September/October 2017

Cathy Kedjidjian is coordinator of communications and community relations for Deerfield Public Schools District 109 and past president of the Illinois Chapter of the National School Public Relations Association.

The Illinois Chapter of the National School Public Relations Association (INSPRA) and the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) have a long and strong partnership that continues to grow. That partnership recently earned INSPRA an award as an exemplary chapter from the National School Public Relations Association. The award recognizes successful joint efforts that build support for education.

You’re reading one of those joint efforts right now. For many years, INSPRA has contributed articles for this, the “Practical PR” column in The Illinois School Board Journal. INSPRA’ s goal for this column is to allow you and other board of education members statewide to learn key lessons in school communications from professionals, and to understand that value to their districts — and to public education in general — of effective, strategic communication.

In addition, INSPRA members have been key presenters at the Joint Annual Conference, both as partners with IASB, and as presenters representing their school districts. With our participation, INSPRA again provides value to IASB members, as well as administrators and educators, in hosting presentations that explain key ideas in school communication and provide useful, can-do takeaways. Topics of presentations led by INSPRA members in the last two years have included communicating a 1:1 rollout; building a new school communications program; social media; and building cross-district and community partnerships. Two of the three INSPRA-sponsored sessions at the 2016 Conference were assigned to rooms with seating for 80 and both sessions were scheduled opposite 30 other topics. Attendees voted with their feet; one session attracted approximately 60 attendees while the other hit capacity with attendees spilling out into the hallway in order to hear the presentation. The third INSPRA session was a round-table format to encourage dialogue. The Sunday morning panel was one of nine offered and attracted a full table. This response from attendees — affiliated with various facets of school management across the state — solidifies INSPRA as a leader in school communications and positions our chapter as a vital resource to provide support to IASB and its members.

It wouldn’t be a partnership without a little quid pro quo. Members of the IASB staff presented three Gold Mine Sessions at the 2016 NSPRA national seminar in Chicago, covering topics relating to organizational publication style, recruiting, and community engagement.

This year, INSPRA will host panels on using Facebook to engage communities, and on best practices to recruit, retain, and engage staff through effective internal/human resources communications.

In 2016, INSPRA increased its role at the Joint Annual Conference in order to build a stronger partnership with IASB and provide greater learning opportunities for IASB members. INSPRA’s proposal to IASB to host “PR Problems? InsPRa Solutions!” was accepted. The promotion, shared via social media and through email, stated:

Have a communications concern? A PR problem? Members of the Illinois Chapter of the National School Public Relations Association (INSPRA) are available on a drop-in basis throughout the conference to consult with board members, superintendents and other school officials on their specific PR issues, or to discuss general trends in school communications. INSPRA professionals will hold individual or small-group sessions on topics such as website best practices, social media, crisis communications, communicating difficult topics, school branding — or whatever communication or community relations challenge you’re facing. Drop in for a quick answer, or stay awhile to network and learn!

The booth was located in the IASB Homeroom, a center point of activity at the conference. INSPRA recruited members to staff the booth in shifts throughout the Conference; all shifts filled quickly, so the chapter added additional volunteer slots. Board members, administrators, administrative assistants, and other school PR professionals made their way to the booth for advice or conversation. One unexpected benefit was that INSPRA members could direct visitors to INSPRA panels and presentations at the Conference. Additionally, INSPRA members shared their contact information with panel attendees and INSPRA booth visitors in order to continue dialogue and provide support after the weekend concluded.

“PR Problems? InsPRa Solutions!” will be re-created at IASB’s Homeroom at the upcoming 2017 Conference.

INSPRA members volunteer willingly to present at the Joint Conference and man the InsPRa Solutions booth because we are eager to share our experiences and expertise. Our partnership with IASB, and support of school board members and administrators across the state, makes a direct impact on school effectiveness. We are proud of the partnership that earned the NSPRA Mark of Distinction award, because the real winners are students.