NSPRA National Seminar: Action Labs & Special Sessions

Action Labs and Special Sessions offer the opportunity to go in-depth on a topic in a 90-minute format. Action labs are interactive mini-workshops that include a “hands-on” component, and provide tactics and strategies adaptable for immediate use by participants in their own districts. 

Check out this year's offerings below! 

Monday, July 13

Tuesday, July 14

Wednesday, July 15

Crucial Conversations from the PR Perspective 

Special Session – Monday, July 13, 1-2:30 p.m.

Come learn skills to hold difficult conversations, to improve relationships and to address difficult topics both professionally and personally. Based on the research, case studies and resources in the New York Times bestselling book, this Crucial Conversations certified trainer will share practical ways for you to approach coworkers, your boss and even in-laws. During a condensed overview of the nine modules for holding “crucial conversations,” you will learn tools for talking #schoolPR when stakes are high.

Presenter: Julie Thannum, APR, assistant superintendent, board and community relations, Carroll (Texas) Independent School District


Keys to Amplifying Your System's Story ​

Action Lab – Monday, July 13, 1-2:30 p.m.

In an age of increased scrutiny of public schools educational professionals must do more to build its case. Each school and school system has a story, but who’s telling yours? Tweeting more isn’t enough. Through the use of data-driven decision making and strategic communication, school leaders can re-frame the discussion and mobilize community support in seeking improved student outcomes. There is overlap in the work between educators and communicators. Through the use of creative storytelling, this session offers five keys to amplifying your system’s story by enlisting trusted counsel, using the teacher’s toolbox to develop strategic communication plans, leveraging communication skills to build trust through transparency, applying differentiated communication tactics, and fostering a growth mindset. It’s work that builds relationships, gets results and earns recognition. Plan now for tomorrow’s success. 

Presenters: Lesley Bruinton, APR, NSPRA president-elect and public relations coordinator, Tuscaloosa City (Ala.) Schools; Michael Daria, Ed.D, superintendent, Tuscaloosa City (Ala.) Schools

Nora Carr, Ed.D., APR 

Millions at Stake: A Guide to Referendum Success

Special Session – Monday, July 13, 1-2:30 p.m.

Most school leaders aren’t trained in political campaigns. Yet, increasingly school districts must turn to voters for approval to fund building projects, capital needs, operating revenue, and even annual budgets. Some superintendents say: “If you aren’t currently involved in a school finance election, you better be preparing for one.” Successful campaigns are not left up to chance. They take time and planning with proven strategies and tactics. What does it take to earn voter support? Learn about award-winning campaigns—and how to avoid failure— from the editors of NSPRA’s newest finance campaign planning resource. Combined the presenters have led 12 successful campaigns bringing more than $600 million dollars into their districts.

Presenters: Annette Eyman, APR, director of communications, Papillion (Neb.) La Vista Community Schools; Janet Swiecichowski, APR, vice president, CEL Marketing PR Design

Nathan McCann, Ed.D 

Power of Communication: Prevent Harm to Stakeholders

Special Session – Monday, July 13, 1-2:30 p.m.

School leaders are thrust into action when a crisis, social media incident or threat garners intense public scrutiny and media coverage. This timely session will explore how key stakeholder groups are impacted, and the communication strategies and tactics necessary to offset the risk of alienating traditional supporters and interested groups.

Presenter: Rick Kaufman, APR, executive director/community relations and emergency management, Bloomington (Minn.) Public Schools

David Schleifer, Ph.D.

Equity Allies: Promoting Equitable Strategies in Public Schools

Action Lab – Tuesday, July 14, 1-2:30 p.m.

The topic of equity is increasingly part of discussions about improving educational outcomes for our students. Far from being a buzzword or a passing trend, equity is the necessary path to achieve success for each student. Join us for this informative and interactive workshop that will walk you through the Leading for Equity Framework, which includes specific steps boards can take to begin or accelerate their district's equity journey.

Presenters: Heidi Otero, NSPRA vice president for diversity engagement and director of communications, Arizona School Boards Association; Nikki Whaley, board support and training specialist, Arizona School Boards Association

Joshua Sauer  Carla Pereira

Event Planning for Education 101: Entertain, Engage and Inspire 

Special Session – Tuesday, July 14, 1-2:30 p.m.

Live events are a valuable opportunity to communicate your district’s values while also engaging students, staff, families and important stakeholders. Whether you’re kicking off the school year, hosting a State of the District event, or breaking ground on a new property, events are your perfect opportunity to entertain, engage and inspire. Learn important keys to event planning, how to choose and coach speakers and emcees to inspire, and how to celebrate your staff and students with a theme that aligns with your district’s story.

Presenters: Justin Grayson, president/CEO, The Grayson Agency, Riverside, Calif..; Akwi Nji, director of communications, Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Community School District

Tim Savoy  Dr. Eric Wright

Get Ready: Gaining the Skills and Attributes of a Strategic 

Action Lab – Tuesday, July 14, 1-2:30 p.m.

What does it take to be an effective strategic advisor? Yep, there are some skills involved or stuff you need to do well. There are also more intangible attributes that make the good people even better. In this session, we will discover the skills and attributes that the best strategic advisors need to possess or develop. During our time together, you will listen, talk to others, participate in fun activities and do your own reflection to assess your own ability as a strategic advisor.

Presenter: Bob Noyed, APR, senior strategic consultant, CESO Communication

JacQueline Getty, Ed.D.  

The Pandemic and Public Schools: Coronavirus Crisis Communications and Response

Special Session – Tuesday, July 14, 1-2:30 p.m.

Public schools, along with their surrounding communities, have been dealing with an unprecedented public health crisis, COVID-19, which was deemed to be a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Crisis events such as this one are challenging for school communicators, but they are also the times at which effective, accurate, transparent and timely communications are needed most. Listen as a panel of experienced school communicators and administrators share how their school systems have responded to the challenges of this new coronavirus disease. With the continued global spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and the earlier H1N1 pandemic of 2009-2010, communicators should prepare now for these unexpected but seemingly inevitable challenges.​

Presenters: Susan Enfield, Ed.D., Superintendent, Highline Public Schools, Burien, Wash.; Karen Heath, supervisor, Berrien (Mich.) RESA​; Justin Elbert, PIO/assistant director of communications, Klein (Texas) Independent School District ​


Creating (and Living!) Your Best Life in School PR 

Action Lab – Wednesday, July 15, 1-2:30 p.m.

You are the master of getting things done in the high-performance world of school PR, but are you sacrificing what matters most in the process? The best life in school PR means doing important work really well and protecting your wellness to keep you on point for your district, your loved ones and yourself. Together, we will use the four-step planning process (yes, RPIE!) to understand what's possible, explore strategies and practice key conversations. You’ll leave with a plan to create (and live) your best life in school PR.​

Presenters: Kristin Magette, APR, marketing and proposal writer, Willdan Group, Eudora, Kans.; Shawn McKillop, APR, manager of communications and community engagement, Hamilton-Wentworth (Ont.) District School Board

Brian Woodland, APR 

Ensuring Educational Equity and Access During a Pandemic

Special Session – Wednesday, July 15, 1-2:30 p.m.

For most school districts, the COVID-19 pandemic forced an unprecedented paradigm shift in the school communications and response. One of the major challenges during the pandemic was ensuring equity and access in the delivery of educational opportunities, communication, and other school services. This panel session will discuss best practices and opportunities for improvement through the lens of equity and inclusion. Audience participation will be encouraged..​

Moderator: Joshua Sauer, APR, marketing communications, Moore Norman (Okal.) Technology Center and OKSPRA VP of Membership

Joshua Sauer, APR

Presenters: Jim Cummings, APR, director of communications, Glendale (Calif.) Elementary School District and past NSPRA President; Tracy Jentz, APR, communications & community engagement coordinator, Grand Forks (N.D.) Public Schools; Adrienne Leon, APR, director of communications & pr, Capital Region BOCES, N.Y. and NYSPRA President; Arianna Vazquez-Hernandez, APR, CPC, director of communications, Pharr (Texas)-San Juan-Alamo ISD; Catherine Carbone Rogers, APR, chief communications officer, Highline Public Schools (Wash.)

Jim Cummings, APR Tracey Jentz, APR Adrienne Leon, APR Arianna Vazquez-Hernandez, APR, CPC Catherine Carbone Rogers, APR

Gold Mine Roundtable

Special Session – Wednesday, July 15, 1-2:30 p.m.

Long a favorite session of Seminar participants, the Gold Mine roundtables let you gather a treasure-trove of best practice ideas on a variety of topics to try in your district. Here’s your chance to attend three mini-sessions of 20 minutes each (Seminar session speed dating!). Plus, you’ll receive a resource drive containing tip sheets from all the roundtables at the end of the session. This is your opportunity to capture the best ideas from your colleagues in a time-saving format.

Proverbs for PR: 20 Things It Took Us Too Long To Learn 

Special Session – Wednesday, July 15, 1-2:30 p.m.

A panel of veteran school communication professionals will share proverbs and the stories to illustrate them during a session to guide your decision making and work habits. Their stories and reflections, spanning decades, have resulted in 20 lighthearted, must-know proverbs you won't find in a book but you will find positively impacting your work. Discover why you should, "Send a Frenchman to speak to the French." Or what, "Feed them or they will hunt," implies about public relations. Or why, "Ignorance is your best friend." You'll want to frame these for your wall.

Presenters: Paul Tandy, APR, chief communications and emergency management officer, Parkway School District, Chesterfield, Mo.; Chris Tennill, APR, chief communication officer, School District of Clayton (Mo.); Mickey Schoonover, APR, director of school/ community relations, Pattonville School District, Saint Ann, Mo.; Erica Chandler, APR, director of communications, Affton (Mo.) School District

Julie Thannum, APR