in person. I also review the submissions and pick Superintendent Standouts, who receive special recognitions at our School Board meetings. It’s an honor to recognize so many deserving employees on a regular basis.
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.