Candidates for the Executive Board

NSPRA is governed by an Executive Board comprised of 12 elected officers: a president, president-elect, vice president for diversity engagement, seven regional vice presidents and two appointed vice presidents at-large. The annual election of officers is conducted in August unless a race is uncontested. In the event of an uncontested race, NSPRA Bylaws allow the Executive Board to affirm candidates by acclamation.

During its July 2020 meeting, the Executive Board will affirm the following approved, uncontested candidates by acclamation as officers-elect of the board: 

  • North Central Region Vice President - Tracy Jentz, APR, Communications and Community Engagement Coordinator, Grand Forks (N.D.) Public Schools
  • South Central Region Vice President - Melissa McConnell, District Communications Specialist, Belton (Mo.) School District #124
  • Vice President for Diversity Engagement - Yolanda Stephen, APR, Director of Public Relations, Troup County School System, LaGrange, Ga.

There is a contested election only for the office of president-elect. All professional-level members of NSPRA will have the opportunity to cast a vote on the president-elect candidates via digital ballot this August. Following are the two candidates running for president-elect:

  • Candidates for President-elect:
    • Nicole Kirby, APR, Director of Communications, Park Hill School District, Kansas City, Mo.
    • Stephen Nichols, APR, Chief Executive Officer, Communication Resources for Schools, Sacramento, Calif.

Newly elected officers take office each year on Oct. 1. The president serves one year in office, and the president-elect serves one year in office before assuming the presidency. Regional vice presidents and the vice president for diversity engagement each serve a three-year term, while vice presidents at large each serve a two-year term.

While serving on the Executive Board, elected officers must fulfill their duties in accordance with NSPRA Bylaws. These duties may include:

  • Doing whatever may be necessary for the furtherance of the purposes of the association, the attainment of the purposes of the Articles of Incorporation, and the study and teaching of its ideals, its ethics and its unique features or organization;
  • Assisting the president in preparing programs for the Annual Meeting and other meetings of the association;
  • Authorizing appointment of all committees;
  • Formulating policies for the program and services of the association; and
  • Directing the Executive Director in the depositing or investing of such moneys as the association may receive and in business arrangements made on behalf of the association.

Get to know all of the 2020 Executive Board candidates by reading what they have shared below about their professional backgrounds and thoughts on school public relations. All candidates were invited to submit a brief biography and statements in response to the same three questions.


Two Candidates for President-elect:

Nicole Kirby, APRNicole Kirby, APR

Nicole Kirby, APR, is the director of communication services for the Park Hill School District in Kansas City, Mo., where she has led the school public relations program for more than 20 years, growing and developing the department and its work. She is a past NSPRA regional vice president and a past president and treasurer of the Missouri School Public Relations Association (MOSPRA). She is an NSPRA Learning and Liberty Legacy Leader, and she received the NSPRA Front-Runner Award, the NSPRA Award of Excellence for publications, the MOSPRA Professional of the Year Award and the MOSPRA Distinguished Service Award. In 2019, she received the NSPRA Gold Medallion, our organization’s top award for programs, for her comprehensive, strategic, year-round communication program. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications from Kansas State University, a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from the University of Kansas, and her accreditation in public relations.

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?

"The best way to advance your own position is to support your superintendent’s position, working to solve the problems that are keeping her up at night. When you demonstrate through your service, your expertise, your education and your credentials that the advice you offer is sound, your superintendent starts to deeply value your contributions. As a professional organization, the more that we can support our members as they develop these skills and credentials, the more valuable we can make them to their senior leaders. This means continuing to refine the content and delivery of our professional development offerings, so they effectively address the issues that our members and their bosses are worried about. It also means supporting our members as they pursue their accreditation in public relations, sharpening their skills so they can become true strategic advisors to their organizations."

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?

"School PR pros are on the front lines of a world in crisis. As our local and global communities face a pandemic and an uprising against systemic racism, we are key to the effective response of our organizations. We manage this while also battling budget cuts and political polarization. To add to this, NSPRA is in a time of transition, replacing our retiring executive director. As a potential NSPRA president, I offer 21 years of school PR experience in crisis communication and strategic leadership. I also bring experience on the NSPRA board from the last major crisis our organization faced. My last three years on the board were the worst years of the recession, and I helped NSPRA navigate through the resulting budget and staff cuts. I have the experience, the skills and the calm in a crisis to take the helm of the NSPRA board during this crucial time. "

3.     What do you hope to contribute to our profession as an NSPRA leader?

"As NSPRA president, I will provide calm, expert leadership during a time of upheaval. I will work arm-in-arm with the NSPRA staff and the other members of the NSPRA board to collaborate as we move forward, taking our organization to the next level in spite of (or because of) the chaos around us. People turn to NSPRA for leadership, for professional development, and most of all, for a support system. I want to be part of the NSPRA tradition of leaders who strengthen our members and our network, bringing us together and making us better. "

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Stephen Nichols, APRStephen Nichols, APR

Stephen Nichols, APR, is the CEO of Communication Resources for Schools. Stephen has been a continuously dedicated member, contributor, and leader in NSPRA for nearly a decade. As a school communications professional for more than 13 years, Stephen has significant experience working with public agencies, for-profit, and non-profit organizations across the United States. Named by the U.S. Department of Education as Subject-Matter Expert Consultant in the area of marketing, communication and diversity, Stephen supports our nation’s school systems in their efforts to effectively connect with communities. He is a featured presenter, speaker, and guest lecturer at a number of high-profile organizations including the Association of California School Administrators, New York City Public Schools, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. Before joining Communication Resources for Schools in 2014, Stephen previously served as the Chief Communications Officer for Capistrano Unified School District and as Public Information Officer for the Folsom Cordova Unified School District. He began his career in education administration at Natomas Unified School District in Sacramento, which in 2006 was the second most diverse school district in the United States. He is an active member of the California School Public Relations Association (CalSPRA), serving in various officer roles, including 2014-15 chapter president. He also served on the Executive Board of Directors of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), as Vice President At-Large for Diversity Engagement. Stephen earned a BA in Political Science and Classical Civilization from Howard University and an MBA from Drexel University, LeBow College of Business. Stephen received his Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the Universal Accreditation Board of the Public Relations Society of America in 2015. Stephen and his wife, Dr. CaLynna Nichols, reside in Sacramento, California.

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?

"In addition to providing excellent professional development, I expect the Association to advocate for the advancement of the communication function in school district management. The best way to accomplish this goal is to demonstrate the value that a public relations professional brings to the leadership team. Since public schools are taxpayer funded, the communications function is one of accountability and is essential to keeping the public informed and engaged. Many school district leaders, community representatives, and board members have yet to realize the benefits of having a strategic communications plan—I will set out to change that. Leveraging experience and relationships, the communications professional can create a dialogue that will ultimately lead to community support of public school districts. I believe that NSPRA should continue to build the capacity of its members through its tool-kits, seminars, and by promoting the APR."

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?

"One of the major communications challenges that we are faced with is curbing the negative perception that the general public has about public education and government. As such, we have to make it our priority to communicate the successes of our students and our educators to the public. Another major challenge we face is the changing news environment. Since news organizations are facing budget cuts designed to keep them competitive and fiscally solvent, many dedicated personnel are being laid-off. This creates an environment where school communicators have to compete for the attention of the media simply because of the scarcity of their resources. Finally, advances in technology have created a platform for any individual, interest, or group to communicate to a potentially large audience. It is easy for misinformed, but often well-intentioned, community members to share inaccurate information about our schools and their initiatives."

3.     What do you hope to contribute to our profession as an NSPRA leader?

"I’m excited about the opportunity to run for president-elect. My enthusiasm is grounded in experience. I served on the chapter and the national level, with each service opportunity providing me with a different but complementary point of view. I’m determined to make the most of this chance to lead. School communications professionals will be well served to understand the wide array of cultural perspectives that our students and their families share, and I hope to leverage my vantage points and those of the hundreds of superintendents I work with nationwide. I hope to foster a dialogue through NSPRA pertaining to communication with and the engagement of those from different backgrounds and points of view. In my current role, I’m charged with setting a strategic vision and inspiring school leaders to enhance their communication effectiveness. I am a trained and experienced leader, with a proven track record of success. I bring several years of non-profit and government board experience to NSPRA leadership. I hope to expand on the success of predecessors in this position by providing unique professional development opportunities, building strategic alliances with other educational associations, and relevant centers of influence. Finally, I will build relationships with NSPRA members and promote the benefits of membership in the organization."

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One Candidate for North Central Region Vice President:

Tracy Jentz, APRTracy Jentz, APR

For more than seven years, Tracy Jentz, APR, has been the communications and community engagement coordinator at Grand Forks Public Schools in Grand Forks, ND. As a Cabinet-level administrator and proud one-person school communications office, she provides communications and sociological perspective through her work in creating and utilizing strategic communications. She promotes and supports students and employees and their many accomplishments through proactive communication efforts.

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 school leaders and community members look at a school communicator, they should see a fiscally-responsible thought leader who is committed to working each and every day for our students, the communities we serve, and the field of school communications.

"School communicators build our reputation on taking projects and getting measurable results. We must create and utilize these opportunities to introduce a strategic communications process in setting goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics, as well as monitor key performance indicators, as part of our daily work.

"We also need to remain committed to learning and using the best practices of strategic communications within our school systems, state chapters, and national organization. We need to remain curious and willing to ask questions, provide insight, and help solve problems.

"As Arthur W. Page stated, ‘all business in a democratic country begins with public permission and exists by public approval. If that be true, it follows that business should be cheerfully willing to tell the public what its policies are, what it is doing, and what it hopes to do. That seems practically a duty.’"

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?

"The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way many organizations conduct their business, and educational organizations will be no different. From health guidelines and procedural changes to possible budget cuts and/or staff reductions, it is vital for NSPRA to be proactive in our work to provide information and resources to our school communities for these important conversations.

"I am committed to learning and using the best practices of strategic communications and sharing that with our members. Issues management, the early identification of issues and their potential impact on an organization, is key to effective communications.

"This is illustrated in the emergency communications plan I presented in my Accreditation for Public Relations (APR) panel in April 2019. That plan was the framework for my collaboration with NSPRA colleagues to create a COVID-19 Response Guide in an effort to tailor communications that provide AIR (Alert, Inform, Reassure) to our communities.

"As we move forward into planning for another school year, together we must be proactive and outline our state of preparedness for our school communities."

3.     What do you hope to contribute to our profession as an NSPRA leader?

"NSPRA is the compass that brings strategic focus to our members by providing resources, professional development, and opportunities for networking. I will work diligently at collaborating and maintaining positive relationships with our school communications colleagues by asking questions, providing insight, and helping to find solutions to the myriad of issues that affect our schools and communities through proactive communication efforts. We are stronger together.

"As a member of the Administrative Cabinet at Grand Forks Public Schools, I am encouraged to contribute my background in communications, sociology, and research to ask questions and help solve problems. That experience and background provide me with a unique ability to look at opportunities from multiple perspectives, a strength I offer as an NSPRA leader.

"I am proud to be born and raised in the Midwest, and it is my honor to serve Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Manitoba, and northwestern Ontario as the next Vice President of the North Central Region of NSPRA."

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One Candidate for South Central Region Vice President:

Melissa McConnellMelissa McConnell

Melissa McConnell has held several positions in the Belton School District in Belton, Missouri. Her career began as an elementary library media specialist in 1997; a position she held for 15 years. She then transitioned to the role of educational technology specialist for 3 years, and she has been the district’s communications specialist for the last 5 years. McConnell’s long tenure with the same district gives her a unique background and set of experiences that strategically influence the way the district communicates at all levels. She has built relationships and partnerships that have helped raise the level of trust and pride throughout the district and community.

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?

"Be seen. Be frank. Be patient.

"Simply put, if we want to be considered communication leaders, we need to be seen - in person and virtually. Get out from behind the desk and attend that Rotary meeting, get lunch at the local diner in your district, sit in on a class discussion, join that webinar on social media strategy, chime in on the #K12PRChat, share a great idea in NSPRA Connect or the School Communications Pros Facebook group...just. be. seen.

"When it comes to accountability, be frank. We are not in our roles to say yes to everything. Communications professionals need to have the 30,000 foot view, the 3 months ahead voice, and the 3 years back memory bank for the district. That institutional knowledge, forethought, and strategic planning mindset are what make your role different from anyone else at the table.

"Having a seat at the table isn’t a given for a communications professional, especially for the hundreds of 1-person shops. Yes, communications is a core management function, but it does not equate to a Cabinet position for every district. Many have more hats to wear besides communications -- some are teachers, some are secretaries, some are nurses, some are assistant principals. So, our role at NSPRA becomes helping everyone who has a role in communications understand patience will lead the way. Keep doing the good work, keep writing the good copy, keep learning more about our craft, and keep building that trust -- demonstrating value takes time."

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?

"Being trusted. Building and maintaining trust will always be our greatest challenge. Global, national, state, and district-specific issues and crises will come and go; it’s how we respond to them, how we make people feel, and how we bounce back that will go the distance and determine our success. If our communities, students, parents, and staff don’t trust the work we do or the words we say, districts cannot survive. As an NSPRA board member, I hope to demonstrate by example.

"I believe that the Executive Board should use our expertise and skills to address the importance of trust and lead the way on key issues in education. NSPRA should have a seat at the table and be the trusted voice in the room on national issues, just as we have that hope for all of our members at the district level. I will be proud to serve on a Board that represents our membership in this meaningful way and strongly believe it will build trust in our organization and profession across many disciplines."

3.     What do you hope to contribute to our profession as an NSPRA leader?

"I hope to be a voice connecting NSPRA to those districts that will never have practitioners for one reason or another -- perhaps they are too small, membership is too expensive, taking the risk is too scary, or the thought of starting from scratch is too complicated -- and then help them find their way to our organization. We are such a supportive and powerful connection for districts, and I know there are many that simply don’t know we exist, or aren’t aware of the value a membership can provide.

"I also look forward to bringing a teacher voice to the table. Having been in a district for over 20 years and in different roles gives me a perspective that at times can be overlooked or assumed as “covered.” Internal communications is a vital piece of every district’s strategic plan, and I am eager to share, learn, and shape best practices so members can embrace and empower these built-in communicators."

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One Candidate for Vice President for Diversity Engagement

Yolanda Stephen, APRYolanda Stephen, APR

Yolanda Stephen’s progressive career in public relations, corporate communications, and writing started after she graduated from Georgia Southern University with a Bachelors in Communication/Broadcasting and English. She began telling the stories of for-profit, non-profit, and now public education entities while successfully navigated strategic (communication) planning with C-suite employees and Executive Cabinet members from conception to completion. With 15 years as a PR professional, she has earned her MBA and is honored to now be an APR with an Accreditation in Public Relations. As the Director of Public Relations for Troup County School System, she oversees the communications function for 12,100 students, 1,200 employees, and 21 locations. Every day is different and she loves it! She is also an active community member where she works on the Board of several professional organizations, including Toastmasters, Leadership Troup, and Georgia School Public Relations Association.

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?

"Advancing the role as communication leaders starts with trust. People do business with people they trust. Communication builds relationships. Those relationships become sustainable through trust gained over time. This takes more than task completion. It includes active listening, honesty, being a trusted confidant, professionalism, and sometimes letting people know they need to fix the hole in the screen door. While the door still opens and closes, bugs can get in! Manage your reputation just like you manage the reputation of your organization.

"Demonstrating communication accountability sounds like data to me. Giving an ‘account’, provides a report or description of an event or experience. What experience are you providing through your communication efforts? Completing deliverables on time, including colleagues inside and outside of your department on communication efforts, and sharing data from program evaluation demonstrates accountability. Personal values and skills like timeliness, written and oral communication, and admitting when you are wrong as quickly as you admit that you are right also demonstrates accountability.

"Communication is a core management function because without it there would be no products sold, no social media, no kids in classes, no relationship building, and no growth. The onslaught of the 24-hour news cycle via both traditional and social mediums have aided in our voice about the importance of including communication as a fundamental essential function."

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?

"I stand behind the Barcelona Principles when it comes to communication challenges we face no matter what company, agency, or organization we are employed. There are seven of them and they center on several factors that include goal setting, measurement, evaluation, and transparency – take a moment and read them when you have time.

"Our biggest challenges, especially in the face of looming budget cuts, are: Showing the value of communications (return on investment), Sharing the right messages for our organization that produce value (public sentiment), Reinventing our profession as the world quickly reinvents itself (social media vs. traditional media vs. both), Reinventing ourselves as practitioners in the field (dispensable vs. indispensable)

"Before joining school communications, I was in the public sector, private sector, and non-profit sector. I sharpened my skills that I later found were just tactical. I didn’t understand the difference between outcomes vs. outputs or how to confidently present data as a means to moving in one direction vs. another. I learned these skills as a member of NSPRA.

"Another learning is that things really aren’t just black and white. The diversity and inclusion conversation continues around us like a cyclone. We are sitting right in the middle but are sometimes afraid to open our eyes and acknowledge it."

3.     What do you hope to contribute to our profession as an NSPRA leader?

"My communication skills and expertise have been honed while a member; from presenting individual sessions to earning my Accreditation in Public Relations. I was even inspired to run for President of the Georgia chapter which I ran successfully; even earning the Mark of Distinction for GSPRA.

"The conversation that is taking place in our districts, and nationally, tackle diversity and inclusion. I want to be part of that conversation to see how we can bridge the divide that continues taking place in our respective communities. The realities of the day and the need of this hour is dire and should be an eye-opener. I hope to contribute more than just conversation, but action, and build upon what has already been done to advance our profession as it relates to diversity and inclusion, our individual communities, and their unique needs."

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