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ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL


September/October 2013

Practical PR: What went right...
Telling school stories that don’t get reported
By David Luther

David Luther is assistant to the superintendent handling school-community relations at Jefferson City ( Missouri) Public Schools. His article originally appeared as a Facebook post for the district in August 2012 and is reprinted with permission.

We humans have a bad habit. We sometimes find ourselves focusing on the negative things in our lives and fail to recognize the positives. Our media doesn’t do much to help us in this regard. Bad news is typically more likely to get published and, as much as we might not like to admit it, we read and watch those stories.

Reporters will use sometimes use the terms “soft” or “fluff” for positive stories. That’s a shame, because some of those stories are the most remarkable.

Yesterday was the first day of school for more than 8,700 Jefferson City Public School District students, and a few things did not go perfectly. Some student IDs were incorrectly printed, a few buses ran behind, and no doubt almost every student, parent and teacher had something not go right. But what about the other side of the story?

What went right?

More than 4,500 students had a safe school bus ride to and from school. Our buses cover an average of 4,354 miles each day (our district is a big one — 233 square miles).

More than 7,000 students ate breakfast, lunch or both at school. There were healthy choices available (although more than a few cookies were eaten, too). For some students these were the best meals of their day. For some students these were the only meals of the day. Our cooks are amazing.

Our 650 teachers, principals and other professional staff greeted students, helped them find their classes, began the teaching process and, in general, did an exceptional job. This did not happen by accident. Most teachers spend much of their summer preparing for the next school year so that things start right.

Schools were clean and grounds were taken care of (I would say “grass was mowed,” but with the dry weather, we had a lot less grass than usual). Our maintenance and custodians spent the summer making sure windows were fixed, roofs were repaired, floors were waxed, and, in general, getting schools ready for kids.

Secretaries and other office staff greeted students, and we all know that as the year goes along, these people will handle thousands of jobs and virtually every one of those jobs will in some way impact students.

District administrators, principals and board members spent much of their time making sure the district is focused on doing what is right for students. The coordination of 8,700 students, 1,200 staff and 18 school buildings does not happen by accident, and it won’t happen at all if someone is not minding the switch.

Look, I’m a public relations person, so I know that people will say, “Well, he’s paid to put a positive spin on everything.” True confessions: my day did not go perfectly yesterday either, and I spent a little time dwelling on those imperfections. But after I threw my little private fit, I decided to look for the positive.

This is a wonderful community in which we live, and we have very good schools. Are there problems? Of course. Are they insurmountable? No (although some are tougher to solve than others). The main thing we need to do is keep our eyes on the ball, and for the JCPS that means always doing what is in the best interest of the student.

Please feel free to share “what went right” with us from time to time. When teachers do a great job — tell them (this goes for all of us parents, colleagues, bosses, etc.). When kids experience success — celebrate! When something needs to be improved — tell those involved, and be part of the solution. Am I talking to myself as I write this? Yes, I can’t help it! OK, enough, have a great day!

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