NSPRA Front-Runners

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. The annual distinction is awarded to four association members each year, representing the seven NSPRA regions on a rotating basis. Each Front-Runner receives recognition in an issue of The NSPRA Network, NSPRA's monthly members-only e-newsletter, and a commemorative plaque during the Annual Meeting and Celebration of Achievement that kicks off the NSPRA National Seminar each summer.

2020-21 NSPRA Front-Runners

Phil CampbellPhil Campbell 
Director of Public Relations
Bonneville Joint School District 93
Idaho Falls, ID
NSPRA Northwest Region 

 

Jessica HullJessica Hull 
Communications and Public Relations Officer
Monterey County Office of Education
Salinas, Calif.
NSPRA Southwest Region

 

Brian NicolBrian Nicol 
Director of Communications
Howard-Suamico School District
Green Bay, Wisc. 
NSPRA North Central Region 

 

Kelly Wachel, APRKelly Wachel, APR
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer
Kansas City Public School
NSPRA South Central Region

 


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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. See all past Front-Runners.

Phil Campbell
Phil Campbell

Phil Campbell
Director of Public Relations
Bonneville Joint School District 93
Idaho Falls, Idaho

My alma mater is...  Idaho State University

My personal public relations motto is… “Have I done any good in the world today?” With tears running down her cheeks, our beloved 91-years-young lunch lady muttered this as she hung up her hairnet for the last time during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each day I look for opportunities to “do good” as my way of honoring our good friend, Edna Gerard.

I believe school PR/communications is... Critical to the success of a school district. It has never been easier to lose your community. These are trying times, and a good communications strategy can keep patrons engaged.

A strong school PR/communication program supports student success by… Creating a culture that celebrates student achievement. Our students know that their success in the classroom, on the playing field or in the auditorium and all points in-between will be celebrated as a district with our patrons and beyond.

My greatest school PR success was... My state requires a supermajority of the vote to pass bonds. Six months before taking this job, my district had run a bond for a new high school that failed to reach a majority of the vote and came nowhere near the supermajority threshold that it needed to pass. Six months after joining the district, we came within one percentage point of passing the bond. Six months later, we eventually passed two bonds, one for a desperately needed new high school and the other for a performing arts center and stadium.

My greatest school PR challenge is... Balancing work life with family life.  My wife and two dogs are so supportive, and I couldn’t do any of this job without that support. They all get excited when it’s time for me to come home, whether that’s at 11:30 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. I have strategically placed a picture of them in my office so that I see it every time I get ready to head out to an event. This helps remind me that while building a community is great, nothing is as important as maintaining relationships with our loved ones.

I am inspired by... There are way too many friends and mentors for me to even begin to fully answer this question. I am beyond blessed to have so many great people in my life. At the end of the day, I’m inspired by the youth of my district. It’s an honor to help tell their stories. I’ll often think back to my public school experience and ask myself what I would want from the Public Relations Department. It does make me smile when I see their retweets or likes on Instagram.

My favorite part of my job is… I love it when we go into schools and the kids are excited because they want to be part of the story we are filming. We love to see the kids’ smiles and their enthusiasm when it comes to showcasing the great things that are happening in their school. Even at a young age, they are building pride for their school and the district.

The communication tool I use the most is… Without question, my iPhone. I can’t imagine doing this job without it. We use it for Facebook Live videos and to gather news stories for a weekly newscast. Much of the editing is also done on the iPhone. iMovie and the ability to Airdrop.

The communication tool I rarely use anymore is… Press releases. This might sound blasphemous to some, but we focus almost exclusively on relationship-driven earned media. This very well could be a luxury of living in a smaller television market, but we make it a point to get to know new reporters when they come in. We’ll send a text to a trusted news reporter when we want coverage. 

Here’s a tip from a former news reporter turned school PR professional:  Find out when their morning news meeting is, and send your text to the trusted reporter about 15 minutes before the meeting is set to begin. They’ll appreciate having a news story idea to bring to the meeting and they’ll fight for it, especially if you make it easy for them.

My favorite professional fantasy is... I’d love to have a dedicated television studio with all the bells and whistles, maybe even a production crew. While we are at it, our own broadcasting booth in our stadiums would be really nice too.

Membership in my state chapter SPRA helps me... Sometimes you just need to talk to someone who totally understands the struggle. That’s what membership in IDSPRA means to me. I’ve leaned on them a lot throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and I couldn’t be prouder of the work that is being done by the small but mighty chapter in Idaho.

Membership in NSPRA helps me... I was incredibly fortunate to find a friend and mentor early on in my school PR career at NSPRA. His name was Joe Krumm, and he was a mountain of a man. He taught me to take in every second of the annual NSPRA Seminar. I’d be lost without NSPRA. I was bummed when we had to cancel in St. Louis, Mo. Fortunately, NSPRA has plenty of tools to help keep its members engaged beyond the annual Seminar that we all love so much.

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Jessica Hull
Jessica Hull

Jessica Hull

Communications and Public Relations Officer
Monterey County Office of Education
Salinas, California

My alma mater is... University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. for undergraduate and Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pa., for graduate school.

My personal public relations motto is... “Be honest, be available, be strategic, be resourceful, be collaborative, and above all, be kind.” I define public relations as, “the state of the relationship between the public and the organization.” With everything I do, I try to focus on those relationship-building actions that will improve our connections with our customers and our community members.

I believe school PR/communications is... Essential. Media is no longer just the local TV news or local newspaper; if those still exist, they are most likely overshadowed by a variety of 24-hour news and social media networks. Our customer is now in control and decides when, where and for how long to read or view content they deem is engaging and worthy of their time. School PR professionals educate the public about the dramatically changing landscape of education and tell stories to inform, inspire and enact meaningful change.

A strong school PR/communication program supports student success by… Telling their stories. We at the County Office of Education support students, teachers, classified staff, administrators, schools and districts by knowing what makes them each unique and knowing it’s the people, not just the programs, who make a difference. We value each and every one of our residents, and we care about what connects them to the public education system. If you are a student/parent/staff member in the system, or a resident disconnected from the system, I want to know your story - the positive and the negative - so from it, we can learn where we need to, and must, improve.

My greatest school PR success was... Working with an outstanding district team to pass a school facilities bond in a community after 30 years of failed attempts. I learned a district can have great ideas and goals, but if they are not relevant and reflective of what the community needs and wants, no effort will be successful. Also, school PR professionals now have a tremendous responsibility to use our individual and collective voices to promote racial and social justice in our systems and in our communities. I hope my future successes are ones that work toward building respect for the worth, dignity, and equality of every individual in our beautifully diverse society.

My greatest school PR challenge was... and continues to be finding a balance between work and life. School PR is an incredibly demanding job, but add on a pandemic-- and then throw in some wildfires-- and it’s been impossible to dedicate time to my mental or physical health, or my family. Burnout is real and it is overwhelming. I truly value my CalSPRA and NSPRA #k12prWell colleagues who remind me to breathe and take time for myself. I could not do all of the work I do without my own incredibly supportive family,  including my generous and calm husband, David, who reminds me the challenge is never going to change, I have to change how I approach and respond to the challenge.

I am inspired by… The school PR greats like Tom DeLapp, APR,  who patiently guided me in the first few months of my career nearly 16 years ago. Still at the top of his game, Tom works to live, but doesn’t live to work. He’s always available to help out and encourages others to laugh and enjoy the ride while inspiring them to do outstanding work on behalf of public education. I’m also inspired daily by my daughter, Annabelle, who at four-years-old,  sees only the good in every person and teaches me to create my own superpowers.

My favorite part of my job is… Seeing a classroom full of students engrossed in learning from a dynamic educator. I work in school PR because I love school; I loved every single day of school from preschool to graduate school, and this unique job gives me the opportunity to never leave. Education has the power to transform individuals and societies, and I feel truly lucky to be able to witness and share the stories of public education as my career.

The communication tool I use the most is… My phone. I can call, text, email, tweet, post on Facebook, send a WhatsApp message, take and edit photos and videos, send a mass notification, and search the internet for anything I need, no matter where I am, 24/7. Establishing and engaging in so many two-way communication channels helps me to be everywhere and help everyone at once - an enormous need for my communication department of one!

The communication tool I rarely use anymore is... Paper. I rarely print anything for myself, and more of our employees and customers are asking for information in electronic format only. Not only does our transition to a paperless work environment help with collaboration, it also saves precious environmental resources. It's a win win! 

My favorite professional fantasy is...To work in the fashion industry (step aside Anna Wintour) or, at the very least, cover Fashion Week events around the world. The New York Times' street style photographer Bill Cunningham once said, "Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life," and I couldn't agree more.

Membership in my state chapter SPRA helps me... To think outside of my county and collaborate to create common messages across our state, which strengthens everyone's understanding of complex education issues. Although I joined CalSPRA in my first year of school PR, I was nervous to participate in most events and felt intimidated by the group of seasoned professionals. After several years of sitting in the back, I signed up to present at a state conference and never looked back. Now serving my second year as CalSPRA Board secretary, I'm focused on ensuring each of our members knows they bring value to our organization with their unique set of skills. CalSPRA membership has led to so many important moments in my career and has introduced me to lifelong friends.

Membership in NSPRA helps me... Connect to people, topics and ideas I would never have the opportunity to otherwise. My first NSPRA Seminar was in 2007 in Phoenix, Ariz. Less than two years in the school PR role, I was awestruck by the teams of people from around the country (their ideas! their stories! their budgets!) and since then have walked away from every Seminar, every PR Power Hour, every NSPRA  Connect message, feeling just as inspired and motivated. NSPRA makes me want to be a better school PR professional, and I am sincerely humbled to be recognized by such a renowned group.

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Brian Nichol
Brian Nicol

Brian Nicol

Director of Communications
Howard-Suamico School District
Green Bay, Wisc.

My alma mater is… University of Wisconsin-Green Bay for undergraduate and Marian University for my master’s degree. 

My personal public relations motto is...Whether as an individual or as an organization, know, own and use your strengths.

I believe school PR/communications is...An essential investment that supports the work of teachers, principals and superintendents - all in the service of our students.

A strong school PR/communication program supports student success by…Strengthening and maintaining critical connections between school and home, district and community.

My greatest school PR success was... Passing a crucial funding referendum after losing a vote the year prior. The 58-point swing to a 17-point "yes" vote was among the biggest turnarounds in Wisconsin referendum history.

My greatest school PR challenge was...The school funding formula in our state is broken, inequitable and unnecessarily complex. Learning the intricacies of school finance and distilling for our audiences is an incredible challenge in Wisconsin. We are a high-performing district of choice and one of the lowest-funded of more than 400 districts in the state.

I am inspired by...My wife, who teaches kindergarten through a computer screen this year. Like a world-class athlete, she makes the impossible look easy.

My favorite part of my job is…Working with our principals to solve problems and serving on our district leadership team.

The communication tool I use the most is…Twitter! Best source of professional learning since my classroom days and even more so in school PR. #k12PRchat is a revelation!

The communication tool I rarely use anymore is...Does saying "fax machine" date me? I recall when email was new in the early '90s and I think it's really catching on…

My favorite professional fantasy is...The day when schools are adequately and equitably funded,  so districts no longer need to appeal to their community to fund basic needs for operations.

Membership in my state chapter SPRA helps me...Connect with problem solvers and leaders who understand the context and complexity of the role.

Membership in NSPRA helps me...Learn, grow, serve and build lasting professional and personal relationships with loyal friends.

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Brian Nichol
Kelly Wachel, APR

Kelly Wachel, APR

Chief Marketing and Communications Officer
Kansas City (Mo.) Public Schools

 

My alma mater is… University of Kansas

My personal public relations motto is... Perspective, perspective, perspective.

I believe school PR/communications is... The best job. School communications is at the heart of public education sentiment. Our jobs rely on our ability to convey the context, emotion, performance and genuine goodness of our schools. It's the "why" in public education. It's the pulse of our schools and communities. Good public relations and communications is also the voice of reason in the room - this is one of the most important roles we execute.

A strong school PR/communication program supports student success by… Listening to students and really hearing what they tell us. Student voice has become an integral part of our school communications program because we are building our marketing and communication plans around our students' experiences. When we can share our student successes - our students' stories of survival, creation, invention, performance and equitable access - we help shine the light on why public education matters. We garner goodwill and support for our students and teachers by standing in the gap and protecting the image, but also projecting the image. Ultimately, we support student success by loving our students and sharing that love with our communities.

My greatest school PR success was... Helping shine a light on diversity and equity initiatives within a community that needed to have the conversation. And doing so with students at the heart of the conversation and with students in the conversation.

My greatest school PR challenge was... Helping shine a light on diversity and equity initiatives within a community that needed to have the conversation. And doing so with students at the heart of the conversation and with students in the conversation. (Yes, this is intentionally the same answer. Aren't our greatest successes usually our greatest challenges? )  And, um, COVID-19.

I am inspired by… Our students, my kids, my husband, my colleagues, my friends, superintendents, the garden, books, a front porch, KU basketball, #BlackLivesMatter, floretflower on Instagram, The Chicks Gaslighter Album, boldness, art, writing, truth-telling, cooking and good red wine.

My favorite part of my job is… The people. PR = personal relationships.

The communication tool I use the most is... Email, ugh.

The communication tool I rarely use anymore is... My office phone.

My favorite professional fantasy is... Being part of school districts that make positive change, ushering school districts to high performance and student-centered decisions.

Membership in my state chapter SPRA helps me... Laugh, reflect, be grateful, support, lead, grow and see my friends!

Membership in NSPRA helps me... Grow, learn, stand in solidarity, see the bigger picture, understand perspective and see people as they are.

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NSPRA Front-Runners Archive

View a list of past Front-Runners and their eNetwork profiles.