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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?
I have noticed over the years of working in various positions that the definition of “leadership” seems to take different shapes depending on who you are leading. I have served as a teacher, principal, executive director, assistant superintendent and now superintendent. Each position exposed me to individuals at diverse levels of their careers. Each time, I found it beneficial to adapt leadership skills to fit the environment and needs. Regardless of the individual or the level, leadership called for me to encourage people to use their greatest strengths in service larger than themselves. I encourage people to reframe challenges as opportunities that create a chain reaction of value. I emphasize to people that they are in service to another regardless of employment position, economic or social status. Leadership is being aware of your environment and recognizing the strengths of the people around you and channeling those strengths to areas where they will be the most effective.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan?
The board and I recently launched the Balanced District Scorecard, a strategic plan developed with input from each community of stakeholders including employees, community members, parents and students. A series of focus group meetings and a survey provided feedback. The Balanced District Scorecard includes four priority elements: Students, Staff, Stakeholders and Stewardship. Each has an objective tied to communication. The Balanced District Scorecard, an evolving document, is a communication tool designed to share progress with the community. I continue to dispatch our leadership team to campuses to communicate face-to-face with assistant principals, principals and teachers. Our expanded communication channels, transparency and invitations for input have improved our culture. In 2021, the district was rated by its employees as #39 among the best employers in Texas according to Forbes magazine, which was up from #50 the previous year and #171 three years earlier.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district?
Several communication initiatives are on-going at any time. Yet, I am proud of two communication initiatives that were a first for our district. The first was the launch of our district’s Student Voice Advisory Committee, which ensures that our district vision remains rooted in student needs. Our students have candidly spoken about their concerns, which has provided insight and the development of new initiatives. Also, I introduced two social media features – both firsts for our district. A social media coordinator position was created to ensure relevant information is posted and followers’ questions are answered promptly. Additionally, I hold Facebook Live Q&A sessions. The community submits questions which I answer live; remaining questions are answered and shared within 24 hours. Media outlets regularly use our social media posts and broadcast them to a broader audience.
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.