July/August 2019

At the turn of the last century, the Journal published this Practical PR column encouraging school districts to reach out to local stakeholders. Because this was before social media, automated communications systems, and laptops in backpacks, there’s a retro feel to the info, but the advice is as sound today as it was in the summer of 1999.

The “stakeholders” in your school district include everyone from teachers, administrators, and other staff, to students, parents, community leaders, and business people. To turn stakeholders into school supporters, make them feel like an important and appreciated part of the school team.

When a study by George Mason University asked employees to rank what they wanted most from their jobs, first on the list of responses was “full appreciation for work done.” Ranked second was “feeling part of the decision-making process,” or being informed. “Good wages” ranked fifth.

There are many ways to say “thank you,” or “we value your contribution,” or “you’re important.” Here are a few, culled from a number of PR books and business primers.

Appreciation days, featuring an assembly, a special luncheon, or a community-wide event, can say a special “thank you” to teachers and other staff, students, parents, community leaders, school volunteers, business people, or anyone else who has made a contribution to your school.

Certificates and plaques are relatively inexpensive and are a tangible way to express appreciation. Issue “Partners in Education” certificates to volunteers or to area businesses that donate money, in-kind services, or employees to schools. Recognize staff and volunteers for years of service to the school district. Recognize bus drivers for accident-free service.

Create journalism awards for local news media and reporters who provide fair and accurate coverage. 

Publicize accomplishments. Encourage local newspapers to publish honor rolls and news of student and staff achievements. Also include this information in the school district’s internal and community newsletters, on bulletin boards, and in student newspapers.
Alert news media to outstanding volunteers, contributors, and school supporters.

Nothing beats direct contact as a way to praise, thank, and recognize people. School officials may set aside time periodically to walk through the building and give appropriate “pats on the back” to staff. Teachers can make good news calls to parents about their children’s accomplishments, as well as calls about concerns. The school board can honor contributors at meetings, or a designated member may make a phone call or visit.

Encourage feedback and suggestions, and make sure they get a response. This could include suggestion boxes for staff, students or parents, and time for questions and answers at meetings. Publicly acknowledge the individuals who make suggestions and the improvements that result.

Go the extra mile to help people be comfortable. Make sure new employees and new volunteers receive adequate training, orientation, and introductions to staff. Offer orientation sessions and tours for parents or students who have recently moved into the community.

Finally, provide as many ways as possible to reward students for a job well done, whether the accomplishment is academic, athletic, or service to the community. Parents feel honored when their children are honored, and they are more likely to hold a favorable attitude about their child’s school if their child is doing well and getting praise.

Reprinted from the September/October 1999 issue of The Illinois School Board Journal. This piece was developed as part of a school public relations service then offered by IASB.