Josey McPhail- 35 Under 35 Class of 2018-19

Josey is one of 35 professionals, age 35 and under, who make up the Class of 2018-19. These 35 individuals are emerging leaders who are making a difference in school public relations.

Josey McPhail
Republic (Mo.) School District

What does leadership mean to you? 
I truly believe leadership is a choice, not a position. As I’ve had the pleasure of working for Republic School District in southwest Missouri, my definition of leadership has evolved. I once thought “leaders were born” and that a certain skill set accompanied such individuals who were coined “leaders.” However, I now recognize that everyone has the opportunity and ability to be a leader…to work continuously to be the best “you” possible and to have a positive impact on those around you! 

What was the most fulfilling professional moment you have experienced? 
This may sound minimal, but the most fulfilling professional moment I have experienced was the first time patrons came to our district’s defense on social media. It was at that moment I realized we had turned a corner, and that was a very proud moment! During the six years prior to our current administration’s tenure our district was under different leadership, and in that time our community’s trust of our district had diminished greatly. We had transparency issues and no formal lines of communication had been established. The new administration saw these challenges and quickly rose up to meet them. We began by listening through surveys, focus groups and informal feedback gathering. From there we created and launched a strategic communications plan. Through consistency and the use of best practices…the basics…we were able to turn those negative perceptions around. One of the first times we realized our efforts were making an impact was when a patron came to our defense on social media. His remarks were something similar to “I have confidence the school will tell us more when they can.” That remark received numerous “likes” and many other patrons followed suite with similar remarks. Simple, but one of my most fulfilling professional moments! 

What are the most challenging and/or rewarding part about working in school PR? 
When you work for an organization that is responsible for preparing your community’s most prized possessions, our children, for the future it can be both overwhelming and exhilarating. The daily challenge of making sure we as a district are doing our part to academically and socially prepare students while also making sure they are safe at school, is a big job. While expected from stakeholders, it is still so important to communicate those daily aspects to build trust with families, to ensure we are “doing what we say we are going to do” and to celebrate the great things happening in our schools. Staying consistent with this is sometimes overwhelming and hard. 

Of course the crisis situations that come up throughout the year are the most challenging, yet I’ve found can also be the most rewarding elements of this job. When you have to put several schools on lockdown, or have had to evacuate due to a bomb threat or have had to share information out about an attempted kidnapping those are TOUGH! However, after the situation has settled and we are evaluating how we did, it is so very rewarding to receive compliments or praise or simple understanding from patrons. Those are the moments when you feel most proud of the type of impact this job can have on your school community, and how lucky you are to work with an incredible team of professionals!   

What’s your favorite work app and personal app?
These days it’s a basic and necessary tool, but it is definitely a “go to”…Facebook would be my “favorite” work related app. It provides me with a snapshot view of so many pieces of our school district and community. From personal interactions between staff and parents to comments on district posts to discussions in community related pages, the content may not always be positive, but it is always insightful! 
As far as a favorite personal app, right now I’m enjoying Headspace. I’ve learned that taking at least five minutes a day to simply just breathe is a welcome and needed release! 

What book has inspired you professionally? 
As an administrative team in my district we have completed several book studies. A recent one was You Win in the Locker Room First, by Jon Gordon. This book shared some insightful strategies to building a winning team that I found very thought provoking. These “7 Cs” can help leaders create a positive and lasting culture, build strong relationships and improve teamwork. Of course, “communication” was my favorite of the “7 Cs!” 
How has NSPRA and your state chapter guided you along the way? 
I count myself very lucky to be part of such a strong state chapter, MOSPRA! Missouri is very diverse in the types of school districts we have across the state. Regardless of the size or location of a district, I can count on our membership to provide resources, help and feedback literally at any time of day (or night) to jump in to assist. The members of MOSPRA have invested in me both personally and professionally and because of them I have grown tremendously. 

What is a recent communications/media campaign you enjoyed – either one of your own or one you saw nationally?
I have to give a shout-out to my fellow Missourians at Parkway near St. Louis. At the beginning of each school year they put together an insightful campaign that sets such a positive tone for the year ahead. My favorite, thus far, has been when they placed a GoPro camera on an incoming kindergarten student and literally followed her through the entire first day of school. From breakfast at home, first day pictures, getting settled in her new classroom to heading home on the bus—they captured it all in less than five minutes! The piece evoked so much emotion for every audience member. From the parents out there in the same boat or for those with secondary students reminiscing about their big kids’ first day of school to literally every child and adult out there remembering the emotions felt on their own very first day of school. It was a powerful video with some great music!   

What emerging trends in school public relations get you excited? 
The world of communications is constantly changing and evolving, which in itself is exciting! I am a true believer that it is vital for a district level communications plan to be implemented along with building level plans. However, where I truly feel the biggest impact can be made on student and family engagement, culture development and trust building is through strong classroom communications. Teachers hold the key! As time continues there are more and more options available to teachers for this purpose, and that is a trend I believe we should all embrace. For this “trend” to be most effective we as school district communication specialists must determine how best to support teachers through these efforts. This will ensure that there is cohesiveness in communication strategies at the district, building and classroom levels.