Become a Member
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 means you initiate continuous improvement cycles to amplify the outcomes for the stakeholders impacted by your services. Anyone can lead from where they are! You don’t need a title to be a leader. Supervisors must create the conditions for everyone to feel empowered and included in the improvement process. Some individuals will take on roles that require a significant amount of time to improve key initiatives within the strategic plan. Others may step up for a brief moment when an unexpected situation arises. In both instances you are likely to find examples of how leadership was demonstrated. People are often asked about their leadership style. There is no right or wrong style, however, I would submit that it must be authentic in order to be effective. In addition to empowering others around them, leaders must demonstrate they value leadership styles different from their own. This helps promote inclusiveness and diversity which are necessary for optimal effectiveness.
How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan?
Our district strategic plan has four pillars that are titled Our Students, Our Team, Our Connections and Our System. Within these four pillars the district has developed one-year action plans that outline how we will improve items that impact students, staff, families and the overall system. The Our Connections pillar of the strategic plan includes a commitment to actively collaborate with our families, community and business partners to enhance student success. One of the key action plans within this pillar is titled Family Engagement through Personalized Communication and Relationship Building. The overall goal for the action plan states that by the end of the school year the district will increase family satisfaction and engagement through student recognition, communication on relevant educational topics and implementation of a unified communications platform.
What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district?
Each week our district provides a customized communication to staff and families that highlights the Top 5 items we need them to know. The staff update is called the Affton Insider and the family update is called Access Affton. Each week I insert a 2-3 minute video into each update where I speak directly to each group. In the video I summarize items that are in the update while also mentioning items that might not be in the update. This allows me to include staff and student recognitions or accomplishments that might have been featured in our social media posts throughout the week. Another initiative I am proud of includes our strategic approach to the engagement and satisfaction of students, staff and families. The district integrated a consistent process to survey stakeholders on an annual basis. Based on the survey results, improvement strategies and goals are integrated into district and school improvement plans. Each survey gives us a pulse on our communication initiatives.
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.