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.

2019-20 NSPRA Front-Runners

Angela LinchAngela Linch
Communications and PR Administrator
Central Bucks School District
Doylestown, Pa.
NSPRA Northeast Region 

 

Karen HeathKaren Heath
Supervisor of Communications
Berrien RESA
Berrien Springs, Mich.
NSPRA Mideast Region

 

Yolanda Stephen, APRYolanda Stephen, APR
Director of Public Relations
Troup County School System
LaGrange, Ga.
NSPRA Southeast Region

 

Todd HagansTodd Hagans
Chief Communications Officer
Gaston County Schools
Gastonia, N.C.
NSPRA Southeast Region



2019-20 NSPRA Front-Runners

Angela LinchAngela Linch
Communications and PR Administrator
Central Bucks School District
Doylestown, Pa.

NSPRA Northeast Region

My alma mater is... Cabrini University

My personal public relations motto is… Be transparent, be engaging, and meet people what they are.

I believe school PR/communications is… Critical to the success of a school district that understands the value of engaged parents and informed publics. Successful communications, however, is everyone's responsibility. It can't be an afterthought.

A strong school PR/communication program supports student success by… Giving everyone a common understanding of the work of our school district. When we communicate with families regularly, equitably and with integrity, we demonstrate that we value them and the critical role they play in helping their child achieve.

My greatest school PR success was… It IS any time I end a conversation with a parent or community member! I often think when we rely too much on digital, web and other means of communication, we neglect the value of a personal conversation. We all receive challenging emails or interact with individuals who are stressed. I always look forward to the opportunity to come to a common understanding with someone or help connect them with a resource that can help a child. For me, these personal engagements are so energizing!

My greatest school PR challenge was… Working through the closure of an elementary school. Our families and students felt so connected with their school, it was hard to see the anger and the tears. When the time came to transition displaced students to their new schools, those of us who planned these efforts were fully committed to helping them feel welcome and comfortable in these new environments. The planning that my colleagues and I engaged in was so rewarding. It's not often that we get to really see the value of good, clear, honest communication.

I am inspired by… My school public relations colleagues. There is so much value in being a member of a group of individuals who consistently and always have your back. I know that I can call on them for advice, support and "been there done that" straight-talk whenever I need it.

My favorite part of my job is… Without a doubt, being in classrooms and interacting with students whenever I can. What could be better than sitting on a rug with kindergarten students as they hug a therapy dog or capturing the moment when a graduating senior shares a hug with a teacher who helped her get there?

The communication tool I use the most is… My phone! It's my connection to my colleagues, my access to all things social media and my constant companion.

The communication tool I rarely use anymore is… Direct mail. It's getting more and more costly, and that time and effort is almost always better spent organizing an opportunity to engage with our public face-to-face in a meaningful way.

My favorite professional fantasy is… Probably to be a teacher, if I could do it all over again.

Membership in my state chapter SPRA helps me… Connect with a professional support network that is second to none. Within my region, I have on-call support from individuals who want nothing more than to see me succeed and who offer me the ability to help other colleagues do the same.

Membership in NSPRA helps me... Targeted professional development that helps me to be the very best I can be. WIth NSPRA, I'm reminded that there's always someone I can learn from! NSPRA offers me opportunities for personal recognition and the tools for professional success. I'm proud to be a member of an organization that is committed to elevating the role of the school PR professional.

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Karen HeathKaren Heath
Supervisor of Communications
Berrien RESA
Berrien Springs, Mich.

NSPRA Mideast Region

My alma mater is... Michigan State University (Go Green!)

My personal public relations motto is… “Your story is worth telling!” You never know how your experiences may impact someone’s life.

I believe school PR/communications is… all about building relationships. The angry parent you talk to on the phone today may be your biggest supporter during your district’s next millage campaign!

A strong school PR/communication program supports student success by… being inclusive in our storytelling. The messages we publish, the images we display and the words we say must be representative of everyone in our districts. Whether it is choosing appropriate pronouns or posting signage that is welcoming to all, it is our responsibility to serve as role models for our students, our colleagues and our community.

My greatest school PR success was… becoming the president of the Michigan School Public Relations Association. I am so proud to represent over 200 talented school communicators. This role has allowed me to participate in state and national initiatives, set the pace for our members’ professional learning, and bring best practices home from NSPRA events. Additionally, I am afforded the opportunity to support rising leaders within our field-my favorite part of my position!

My greatest school PR challenge was… (and still is) balancing work and life. School PR is a demanding job. Sometimes I must remind myself that it is OK to take a break. This is becoming a little easier now thanks to Shawn McKillop, APR, and Kristin Magette, APR. Their encouragement through the Arms Outstretched-School PR Wellness campaign has been wonderful and very appreciated! #k12PRwell

I am inspired by… my children (Owen, 13 and Miles, 11) and students across the country. No matter how awful the news, no matter how horrific the school tragedy, no matter how terrible the crisis, children still see the good in people and offer hope during the most desperate times.

My favorite part of my job is… mentoring new school communicators. Coming from the Michigan Legislature, I remember how overwhelming it was to be immersed in education-speak and the academic environment. My state chapter was my lifeline, and now I have the opportunity to support others who are in that same position. I enjoy helping them learn about their new roles, supporting them as they gain confidence and watching them grow into leaders.

The communication tool I use the most is… Monday.com. This is a great project management tool that helps my team stay focused. I also love NSPRA Connect. I find myself checking the latest threads before I am reading local headlines!

The communication tool I rarely use anymore is… I don’t think I have touched my iPad in a few years!

My favorite professional fantasy is… that I would have an unlimited budget!

Membership in my state chapter SPRA helps me… realize my potential. MSPRA is truly a family that encourages its members to be supportive of each other’s pursuits. We work to share best practices, develop our skills and inspire each other to become strategic leaders in our own organizations. The professional support is incredible. I know that I can count on any member to lend a hand in a time of crisis.

Membership in NSPRA helps me... become a highly-skilled and confident school communicator. Thanks to the professional development offerings through the Power Hours and National Seminar, I know that I am making educated decisions, thinking strategically and using evidence-based methods when conducting business at my home district.

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Yolanda Stephen, APRYolanda Stephen, APR
Director of Public Relations
Troup County School System
LaGrange, Ga.

NSPRA Southeast Region

My alma mater is... Undergraduate - Georgia Southern University, Graduate - University of Phoenix

My personal public relations motto is… I actually have two motto’s that I live by. 1) Everything Communicates: I was in my 20’s and started a job with a Fortune 500 company. My vice president used to end every meeting by saying, ‘Everything communicates.’ As I continued in the field, I began to understand what he meant and now I use the motto in my own meetings and when mentoring others. 2) Better is Always in Season: I was having a bad day at work, and I went for dinner and drinks with friends. The coaster the waitress put on the table had a picture of grades in a martini glass and the words inscribed were Better is Always in Season. It was simple, and I immediately related the saying to the work I do – and what I expect of others – to be better because it’s always in season.

I believe school PR/communications is… Misunderstood! I had a principal who told me he didn’t know what I did and why the district needed my position. After I got finished being offended, reality hit me. I knew if people in the organization didn’t know the impact this position makes then I had not done a good job of stepping from behind the camera. Some see people in our profession as fluff fillers or spin doctors. We are neither. We also don’t take credit for all the work we do. We work so hard to tell the story of others that we sometimes misstep in telling our own story. Now, I own everything I do from strategic planning to social media posts to crisis communication. Needless to say, that principal now understands the value PR brings to the district.

A strong school PR/communication program supports student success by… Being honest, truthful and transparent in our strategic communication planning efforts. I believe our job function supports every function in the school district, and we are all here for student success. We highlight bus drivers (operations), create recruiting materials (human resources), plan partner in education events (foundations), include open enrollment and pay dates in newsletters (finance), create school registration campaigns (student services), and more.

My greatest school PR success was… Earning a Gold Medallion for our district’s branding campaign. The team put in some extremely long hours for this campaign. We were tired of throwing paint at the wall to see what would stick. We took a strategic and concerted effort approach. We included the entire district and community supporters. Earning the Gold Medallion was not only for my PR department, it was for the entire Troup County community.

My greatest school PR challenge was… Having leaders who were afraid to respond to community questions – whether they were negative or positive. It made the district appear unapproachable, dishonest and like we are not in the business for kids.

I am inspired by… People in the field who continue learning, sharing their knowledge and being mentors in various ways. I love to listen to the experiences of those who have been in the business for years. They almost always have a calm demeanor. Knowing that there is longevity in this field – and learning about various efforts from my peers – is inspiring.

My favorite part of my job is… Seeing the kids. Whenever I need a work pick-me-up, I go to a school, take a few pictures and talk to the people in the building. It is truly the most favorite part of my job. It also affords me the chance to do a quick pulse check of the political landscape within our organization.

The communication tool I use the most is… Productive Flourishing weekly planners. They help keep me on track. They have planners for heat maps, project planning and blog post planners that I repurpose for social media planning. It is by far my most used tool. A close second is Animoto, which is a video editing software. It is quick, easy, and there are a variety of templates and music to choose from.

The communication tool I rarely use anymore is… Microsoft Publisher. I find the designs to be outdated and the platform a little more cumbersome than some of the newer offerings that create drag and drop newsletters or graphic design materials.

My favorite professional fantasy is… Winning the lottery. Hands down. I want to win the Mega Millions lottery.

Membership in my state chapter SPRA helps me… It helps keep me grounded because I can connect with my PR peers across the state who speak the same language.

Membership in NSPRA helps me... Keep my district's communication efforts relevant through a multitude of professional learnings and connections.

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Todd HagansTodd Hagans
Chief Communications Officer
Gaston County Schools
Gastonia, N.C.

NSPRA Southeast Region

My alma mater is... University of North Carolina at Asheville (undergraduate) and Gardner-Webb University (graduate)

My personal public relations motto is… It is no secret that our jobs are challenging and stressful. Some days, an appropriate motto might be, “The more we work in public relations, the less we like the public.” However, the experience we gain from working with the public is what makes us better. Our interaction with internal and external audiences gives us a unique perspective and understanding of what the public is feeling, thinking and doing. This contributes to our keen ability to handle what comes our way, know a little about a lot, keep calm, make decisions and see the big picture.

I believe school PR/communications is… Now more than ever, PR is critical to the success of a school district, especially with more school choice competition, increased scrutiny from the media and others, and the influence of living in a digital world. Every school district needs a PR/communications professional – there are no ands, ifs or buts about it.

A strong school PR/communication program supports student success by… A strong communication program creates a positive identity and atmosphere for your district, and it generates support for various academic initiatives, business and community partnerships, school bond referendums, extracurricular activities, etc. that have a direct influence on student success. Positivity is captivating, and with the right communication program, you can bring about positive results for your schools.

My greatest school PR success was… For me, there are three: the informational campaign for our $250 million school bond referendum, which was approved with almost 70 percent of the vote; the school district’s 50th anniversary celebration, which included a parade, library display, employee talent show, museum exhibit and birthday party; and our “Nickels 4 Neighbors” campaign, which raised nearly $65,000 over three years to help school districts in North and South Carolina that were affected by hurricanes/floods.

My greatest school PR challenge was… There are two on-going challenges for school PR professionals. First, we must constantly prove ourselves. We can’t rest on our laurels, and we have to be thinking about the next best thing to keep the value of the school PR professional at the forefront. Second, dealing with the media continues to be a challenge when the motivation is more about ratings and advertising dollars than giving a non-sensationalized, accurate account of what happened. Yes, we want to “call out” the media for unfair reporting, but we are reluctant to do so because you never want to get into a dispute with someone who “buys paper by the ton and ink by the barrel.”

I am inspired by… I am grateful for the opportunity to be a leader for my staff and colleagues. I find inspiration in being able to help, offer advice, listen and do whatever I can to elevate our profession. I have to give a shout-out to my predecessor, Bonnie Reidy, who provided much inspiration and influence on my career.

My favorite part of my job is… I love to come up with new ideas and ways that we can freshen up what we are doing. My staff refers to these new ideas as “opportunities.” My favorite part of the job is planning special events, everything from a parade to a new car giveaway.

The communication tool I use the most is… Over the past few years, we have created more original programming for our educational access television channel. Not only has this led to more interest in the channel, it gives us great video content for our website, social media and mobile app. Focusing more on video has increased engagement across all of our communication platforms.

The communication tool I rarely use anymore is… Like many school PR professionals, we have decreased our dependency on printed newsletters and other publications. However, the former newspaper man in me still sees value in print. It’s the “everything old is new again” approach. Because we are saturated with digital content, a printed document every once in a while can seem like a “new” concept.

My favorite professional fantasy is… To lead the public relations team at Dollywood or replace Drew Carey as host of “The Price is Right.”

Membership in my state chapter SPRA helps me… Through the North Carolina School Public Relations Association (NCSPRA), I have the wonderful opportunity to serve as a leader, mentor and friend for my school PR colleagues. During my time as NCSPRA president, we have worked to provide more professional development opportunities for members. I am especially proud of our NCSPRA Leadership Academy, a retreat-style program that was developed last year in partnership with the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

Membership in NSPRA helps me... NSPRA provides me with an avenue to stay informed about issues, topics, programs, etc. that are taking place outside of my own space. I enjoy learning about what my colleagues in other parts of the country are working on and dealing with in their jobs. The professional network that NSPRA provides is extremely valuable, and I appreciate what NSPRA does to support and validate the important work of school PR professionals.

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NSPRA Front-Runners Archive

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