Candidates for the NSPRA Executive Board

NSPRA’s Bylaws and policy allows the NSPRA Executive Board to affirm candidates by acclamation in the event of an uncontested race. This year we no longer have a contested race as one candidate for North Central Region Vice President has withdrawn.

At the Annual Meeting on Sunday, July 9, 2017 at the San Antonio Seminar, the Executive Board will affirm by acclamation the following candidates that are running uncontested as officers-elect of the Board. All candidates will officially take office on October 1, 2017.

Candidate for President-elect:

Vice President of Diversity Engagement:

  • Heidi Vega, director of communications, Arizona School Boards Association, Phoenix, Ariz.

South Central Region Vice President:

North Central Region Vice President

  • Peg Mannion, APR, community relations coordinator, Glenbard Township High School District 87, Glen Ellyn, Ill.

The candidates were asked by the Executive Board Search Committee to answer the following questions about their desire to serve on the NSPRA Executive Board.


Candidate for President-elect:

Carol A. Fenstermacher, APRCarol A. Fenstermacher, APR

Career and Professional Background: Carol A. Fenstermacher, APR, has worked in school public relations for the past 18 years in Oregon and Washington. Currently the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Centennial School District in the Portland area, she was the Community Relations Director for Evergreen Public Schools for 14 years. She has completed the Advanced Public Information Officer course and the Multi-Hazard Emergency Planning for Schools course through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Prior to working in public education, Carol spent almost 20 years working in the public and non-profit sector. Her jobs included: Communications Specialist for the City of Portland; Community Relations Director, Portland Rose Festival Association; and Assistant Vice President/Director of Communications for the local United Way. In addition, she was a reporter for a local business paper and a sports publication. She holds a degree in Communications from the University of Portland.

How can school PR professionals best advance our role as strategic communication leaders, build understanding of communication as a core management function, and demonstrate communication accountability?

We need to stay on top of what is happening in education locally, regionally and nationally and work with the superintendent and school board to determine how it will impact the students in our district and how the district is going to communicate that information to staff, parents and the community. In our role as the communication leader in the district, we need to serve as a strategic advisor to the superintendent by knowing what is most important to him or her, asking tough questions about proposed initiatives and pointing out potential problems, such as the negative impact a program may have if not viewed through an equity lens.

To demonstrate communications accountability, we need to practice the RACE method on all major initiatives and programs, as well as our annual communication plans and share the information with the leadership team so together we can plan how to move forward. The RACE method is:

  • R — Research: find out about what issues the district is facing and how they relate to the organization’s goals.
  • A — Assess: use the research findings to determine the best course of action, plan a response, and implement the plans.
  • C — Communication: deliver the organization’s messages to our audiences.
  • E — Evaluation: analyze what the district has done to see how it affected our publics and their perception of the district.

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 major communication challenges facing districts are the ongoing cuts to education budgets on both the state and federal level and the lies being told by proponents of vouchers, charter schools and those who want to dismantle our public schools — creating a great divide between rich and poor, whites and people of color, and the haves and have-nots. For too long, we in public education have allowed others to tell their stories about what is happening in our schools. It is time for us to stand up and tell our own stories — graduation rates are going up, test scores are going up and students are doing amazing things each and every day. Public education is the great equalizer and we need to pull together like never before to get our stories out and stop the attempts to dismantle our schools.

I received my APR in 2004 and have been an active member of NSPRA since 1999. I’ve served as the NW Regional VP from 2012 — 2015, so I know how the organization operates and the resources that are available to the membership to help us tell our story. In addition, I have experience leading a national association, having served as the National President of Women In Communications, Inc., in 1994-95, hiring a new executive director and leading it through a total reorganization.

What do you hope to contribute to our profession as an NSPRA Executive Board member and Association leader?

I want to give back to the association that has given so much to me, by working tirelessly to achieve the association’s goal of having NSPRA be the professional organization that is indispensable to school public relations professionals and other education leaders.

We are at a time in our country where attacks on public education have escalated and the threat of vouchers, private charter schools, and the defunding of public schools are stronger than any other time in our history. We must become more active in the fight to save public education for all students. I believe I have the skills and the passion to help lead this fight.

I am passionate about working for equity in education — regardless of a student’s race, sexual orientation, gender identification, immigration status or nationality. I currently serve on NSPRA’s Communication Equity and Diversity Task Force, and hope to elevate the work and findings of this task force so members have the tools and knowledge to be advocates for all students and staff.

I want to highlight the many contributions our members make by telling their stories so they are recognized and valued as critical members of their school/district leadership teams.

I have strong communication and leadership skills, and I build strong relationships. I am a great listener and thoughtful before speaking. I’m passionate about public education and serving every student that walks through our schools’ doors. These are the things I hope to contribute.


Candidate for Vice President of Diversity Engagement

Heidi VegaHeidi Vega

Career and Professional Background: Heidi Vega serves as the Director of Communications for the Arizona School Boards Association which serves all school board members, superintendents and school districts across the state. Her time with ASBA has provided a wealth of professional development in policy, advocacy and state level initiatives, such as diversity and equity, to better understand the different disparities students face. Before that, she served as the Director of Communications and Community Engagement with the Deer Valley Unified School District, one of the largest school districts in Arizona spanning over 367 square miles in five different cities, through many initiatives including mass communications, crisis situations, marketing campaigns, community outreach and more. She served as chapter president of the Arizona School Public Relations Association (ASPRA) in 2016-17. Heidi received an NSPRA Foundation Seminar Scholarship to the 2009 San Francisco Seminar, was named a “35 Under 35” honoree in 2012, and was recognized as one of NSPRA’s 2014-15 Front-Runners.

How can school PR professionals best advance our role as strategic communication leaders, build understanding of communication as a core management function, and demonstrate communication accountability?

My longtime mentor once told me a good communicator will adapt to any challenge that comes along, be transparent in any situation and always learn from past mistakes. That was the best advice I ever received, and have kept those three key pieces of guidance throughout my career in communications. You can’t advance, build and grow as a communicator if you aren’t willing to adapt to change and innovation when it comes to your approach in communications. Accountability comes into play when you are honest and transparent as the voice and face of your school district with external audiences. The community must trust you and the school district, in order to create buy-in and loyalty.

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?

Identifying the different strategies for communicating with your various stakeholders, including students, baby boomers and parents who are from Generation X or millennials, and measuring those strategies. A strategic demographic breakdown of who is accessing your content will impact how you want to communicate with your stakeholders. The messages we communicate don’t change, but the way we communicate certainly does. A memo was the way to communicate in the 80’s, an e-mail in the 90’s and a Snapchat video or DM (direct message), using the puppy dog filter today. We now live in a time where social media is the new CNN, word of mouth is now a social media endorsement and real-time engagement on social media is considered the norm, meaning if consumers post a complaint on social media, they expect an instant response.

Working with school board members from diverse backgrounds, ages and geographic areas from across the state, I have been able to increase readership of ASBA communication tools, increase marketing efforts through the use of diverse visual content and increase our social media engagement by 150 percent in the last two years. It’s also essential to monitor how effective your communication strategies are, and don’t be afraid to adjust how you are communicating using your data analytics. It’s one thing to push out information quick and easy, but the overall goal should be ensuring that information is reaching and engaging your diverse audiences.

What do you hope to contribute to our profession as an NSPRA Executive Board member and Association leader?

I truly hope I can bring value to the NSPRA Executive Board with my diverse experiences and the professional development that I have gained throughout my career. My wish to serve as Vice President of Diversity Engagement begins with my upbringing and personal experiences which have infused the passion to improve public education and break down barriers that many students continue to face. As our nation continues to struggle with privatization of public education and continues to segregate our schools by socioeconomics and other related factors, we must continue to initiate the crucial conversations with our NSPRA members and provide them with the professional development, tools and resources to help them identify the disparities that are happening in their school communities. Our NSPRA members also continue to change in age. We must continue to find ways to adapt to the new generation of school communication professionals, and provide multigenerational strategies that can continue to engage our new members to help them succeed.


Candidate for NSPRA South Central Region Vice President

Tony Heaberlin, APRTony Heaberlin, APR

Career and Professional Background: Tony is in his 28th year with Tulsa Tech. He joined the district in 1989 as a media specialist in the Curriculum and Media department. In 1992 when Tulsa Vo-Tech changed its name to Tulsa Technology Center, he was moved to the newly created Marketing department with the main job task of handling the district’s media relations efforts. Job duties included media relations, crisis communications, public relations, writing, photography, radio and television production, publications coordination and special projects. He served as Director, Marketing Communications for five years and now serves as Chief Communications Officer. His duties include supervision of the district’s public relations, government relations and economic development efforts. Graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in Communication in 1987, Tony received a Master’s in Human Relations from OU in 1994.

How can school PR professionals best advance our role as strategic communication leaders, build understanding of communication as a core management function, and demonstrate communication accountability?

I believe that PR professionals can advance the role as strategic communication leaders by adapting to a rapidly changing landscape, consistently demonstrating competence and showing the ability to see and deal with issues at the macro level. Communication leaders must become indispensable counsel to senior leaders. Not only do communication leaders need to understand the communication business, they need to understand the school business. By creating and using a strategic communication plan, we have the opportunity to show management how the RACE formula works and can be used in district strategic planning. By developing and using metrics we can demonstrate communication accountability. In addition to pursuing the APR credential, I recommend school communication leaders seek teacher and administrative certifications as well.

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 believe the major communication challenge we face is the fracturing of mass media and the rise of social media. Another challenge I see is the shrinking of budgets and resources as well as the call for school choice which will continue to erode public education efforts. I believe my experience and ability to see critical issues at the macro level will benefit membership on the NSPRA Executive Board. We must create and grow public education advocates and a great place to start is in our own schools with our own staff and faculty. I think we need to develop relationships and alliances with business and industry leaders who continue to struggle with finding a qualified workforce. We must engage in positive conversations about the relevance and value of public education with local government officials, Chamber of Commerce leaders, business professionals, trade associations, Realtors, etc. By creating third party advocates, we can advance the positive story of public education.

What do you hope to contribute to our profession as an NSPRA Executive Board member and Association leader?

My hope is to give back to an association that has meant so much to me and my career. I look forward to the opportunity to represent the needs and wants of the South Central Region as well as to mentor new members of NSPRA and help develop strategies for organizational growth. As a senior leader in my district, I now have the flexibility to leverage time and expertise to this endeavor. I believe we must communicate the value and benefits of NSPRA membership to prospective members as well as school district superintendents and school board members. We must continue to look for partnership opportunities at the local, state and national level with other associations.


Candidate for North Central Region Vice President

Peg Mannion, APRPeg Mannion, APR

Career and Professional Background: I am an award-winning school PR professional with significant experience in strategic planning, community relations, project management, crisis communications, team building, media relations and writing. I have developed, coordinated and implemented communication programs that meet the needs of internal and external audiences in Illinois’ third-largest high school district. In 13 years working in Glenbard Township High School District 87 as Community Relations Coordinator, I’ve worked for five superintendents and coordinated communication regarding referendums, a school fire, the deaths of students and staff members, closing the minority student achievement gap, transition to a 1:1 iPad learning environment, school day schedule change, leadership changes and more. Over the span of 10 years, I’ve held a multitude of leadership positions on the Board of Directors of the Illinois chapter of NSPRA (INSPRA), including chapter president. I also have 12 years’ experience as a community newspaper editor and education reporter.

How can school PR professionals best advance our role as strategic communication leaders, build understanding of communication as a core management function, and demonstrate communication accountability?

School PR professionals can advance our value individually by continually demonstrating our commitment to managing our district’s reputation by developing relationships with varied stakeholders. We must each work to create a culture of communication in our own district, and clearly show the direct link between transparency and community connections and student success.

As we build trust and demonstrate the value of successful school communications, school PR professionals also must “lean in” and advocate for our seat at the table. As those responsible for building and cementing a district’s brand and creating connections with stakeholders, it’s imperative that school PR professionals are members of the superintendent’s Cabinet or key leadership team.

We must reach beyond our individual districts and expand our impact on public education by working with our colleagues locally, regionally and nationally. NSPRA members also must find ways to work together to learn from each other and share experiences — successes and failures — and expand opportunities to connect. We must continue to promote the NSPRA Seminar as the place to learn each year. Chapters must encourage broader participation in their programs and conferences, finding ways to bring in colleagues from regional chapters; or chapters must work to plan regional conferences. We all must commit to sharing our knowledge through Twitter chats (regionally, such as #INSPRAChat, and nationally with #K12PRChat). These online opportunities are becoming the primary resource for school PR professionals to learn, support and build valuable personal and professional relationships — making attendance at the NSPRA Seminar even more valuable each year.

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 challenges we face in our profession include political and financial challenges, as well as the dramatically increasing and always changing use of digital communication.

Our political environment has not only allowed, but fostered, attacks on public education. Those attacks come at a time when education funding is being cut in states across the nation and distributed to charter schools, which have no accountability, leaving us on an uneven playing field. School communicators must support districts in addressing these issues. More than ever, school communicators must be the trusted source of accurate, fact-based information, and NSPRA must be the primary resource to help members achieve that status.

As an APR and veteran school communications professional in the third-largest high school district in Illinois, I can make unique contributions to NSPRA’s ability to support members in their efforts to clearly communicate their district’s goals and outline how public schools prepare students for success in college and careers. I am a 10-year board member of the Illinois Chapter (INSPRA) and former president of INSPRA, one of NSPRA’s most active and nationally recognized chapters. That leadership experience will allow me to bring to the NSPRA Executive Board examples of how our 150+ members have directly addressed these challenges, and how INSPRA has supported members’ success. For example, INSPRA has created an online, members-only Members Need Help message board that allows members to post questions and get immediate advice from colleagues.

What do you hope to contribute to our profession as an NSPRA Executive Board member and Association leader?

I will leverage the many strong resources of the Illinois Chapter to better connect and collaborate with other chapters in the North Central Region and then share the successes with other regions. In addition, I will call on the professional relationships I have developed while attending and presenting at state and national conferences to increase NSPRA’s ability to support members’ important work.

In Illinois, we continually strive to find unique and creative ways (such as #INSPRAChat, the Member Needs Help listserv and live streaming of Tips & Tactics workshops) to support our members and provide professional development opportunities. Our chapter has a longstanding tradition of being a vibrant professional organization built on idea sharing, collaboration, best practices and embracing innovative approaches to challenges facing public schools.

My significant experience with such issues as crisis communications, district-wide building initiatives, senior administrator changes and successful referendum campaigns will be invaluable as we work together to support NSPRA members in the North Central Region and beyond. I have benefitted greatly from my NSPRA membership, and I’m eager to pay it forward on a large scale.

I believe leadership is a call to service. All my life I was taught to pick up the mantle of responsibility when it is there to be carried. I’m motivated by what I see as another turning point in our profession...one that is precipitated by an uncertain future. I therefore wish to join my colleagues in charting the future course of the Association.