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Author: NSPRA Staff/Monday, September 26, 2022/Categories: News
During its September meeting, the NSPRA Executive Board confirmed the appointment of two new officers: Julia Burgos and Jake Potter, APR. Both will take office on Saturday, October 1, along with four new board members affirmed in July. Read more about the incoming appointed officers and their roles on the board below.
Vice President at Large for Engagement
Julia Burgos has been appointed to serve a two-year term as the vice president at large for engagement. This new board position, approved by the Executive Board in July, will work to further professional development opportunities that strengthen members’ skills in stakeholder engagement, support efforts to review/develop rubrics of practice around stakeholder engagement and engage NSPRA members in national efforts around support for public education.
Burgos joined Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) in July 2020 as the chief of school and community relations where she supports the superintendent as a member of the Senior Leadership Team to integrate communications and foster relationships to position the division as a national leader for high-performing preK-12 educational organizations. Burgos develops communication and content strategies to support organizational presence, fundraising, business development, talent attraction and retention and other strategic goals. She oversees the Oﬃce of Communications and the Oﬃce of Community Partnerships and Engagement and serves as the division spokesperson.
Prior to joining ACPS, Bugos entered the educational arena at Arlington Public Schools (APS) in 2013 as the chief of staff where she supported the superintendent on all projects and initiatives related to the school system. She was a valuable resource to the Arlington School Board, staff, students and parents at APS. She was no stranger to APS after serving as a volunteer for 10 years with Latinas Leading Tomorrow – a program born in Wakefield High School, for which she served as its inaugural chairperson for four years and subsequently, as the immediate past chair of the Board. Burgos has over 30 years of experience in government, public relations, non-profit and program administration. She holds a master’s degree in public relations and corporate communications from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in Spanish from Iona College.
Learn more about Julia Burgos below:
1. How can school PR professionals best advance our role as communication leaders, demonstrate communication accountability and build understanding of communication as a core management function?
When I began my journey as a communications practitioner in 1992, public relations (PR) was a profession that was poorly understood and loosely defined. Organizations that had adopted the notion of having a PR professional on their team were best prepared to handle crisis situations and build a brand and narrative that aligned with their mission and vision. Things have changed to elevate PR since then and we saw during the pandemic that organizations relied daily on our expertise to craft messaging and communicate effectively and quickly with all stakeholders.
Today, while our profession is better understood, many colleagues still struggle for a seat at the table. I recently participated in a class where this was a deep discussion. The presenter shared that we communications professionals must earn a seat at the table. It gave me pause as we believe we deserve a seat at the table. This is true. I also agreed that we must work to earn that seat by building relationships with senior leadership, providing counsel in difficult situations and making predictions based on our expertise and experiences. We must illustrate our value on the team and make the case for a seat in the c-suite.
We must also be comfortable with tooting our own horns and that of our teammates. Many of us are too quick to move on to the next project without sharing our successes. Why wait for your leadership to ask for communications results or reports; if you are proud of your work, create your own reports, weekly media digests and an annual report. Involve your team and highlight leaders who contributed to your earned media and projects and share these results with senior leadership. These results will lead to buy-in and cooperation in the future and support your efforts to increase human resources and investments come budget season.
2. What do you consider to be the major communication challenges facing districts/education organizations today, and what qualifications, skills and expertise will you offer as an Executive Board member to help NSPRA support members in addressing these issues?
Our demographics are ever changing and school districts across the country are consistently pivoting to meet the needs of all families. We embrace diversity and must be equipped to communicate with our families in many languages. Most recently, we welcomed many families from Afghanistan at ACPS and have supported these new members of our community by adding Dari as a fifth language when we translate all documents. I strongly believe that all families should receive information from the school division at the same time and we work to translate all our communications into the five most popular languages in ACPS. While this presents challenges, our commitment to equity drives this belief and we work through it. As an Executive Board member, it provides me with a unique opportunity to share promising practices on communicating with diverse audiences and the nuances that present themselves to ensure that all families feel heard and can understand messages. Additionally, our team has developed a four-year strategic communications and community engagement plan for our division and I have shared our processes and model for this work at the NSPRA 2022 National Seminar.
3. NSPRA’s mission is to be the leader in developing professionals to communicate strategically, build trust and foster positive relationships in support of their school communities. How will you support this mission as an NSPRA leader?
NSPRA’s vision to create this new vice president of engagement role is exciting and offers members an opportunity to work with the Executive Board to become more immersed in the mission of the organization. We often hear from our communications colleagues that they feel like lone rangers in their school divisions and rely on their relationships with local chapters and NSPRA members. It will be critical to leverage my time as an NSPRA leader to support our membership to capitalize on our professional learning offerings, connect with local chapters to increase membership and conduct outreach to school PR professionals in their regions, create affinity groups to work through problems of practice and explore mentorship programs for our newest members.
Jake Potter, APR
South Central Region Vice President
Jake Potter, APR, has been appointed to fill the remainder of the vacated South Central Region vice president position. The remainder of the term runs through September 2023.
Potter serves as the director of Public Relations and Outreach Services for the Leavenworth Unified School District (USD 453) in Leavenworth, Kan. The suburban school district rests on the outskirts of the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area, provides Pre-K through 12th grade educational services to approximately 3,700 students, and boasts the first public high school in the State of Kansas (1865) and the nation’s oldest student JROTC program.
Potter is entering his 13th year in the district where he has led the public relations department, including strategic planning efforts, successful passage and delivery of bond initiatives and creation and oversight of a summer student PR internship program. Prior to school PR, Jake worked for a public relations firm in the KC area providing strategic communications counsel and support to a variety of public sector agencies and organizations.
Potter has served the Kansas School Public Relations Association (KanSPRA) in various capacities since 2016, including as president for the 21-22 school year. He is most proud of the chapter’s Mark of Distinction designation earned and awarded in 2021 and 2022, and steady increase in total membership during that time. He has presented at chapter, statewide, and national conferences, including the NSPRA National Seminar and National Association of School Boards.
Learn more about Jake Potter, APR, below:
As the communication leader within an organization, it is imperative to have a seat at the table where key decisions are being deliberated and formalized. It’s not enough to be the best writer/editor in the office. In order to consistently be included in meetings with the Superintendent or district leadership team, school PR pros need to have a nuanced understanding of their district’s various stakeholder groups and available channels of communication to reach them. The value to the organization comes from professionally speaking up to help education leaders understand how much more effective it is to further district initiatives by considering the specific role that communications plays in the process, and conversely, what can happen if/when communication is not fully considered and/or dismissed entirely.
It is just as important for school leaders to hear regularly about district communications, as it is technology, facilities, human resources, child nutrition, special education and teaching and learning. This means leading conversations about what people are saying about the district, defining information needs from the community, understanding the values of the school community and how they define student success, and establishing multiple ways for individuals to have their voice heard, responded to, and documented. Schools are in the people business, not just for the students they have the opportunity to serve, but also staff, parents/guardians, friends/neighbors, residents/business owners, etc. It should not be assumed that the Superintendent or other district leaders and building principals fully understand the positive impact made possible by treating communication intentionally and strategically. Regularly reporting out on all aspects of district communication, in measurable ways, can help to build a shared understanding and appreciation for how critical an effective school PR program is for the success of the entire district.
In the most simplified sender-to-receiver communication model, today’s receiver is not always willing or able to decode messages and/or provide meaningful feedback to ensure that a message has been received as intended. As professional communicators, we sometimes find ourselves needing to send information to a disinterested, disengaged and/or distracted audience. Additionally, there have never been more channels available to broadcast and distribute a message, making it difficult to identify the best available channel(s), and also challenging to cut through the clutter to effectively garner attention. School communicators have to work extremely diligently for any given message to be seen, read, heard, understood and remembered.
Another challenge is when our key audiences seem especially distrusting. School PR pros are working within an extremely polarized landscape where parents/guardians are seeking a more substantive voice in their child’s education, and outside interests are strategically working to stoke fear and anxiety amongst school communities with the goal of decreasing enthusiasm and support for public education. The messages we are asked to strategize, develop, and deliver are not always going to be celebrated or received positively and without critique. We should strive to be just as strategic, professional, and enthusiastic when we are playing the role of district cheerleader or promoter, as when we are delivering news and updates that are less cheerful and fun. Additionally, we should strive to treat the communication needs of key audiences equally, whether they are supportive or disruptive.
Key to overcoming these communication challenges is a genuine interest in rebuilding public trust, beginning with students, families, and staff, and developing buy-in and consensus from them and the community-at-large as to how schools should be run. Prior to my School PR career, I gained experience thinking strategically about community involvement, and communicating complex issues and technical information to a variety of audiences, as well as being the messenger of unwelcome news at times. That’s a skill set that I rely upon in my current district role, and will also bring with me to the Executive Board. Additionally, I am a champion for professional accreditation and enthusiastic about strategizing ways to make trainings and resources as accessible and dynamic as possible.
In the role of regional VP, I will reach out to chapter leaders throughout the South Central Region, working to strengthen relationships between states and the NSPRA Executive Board. Together, we will collaboratively maintain existing lines of communication, and explore potential new ways to enhance connectivity. I look forward to the opportunity to learn how various SPRAs are creatively and effectively serving their local members, and share best practices and new ideas with others. I’ll be an accessible and active listener, prepared to receive suggestions and requests from the local and state level and committed to providing timely responses and meaningful connections.
Throughout my school PR career, I have always been impressed with the wealth of talent, energy, and experience serving at the national level. Even more impressive is the observable commitment amongst those serving on the NSPRA professional staff, executive board, in addition to volunteers on standing and special committees. I’m humbled to join this group for the 22-23 school year, and will do so with a servant-leader, solutions-focused and pay-it-forward approach.
A total of 12 association members serve on the Executive Board. Their roles consist of a president; president-elect; vice president of diversity engagement; seven regional vice presidents; and two appointed vice presidents at-large, who represent different interest groups among our membership.
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