Earlier this week I got my first taste of education PR at the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District (BPCSD). Through the Newhouse Alumni Partnership Program, I volunteered for two days to work on PR related projects for the district located a little more than an hour away from Albany, New York. Under Michele Kelley, who works for Northeast Regional Information Center (NERIC) through the Capitol Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), I authored a feature story for the high school and provided my insights for the district’s social media communications. In addition, Michele introduced me to some resources for me to consider in the educations communications space.
Meanwhile back home, the big story this week was a district-wide teacher sick-out which closed schools throughout Detroit Public Schools (DPS). The sick-out is reported to be a protest by the teachers’ union against the conditions their schools are in, as well as compensation and benefits. Overall, DPS has been dealing with a number of issues for nearly a decade, mainly due to a sharp decline in student enrollment and the district’s nearly billion-dollar budget deficit.
The night and day differences between BPCSD and DPS are part of the reason for my interest in education PR, so that I can be a part of changing the conversation to highlight the positive things going on in the latter. Based on some of the things I’ve learned volunteering for BPCSD, here are some ways I’d attempt to do for DPS:
- Highlight students, teachers and staff – As a former student of DPS, I can attest to part of the reason for the perceived lack of motivation from those in the trenches: and it stems from their lack of appreciation. Deep down, there are students, teachers and staff who truly desire to do the right thing; however, their efforts for doing so are often under-appreciated. Many schools have programs in place where teachers and students work to keep students out of trouble and are successful at doing so. Highlighting these individuals and groups would be a good way to keep them motivated to influence change in their schools in spite of external situations. Everyone loves recognition, and few people could use it more than teachers in inner-city schools.
- Use social media to stir up friendly competition – What’s potentially an underestimated method of engaging students is social media. Specifically at the high school level, most students use smartphones and are on many, if not all, of the most popular social media networks. But what would make them interested in following their school district or school on social media? Contests. Opportunities. Recognition. Interaction. Prizes. Ultimately it’s using social media as a tool to listen to and show concern for what they have to say.
- Create micro-fundraising campaigns – Another one of the key things I learned at BPCSD was that school districts are a lot like nonprofit organizations in the way that they rely heavily on outside funding aside from tax-payer funds from both the city and state; unfortunately, those only go so far in keeping schools and their districts solvent. Using the right messaging, DPS could appeal to its parents and alums to do the little bit they can to contribute to improving their school’s conditions and resources. Although most parents of students in the district seemingly struggle with their own finances, the use of research and analytics to find the most affluent parents and reaching out to them might be worth it.
In spite of these ideas, it’s important to note that there are other factors beyond a communications professional’s control that might limit the ability to put forth new ideas in place. Ultimately, it’s up to the management and board of directors above any communications professional to do their part in repairing DPS’s myriad of issues. While that goes on, one can do the little bit they can to show appreciation to those who are directly impacted by management’s decisions.
After all, a little appreciation (and friendly competition) can go a long way.