Resources/Articles

Check boxes imageThe role of school public relations is to maintain mutually beneficial relationships between the school district and the many publics it serves. Each school district has its own unique way of carrying out this role, but there is one common element of all successful public relations programs: they are planned.

A well-thought-out public relations plan will help ensure that a school district carries out its mission and meets its goals with the support of its staff and community. But where do you start? This tip sheet, developed from the resource files of the National School Public Relations Association, provides a basic framework process for developing a district public relations plan.

The four-step public relations process

Exemplary public relations programs follow this basic four-step process:

  1. Research - up front analysis on where the district stands in regard to all publics it wishes to reach
  2. Action plan - developing public relations goals, objectives and strategies that go hand-in-hand with the district's overall mission and goals
  3. Communicate/Implement - carrying out the tactics necessary to meet the objectives and goals
  4. Evaluate - looking back at actions taken to determine their effectiveness and what changes are needed in the future

Keeping these four basic public relations tenets in mind, you can follow this step-by-step process in developing a public relations plan for your school district.

Public Relations Planning Process

Use a variety of assessments. Begin by meeting with the superintendent and school board to discuss their priorities for district public relations objectives. Know the district mission and goals and be prepared to discuss how your program can help achieve those goals.

Internal and external research. Before structuring the plan you must be aware of where the district stands in the eyes of both staff and the community. There are a variety of questions to answer: Who are our publics? What are our publics' overall perceptions of our schools? What "hot issues" are circulating among staff and community? What issues affecting other school districts may soon be coming our way?...the list goes on and on. Base your research on your district mission and goals and use several methods. Tactics to consider: national studies, census data, telephone logs, media reports, interviews with community opinion leaders, focus groups, written or telephone surveys. (More information about research and strategic planning are posted under the Research tab.) 

Develop public relations goals and objectives. Thinking first and foremost about facilitating achievement of district goals, develop short-term and long-term public relations goals to accomplish. It is advisable to develop these with input from a committee representing board, staff, parents and outside community members. Remember, to make the objectives timed and measurable so you will know if you achieved them. 

  • Example: By the end of the school year, 75 percent of the district's teachers will be involved in projects to improve teacher/parent relations.

Identify target publics. These "targets" are the groups of people that need to be reached in order to achieve the goals. Primary publics are those most important to achieving goals. In schools, they are often students, staff and parents. Secondary publics are those who could be reached if money or time permit, or those who are indirectly reached by public relations tactics.

Identify desired behavior of publics. This is a critical step! In order for the plan to be successful, you must decide what you want the program to do. Do you want to provide information? Or do you want reinforce or change the behavior of certain publics? These questions must be answered before tactics are created.

Identify what is needed to achieve desired behavior. Using research data, decide what actions must take place to create the behaviors you desire. For example: You could find out by taking attendance that only 50 percent of the parents at your school attend the Fall Open House. The desired behavior is to increase this number. A follow-up written survey could help you identify the reasons 50 percent do not attend. Then you can decide what actions to take to change this percentage.

Create strategies and tactics for reaching publics. Strategies are overall procedures, like developing a media kit that provides general information about the school district. Tactics are the actions that must be taken to carry out the procedures, like writing the press release or printing the folder for the district media kit.

Put your plan on paper. This is where you develop the budget, create a timeline and assign responsibility for all strategies and tactics.

Implement the plan. After management/board approval, put your plan into action. Keep your committee involved, and prepare to refine along the way.

Evaluate your efforts. Using the same methods you used in the research phase, evaluate your plan. First, evaluate the planning process itself: what worked and what didn't. Continue to evaluate your program as it is implemented to determine what revisions may need to be made. Finally, measure your goals and objectives to determine whether you have reached them.

(Source: Jennifer Reeve, APR, Director of Communications, Colorado Association of School Boards)


Sample School PR Job Descriptions

Mesa Unified School District #4

Position Title: Director III
Division: Educational Services
Work Year: 12 Months
Department: Community Relations
Location: Administration Center
Salary Schedule: Administrative

General Statement Of Responsibilities:

The Department of Community Relations provides communication/public relations services to the district, each department and school. The director functions as a communications coordinator during emergencies on district or school levels, establishes in-service training sessions, produces components for specific programs and activities and publishes a newsletter for school district patrons periodically. The department publishes an employee publication on a regular basis.

Essential Duties:

  • Serves as information liaison between the total school system and the community at large, represents the district within various community organizations.
  • Sets annual objectives for and evaluates the district's community relations program, to include budget planning for meeting those objectives.
  • Serves as liaison person between the district and the news media and supervises the production and distribution of news releases.
  • Serves as district spokesperson in areas of sensitivity or controversy.
  • Cooperates with district administrators and other staff members, as appropriate, in publicizing and promoting performances, exhibitions, displays, dedications or special programs sponsored by the schools and open to the public.
  • Provides professional public relations counsel and assistance to the administration, Governing Board, schools, parent groups and student groups.
  • Oversees the writing and production of the employee newsletter.
  • Prior to final publication, reviews and edits all district publications which will be disseminated to the general public.
  • Recommends innovative avenues of communication for external and internal audiences.
  • Solicits feedback through formal and informal means on activities, products and purposes of the community relations program and the school district in general.
  • Develops and maintains accurate records of the district's public relations program.
  • Provides logistical support for all meetings of the Governing Board.
  • Expedites responses to inquiries and complaints received by the department from citizens, news media and school personnel.
  • Conducts recognition programs for employees and students \
  • Coordinates and manages city, state and national campaigns and programs.
  • Conducts information campaigns for district elections.
  • Researches and writes articles and speeches for the Superintendent and Governing Board.

 

Position Title: Director of Community Relations

Marginal Duties:

  • Provides professional assistance in the development of various publications (brochures, newsletters, letters, information bulletins) for school and departments.
  • Provides in-service training as required on public and community relations.
  • Performs other tasks as assigned by the Superintendent.

Qualifications:

  • Bachelor's degree in public relations, mass communications, or equivalent experience
    Professional experience in a full-time public relations position
  • Working knowledge of internal and external public relations programs
  • Mastery of communications skills
  • Understanding of the importance of two-way communication
  • Experience in planning, implementing, evaluating, budgeting and personnel management
  • Good health, physical stamina, fitness and vitality
  • Accreditation by the National School Public Relations Association or Public Relations Society of America preferred, but not required
  • Evidence of adherence to the code of ethics of the public relations profession

Supervision Received: Superintendent of Schools

Supervision Given: Community relations specialist and secretary to the director


Sample School PR Job Description
(Non-administrative)

Job Title: Communications Specialist

Qualifications:

  • Bachelor's degree in PR, communications or related field.
  • Two years of related experience in public relations and/or media work.
  • Previous experience working with public schools preferred.
  • Knowledge of the unique district community.
  • Excellent verbal written and interpersonal communication skills.
  • Proficiency with current technology for performance of duties; including graphics design and publication/print software.
  • Excellent analytical and critical thinking and judgment skills a must.

Duties:

  • Disseminate information to the public and school district staff.
  • Evaluate and coordinate requests for community use of facilities, as well as approval of event promotional materials.
  • Serve as editor/writer for district web site, newsletters and other publications
  • Generate newsletter stories
  • Coordinate layout, design and production of web site, newsletters and other publications.
  • Serve as communications liaison between the media and the district. Prepare and distribute news releases, arrange media interviews and conferences and respond to requests for information
  • Photograph district programs and events for publications and slide shows.
  • Determine appropriate communications for target audiences.

Source: Ohio School Boards Association, California School Boards Association, and North Penn (Pa.) School District