Please Wait a Moment

Starting a School Public Relations Program

The National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) defines school public relations as follows:

"Educational public relations is a planned and systematic management function to help improve the programs and services of an educational organization. It relies on a comprehensive two-way communications process involving both internal and external publics, with a goal of stimulating a better understanding of the role, objectives, accomplishments and needs of the organization. Educational public relations programs assist in interpreting public attitudes, identify and help shape policies and procedures in the public interest, and carry on involvement and information activities which earn public understanding and support."

Below is information, resources and articles you can use to further understand why a dedicated communication role can be critical for a school district and how to get started building a communications team and/or hiring a district communication professional.

Why School Public Relations? Starting a Communications Program Hiring Resources

Why Do School Districts Need Communications Professionals? 


School PR professionals

Schools involve two of the most important resources for a community: its children and its tax dollars. That’s why most school systems invest in their ability to communicate with local stakeholders. Beyond the tactical duties of drafting newsletters, distributing media releases and coordinating events, school communicators serve as a critical conduit between school systems and community members on the topics they care about most. 

Highly effective school communicators are strategic thinkers who assess stakeholder needs and school situations to better engage in a two-way exchange of information that: 

  • Builds trust between a school system and its employees, families and wider community. 
  • Increases employee morale, job satisfaction and retention. 
  • Increases family and community members’ engagement in their local schools. 
What Does a School Communicator Do?

Among the most common responsibilities for school communication professionals are crisis communications (58 percent), external communications (52 percent), social media (48 percent), community relations and public engagement (44 percent), media relations (43 percent), website management (39 percent) and internal communications (36 percent), according to a 2022 representative survey of members of NSPRA. These are the day-to-day types of responsibilities for a communications professional. 


School communicator responsibilities

But the ultimate impact of a school communicator is seen in building positive relationships and helping increase understanding between a school system and its stakeholders, including students and their families, school employees, residential taxpayers, local business owners, elected officials and more.  

These communicators may often share positive stories about local schools, but they also gather stakeholder feedback and coordinate listening efforts that inform district and school leaders’ decisions. During a crisis or other challenging situations, they ascertain the facts, offer guidance and ensure accurate, timely and appropriately transparent information is shared with those affected by the situation as well as with the media. They can provide training, tools and resources for other school employees to help them communicate more clearly, accurately and engagingly with families, fellow employees and the public. The majority of school communicators are members of their school system’s cabinet or leadership team, and in that role, offer advice about communications on school initiatives that will strengthen relationships and understanding. 

How common is it for a school district to have a school communicator position? 

All school systems have staff who communicate, but many also have a formal position to handle official district communications. NSPRA has supported school communicators throughout the United States and Canada since its founding in 1935. Among NSPRA’s more than 2,800 members today, the large majority are employed by a school system (81 percent) or an educational service agency (10 percent).  

How many communications staff does a district usually have? 

Small school systems with an enrollment of fewer than 2,000 tend to one communication professional on staff. Districts with an enrollment of fewer than 10,000 students tend to have 2-4 communications staff. Many medium-sized school systems of 10,000 – 25,000 students have teams of between 2-7. Meanwhile, systems with 25,000 to 75,000 students often have as many as 8-15 communications staff. Districts with more than 75,000 students most commonly have teams of 15 or more, all according to a 2022 representative survey of members of the NSPRA. 

While it is true that larger school systems with more stakeholders and more revenue tend to have more communications staff, actual staffing levels should be based on the level of a school community’s expectations for clear, consistent and regular information about their local schools.  

How much does a school district typically spend on communications? 

Much like with staffing, larger school systems with more stakeholders and more revenue tend to budget more for communications. Generally, though, school systems designate about a half percent of their annual operating budget to communications, according to a 2022 representative survey of members of the NSPRA.

A variety of factors affect salary ranges for professional school communicators such as the extent of the position’s responsibilities, the cost of living around a school system’s location, the size of the school system, the available supply of qualified candidates and an individual candidate’s educational background and level of experience. Not accounting for those differences, many school communicators earn more than $100,000 a year (41 percent), and a similar number earn between $60,000 and $99,000 (45 percent), according to a 2022 representative survey of members of the NSPRA.

Where to Start 

While communication touches every aspect of a school system, it is common for communities to not fully understand the role and value of school communicators. The following points are provided to assist district leaders in having crucial conversations about creating a formal communication function for the district.


Communicate the return on investment.

Communication is an investment that pays real dividends, playing an important role in any high-performing organization, including public schools and school districts.


For example: A $500,000 new investment in communications would only need to recruit 50 new kindergartners or 50 new students to pay for itself in 1 year at an average per pupil-funding amount of $10,000 per child. If those 50 kindergartners stay enrolled in public schools for 12 years, the investment yields a $6 million return. 

Discuss forming a public relations or communications committee of the school board.

This committee, composed of board members and staff (central office and building representatives) can begin looking at ways communication can be improved or enhanced in the school district. Such committees often seek input from NSPRA to demonstrate how other similar school systems are practicing public relations.

Recommend that a study be completed.

Studies such as a communication audit can assess what the communication needs of a school system are. Normally, a professional communication consultant or firm conducts such an audit to give the system an outside and objective view of what needs to be done to start an effective program. NSPRA also offers these services. As part of the audit, a report is provided with information about the district's communication strengths and areas of opportunity, as well as recommending ways of gradually implementing a communications function.


Alternatively, districts can use NSPRA’s School Communication Benchmarking: Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures publication to self-assess the current state of its school communication program against rubrics in seven critical function areas:


  • Comprehensive planned communications
  • Internal communications
  • Parent/family communications
  • Marketing/branding communications
  • Crisis communications
  • Bond/finance election plans and campaigns
  • Diverse, equitable and inclusive communications


After completing your assessment, reach out to NSPRA to discuss ways of using the assesment for a basis of creating a communication function.


 The following are a couple of scenarios that might lead to a district's creation of a formal communication function:

  • An upcoming bond issue referendum increases the need for the school district to tell its story. Soon it becomes apparent to all involved that such a communication effort can't just be for a referendum, as impressions are made every day in a school system.  
  • An issue, decision or crisis splits a community, and the school district needs help in putting the schools and community back together. Consultants may be called in to assist with this situation, but the eventual realization is that "if we had a proactive approach to communications, we might not have had this issue to begin with." 

When first starting a new communications position, school districts sometimes split the person's communication responsibilities with other duties such as foundation coordinator, grants or policy writer, community education specialist or partnership coordinator. Often the position evolves eventually into a full-time focus on communications because the desire and need for effective communications grows when key leaders see the strategic value it brings to achieving district goals and when stakeholders see the many benefits of having a greater knowledge and understanding of their local schools.

Hiring a School Communication Professional


School PR professionals

Like all key positions, hiring the right person can make or break your communication efforts.

More than two-thirds of school communicators (67%) are considered a member of their district's cabinet and/or leadership. It's apparent that more and more districts understand that communication is too critical to the success of both a superintendent and a school system to not provide a communications professional a seat at the table. Communication professionals can proactively provide district leaders unique perspective, counsel and guidance on communication and engagement efforts around district decisions. 


Once a decision is made to create a new position, develop a job description that lists specific skills and responsibilities. Start with templates that are available from NSPRA (below) or gather samples from area school districts. 

Before posting the position, make a prioritized list of skills you want in the new staff member. What skills are most important to you and the district? Solid writing ability, for example, is a must but digital photography or video experience may be something a new person can learn more about once in the role. An understanding of the local media is very helpful but does not dictate that a media person is the best hire. 

Unless a candidate brings a strong portfolio, consider giving the candidate a short writing test such as creating a news release from a list of facts you provide. You should expect even a candidate who is fresh out of college to have strong writing skills. Poor writing skills will
only add unnecessary editing and rewrite time for other staff members.

Sample Job Descriptions

Additional Resources

The following are resources with further information about starting a communications team and/or hiring a school communications professional.

School communicators

The Role and Value of School Communicators

NSPRA article

Communications team

Staffing and Supporting a Communications Team

NSPRA Samples and Resources (members only)

Communication team

Profile of a School Communicator

NSPRA Report


Leadership in School Communication Program

NSPRA Program for Superintendents and Communication Professionals

Learn More

To further discuss and learn more about starting a school public relations/communications department, please email NSPRA Manager of Professional Development and Member Engagement Melissa McConnell at

And, visit the NSPRA membership page to learn more about membership benefits and resources!