NSPRA Front-Runner: LaTarzja Henry

NSPRA Front-Runners are members identified by the NSPRA Executive Board as emerging leaders who are doing outstanding work for their schools, their chapters and for NSPRA. They have demonstrated professional leadership at the state and national level and/or have been recognized for innovation and excellence through NSPRA award programs or presentations.

LaTarzja Henry
LaTarzja Henry

Current title & district: Executive Director of Communications, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Charlotte, N.C.

Alma Mater: Hampton University, undergrad; University of North Carolina at Charlotte, graduate degree.

My PR motto: It isn’t what they say about you, it’s what they whisper.
– Erroll Flynn

I am inspired by…Children’s artwork. I love to see the world through their eyes.

Current communication tool I use the most is…My BlackBerry.

Communication tool I rarely use anymore is…the Fax machine.

Greatest PR Success: The economic collapse provided many communication opportunities for organizations across the county. The district was facing close to $80 million in cuts. For us it meant for the first time since the depression, the district had to cut staff – close to 700 positions. While the entire process was both new and challenging, we created a strategy focused on internal communications and transparency. As a result, we have established a communications standard that is accepted by the entire executive team – including the budget office, district and school-level staff. We received comments from employees like, “I didn’t necessarily agree with the decision but I’m glad I knew about it before I read about it.”

Greatest communication challenge: Human PCs. Almost everyone has a handheld device that enables them to access whatever information they want whenever they want it. Our challenge as PR professionals is providing accurate and timely information to constituents in this age of instant information. The 24-hour news cycle is dead and we must meet the challenge of getting information to our constituents when they look for it.

A strong communication program supports student success by…telling the story of teaching and learning in the 21st Century. One of my professional goals is to give people who are not in the classroom a glimpse into the magic that happens when a great teacher makes the abstract real for students. The public education experience is very different today than it was even 15 years ago – those stories need to be told.

My favorite part of my job is…seeing students and staff get excited about their stories. The ultimate compliment for me and my staff was when a principal called to complain about a story that we pitched and got placed in the local daily. It was featured front page above the fold. The principal expressed concern about why the story was not featured first on the district website. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that his preference was our website – not the daily. Who knew?

I believe school PR/communications is...connecting people and information. The science is in knowing how people get their information. Where do they go to get it? How do they like to receive it? Who do they get it from?

Joining NCSPRA helped me…by giving me a local network of communication professionals who have been a wonderful resource and sounding board.

I’m an NSPRA member because…it allows me to surround myself with talented professionals who understand the challenges and opportunities in school public relations. These are individuals who get it. There is no better professional support group.

My epitaph: She was never too busy to listen.