SchoolCEO Fall 2022

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FALL The What and Why of School Websites The Power of Trust Keeping in Touch TikTok for You Connections of Consequence Creating a network of close-knit community support
“Communication is merely an exchange of information, but connection is an exchange of our humanity.”
-Sean Stephenson

How can you strengthen community connections?

In our home base of Little Rock, Arkansas, it’s a beautiful time to walk through the forest. The air is crisp but not cold. The leaves are changing, but the trees aren’t yet bare. After an exceptionally hot summer, it’s almost magical to be outside, basking in the vibrant colors of fall.

If we asked you to define “forest,” you might say something like, “an area dominated by trees.” But next time you’re out on a walk in the woods, take a closer look. Birds and squirrels are cracking nuts and stashing acorns, inadvertently planting new saplings. Mushrooms feed off fallen leaves and dead plants, enriching the soil. It’s easy, as the saying goes, to miss the forest for the trees—but in reality, there’s an entire ecosystem of relationships keeping the woods alive.

Most fundamentally, a school district is a group of schools— but really, it’s so much more than that. It’s also an ecosystem, a complex web of interdependent connections. The relationships you’ve built—with your students and families, with your community partners, between your different schools and staff members—are the real heart of your district. Without them, your schools couldn’t survive.

In this issue, we’re focusing on the connections that sustain your schools. You’ll find ideas on how to manage competition

between schools within your district, how to keep your advocates engaged, and how to mitigate the division and conflict that’s currently plaguing education. We’ll help you build trust with your school communities and bring greater authenticity to your leadership—both of which will foster stronger, healthier relationships.

We’re also offering guidance on one of your most important connection tools: your website. In an analysis of over 700 homepages, our researchers determined what information is readily accessible on district websites—and what’s missing. With this knowledge in hand, you can make sure your own site is well-equipped to build relationships with new visitors and maintain the relationships you already have.

Your schools need these connections—this surrounding ecosystem—to keep doing their important work. But the opposite is also true; your ecosystem needs you. The squirrels couldn’t survive without the trees to shelter them, and your community couldn’t thrive without the support your schools provide. The more you strengthen your connections, the more everyone involved will grow.

Managing
Editor: Melissa Hite Writers/Researchers: Abigale Franco, Barrett Goodwin, Brittany Keil, Marie Kressin, Heather Palacios, Corey Whaley Art Director: Sebastian Andrei Graphic Designers/Illustrators: Alex Barton, Marisol Quintanilla Social Media Specialist: Thiphavanh “Bri” Vongvilay Video Producers: Ryan McDonald, Tanner Cox OUR TEAM

IN THIS ISSUE

Fierce & Fearless

Discover how

Keeping in Touch

The What and Why of School Websites Calm in the Storm

Where Social Media Falls Short

The Power of Trust

Dr. Andrew Dolloff tells us why trust is the bedrock of any successful school system.

Based in Little Rock, Arkansas, Apptegy is an education technology company dedicated to helping school leaders build a powerful identity for their schools.

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The Anatomy of a School Landing Page Super Team TikTok for You

This social media platform is sweeping the globe, but can it help you market your schools?

Competing with Yourself

We’ll explore the best ways to manage competition be tween schools in the same district.

Multipurpose Schools

California is at the cutting edge of the community schools move ment. Here’s what their approach can teach us.

The Real Deal

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40 58 6254 Vol. 5 No. 1 © 2022 by Apptegy, Inc. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint or quote excerpts granted by written request only. SchoolCEO� is published four times a year (November, February, May, and August) by Apptegy, Inc. 2201 Brookwood Dr., Suite 115, Little Rock, AR 72202. Views and opinions expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the magazine or Apptegy, Inc. Accordingly, no liability is assumed by the publisher thereof.
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GOOD NEWS

Kansas City, MO

An exciting collaboration between North Kansas City Schools and local employers is helping high school students with disabilities gain workplace experience in supportive environments. Project SEARCH helps fifth-year seniors transition into successful employment after high school through internships and training courses. Students are also provided with transportation, site maps, assistance talking to their supervisors, and physical accommodations when needed—among many other resources. Work sites have included Children’s Mercy Hospital, the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry, and Ronald McDonald House. With a nearly 95% employment rate among its alumni, Project SEARCH is a huge success. (The Kansas City Beacon)

West Palm Beach, FL

Students in the School District of Palm Beach County won’t have to fear being lost in translation for much longer. This fall, the district launched a Haitian Creole/English dual language program at Rolling Green Elementary School—the first of its kind in Florida. The state has the country’s largest Haitian population, and over 9,500 students in Palm Beach County alone list Haitian Creole as their native or home language. The district has spent the last two years designing the new immersion program with the community’s support and feedback. “We are always working to find how we can provide programs that meet the needs of our students,” said Francisco Oaxaca, the director of the district’s multicultural education department.

(WPTV)

Irvine, CA

Giving back just got a little easier thanks to three Irvine High School students. Shrey, Bardia, and Eric first bonded over their shared love of coding, and they’ve used their skills to develop and launch an app for nonprofit companies. Their platform, Fundsy, provides nonprofits with banking and fundraising tools, and helps them navigate the confusing financial and legal requirements of setting up nonprofit work. To date, the app—which won Rep. Katie Porter’s 2020 Congressional App Challenge—has helped its clients raise over $110,000.

(Spectrum News 1)

Seattle, WA

As misinformation continues to run rampant, Ballard High School is fighting back by educating their community. Inspired by the University of Washington’s (UW) 2019 “MisInfoDay,” the school recently hosted “MisInfoNight,” an event where students and teachers not only learned about navigating misinformation, but also shared their knowledge with parents and families. The event also showcased student-created posters and slideshows, many of which featured a fact-checking method developed by UW research scientist Mike Caulfield. The method is called SIFT: Stop; Investigate; Find better coverage; Trace claims, quotes, and media to their original context. Caulfield also gave the keynote address at the event. “MisInfoNight has made me more aware of research I see online,” said one sophomore. (GeekWire)

El Cajon, CA

A spark of innovation is driving an exciting new program in Cajon Valley Union School District—one we could see popping up in more districts very soon. With its fleet of eight all-electric school buses, Cajon Valley has recently partnered with San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and tech company Nuvve to give electricity back to the California power grid. “Those buses are like storage on wheels,” said Nuvve chief executive Gregory Poilasne. Nuvve, which specializes in vehicle-to-grid projects, has developed firstof-its-kind bidirectional technology that allows the vehicle batteries to charge during the day and discharge emissionfree energy to the grid when it’s most needed. Thanks to SDG&E’s Emergency Load Reduction Program, the district also gets paid for the electricity it sends to the grid. (Los Angeles Times)

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FEARLESS

How Superintendent Christy Perry is Clearing the Path Forward

Walking the halls of Oregon’s Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS), Superintendent Christy Perry is instantly recognizable in her signature, multicolored Converse shoes—emblazoned on the midsole with words like “female,” “fierce,” and “fearless.” As the head of a district spanning two cities and 65 different schools, Perry is a leader who is bold in her beliefs.

The 2021 Oregon Superintendent of the Year has always known she wanted to be an educator. But despite being a third-generation education advocate, her ascent to the superintendency wasn’t an easy one.

Perry has spent the last 19 years combating gender inequity in the superintendency, a position overwhelmingly dominated by men. While enduring the pressures of a system that hasn’t historically worked for women, Perry became a passionate educator and activist. Her goal has always been to create structures that serve everyone—no matter where they come from or dream of going.

Fearless in the Face of Hardship Perry’s resilience, grit, and passion for education are traits that run in her family. When her grandmother, Mabel, suddenly lost her husband, she went to college in her 50s to take business classes and get her first job. “She worked until she was 80, getting a job at 70 as a park ranger,” Perry tells us. During Mabel’s job interview, they wanted her to prove that she could climb stairs. “So she ran up them,” Perry says. Her mother has a similar story. “After my dad passed away, Mom sold her house and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, to work,” she adds. “This is a lady who had never lived away from the small coastal town of Reedsport, Oregon.”

Over the past century, education has been the thread weaving together the legacies left by the women in Perry’s family. Her grandmother was an advocate for full-day public kindergarten, and her mother served on the local school board for 12 years. But it was the woman Perry considers a mentor who ultimately convinced her to go into education. Marlene Tymchuk, a family friend and Oregon’s 1980 Teacher of the Year, was “small in stature and mighty in spirit,” Perry tells us. She fondly remembers helping Tymchuk in her classroom while she was still an elementary student herself.

Even though she hails from a family that has long championed education, Perry’s path to leadership wasn’t

without obstacles. As a first-generation college graduate, she waited tables throughout high school to save up for college classes. After undergrad, she worked on her master’s degree while starting a family, later earning her administrator’s certification while actively teaching. Perry remembers her husband taking their son to the babysitter so she could focus on finishing her degrees.

On top of it all, Perry and her husband were managing his family’s restaurant, which they ran together for 19 years. So in addition to working as an educator, becoming a mother, and furthering her own education, Perry was still waiting tables. She and her husband didn’t pull a paycheck from the restaurant for eight years. Often, they relied on tips to purchase their own meals. “That’s how we survived,” Perry tells SchoolCEO.

Perry now recognizes that those experiences gave her an appreciation and respect for all types of careers, and a passion for establishing systems that make economic security attainable for everyone.

Ready for a Female Leader

Even after Perry worked her way to the superintendency, she still faced daily obstacles—but of a different sort. She remembers a particularly fraught bond campaign she led for Oregon’s Dallas School District, before her time at SKPS. “A group of older men were following me around to my public meetings to heckle me,” she tells us. “I called it the ‘missy factor.’ In that moment, I was just the little missy.”

Perry wanted to fight it, but she believed her job was to pass the school bond. “So I put a man beside me,” she says. “I let him be the lead in communication. I was the superintendent, but it didn’t matter because, with that audience, I was never going to be credible. And it was because of my gender.”

Every 10 years, the School Superintendents Association (AASA) examines the national state of the superintendency. In 2000, only 13% of superintendent positions were held by women. By 2010, the proportion of women in the

“The world I navigate is still a man’s world. Female leaders need to be recognized and cared for differently.”
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Photos courtesy of Salem-Keizer Public Schools

superintendency had nearly doubled to 24%, suggesting that—for the first time in the history of public education— women were on track to be adequately represented within leadership roles. But in the decade since, the percentage of women in the superintendency has increased by only 3%.

In other words, the rate at which women are hired for superintendent positions has significantly slowed in recent years. As a result, men continue to occupy almost threequarters of superintendencies, while simultaneously holding less than 25% of educator positions in our schools.

How could this be? Possibly because of the very prejudice that Perry describes as “the missy factor.” But despite her frustration at having to step aside in order to make her points heard, Perry’s strategic choices have enabled her to retain control in male-dominated spaces. “I felt great power in being smarter and not engaging in that negativity,” she says. “If you stay in a place of being frustrated, you give away your power. And, yes, sometimes you have to be angry. You have to speak with a passion that comes with some anger in it— but you have to save that for the right times and places.”

In 2021, Perry participated in a research study titled “Just Not Ready for a Female: An Examination of the Inequities in Oregon’s Superintendency.” In the study, female superintendents share the difficulties and disrespect they

experience as women in school leadership. One research participant said that, after being turned down for an open superintendency, she was told the district was “just not ready for a female.” Others note microaggressions like “being assumed to be the secretary,” “being ignored in male-dominated meetings,” and being interrogated by school board members “about their ‘questionable choices’ to be both a superintendent and a mother.”

“It’s sad that in this world and in this moment, those situations are still a thing,” Perry says. With so many expectations put on mothers—both internal and external—the superintendency becomes less accessible to women with children. This is one of many examples of how education, like most fields, still holds women to a higher standard than it does their male counterparts. “The system just needs to be okay with mothers in leadership,” Perry tells us. “I mean, I need to go pick up my kids. I have to. I’m a whole person.”

So what can be done? One thing Perry believes will begin to shift the system is effective male allyship. According to Perry, a male ally is someone who listens to understand, who asks questions instead of immediately offering solutions. Perry also believes it’s necessary to take a deep look at hiring and compensation practices, and supply intentional mentorship and networking opportunities to the aspiring female leaders in your district. “Female leaders need to be connected with other female leaders,” she says. “The world I navigate is still a man’s world. Female leaders need to be recognized and cared for differently.”

You can find “Just Not Ready for a Female” online through the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators at: cosa.k12.or.us

Fiercely Committed to Equity

As someone who has experienced personal hardships and professional barriers firsthand, Perry does everything she can to use her position of power to level the playing field for those around her. Unfortunately, there’s no wrecking ball approach when it comes to dismantling oppressive structures. Prejudice and inequity are systems that break down slowly—one brick at a time. Luckily, Perry is exactly the kind of leader who’s willing to do that strategic, intentional work.

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Leading and Listening

Leading with an equity lens is “the right work and the hardest work,” Perry tells us. “It’s the work that can create the most division—especially during this time—but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it. We’ve got to lean in differently and harder than we ever have before.” For Perry, that means making granular changes—like new policies and programs—as well as big-picture ones, like reconceptualizing how education is delivered.

Perry’s passion for leading SKPS with an equity focus began before she was even hired. During the public forum portion of her interview process, the president of the local NAACP branch asked hard, important questions: How are we going to build a culturally relevant curriculum? How are we going to find more teachers of color? It made Perry uncomfortable not to have the answers, but she didn’t pull back. Instead, she committed herself to finding them. “You’re not going to get it right the first time,” she says, “and that puts you at risk, but you have to stay in the game. You’re going to uncover something that you’ll wish you’d known sooner, but we just have to keep showing up with our whole hearts and with bravery and courage.”

Over Perry’s nearly nine years as superintendent, SKPS has formed a student equity committee, emphasized equitable hiring practices, and established intentional partnerships with culturally specific organizations throughout the community. SKPS has also adopted the district’s first-ever equity policy. This policy requires the board to apply an equity lens to every decision by engaging with questions like: How does this decision build capacity and power in underserved groups? What does the data tell us about the success of our subgroups due to this decision?

And Perry doesn’t shy away from holding her board accountable to this policy, either. In one school board meeting, she reminded them of their commitment to equity: “Tonight, the right thing is for me to use my position of power to do what’s right for all kids—our transgender students, our Black students, our queer students, our Latinx students, our Indigenous students, our students with disabilities, our Micronesian students, our immigrant students, and every other child who comes through our doors. If I can’t do this and speak truth to power, how can I expect it of everyone else in our organization?”

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“That was incredibly supportive to some of our students who have been underserved and underrepresented for years,” says Assistant Superintendent Olga Cobb.

And Perry’s not stopping there. She also helped her board establish what she calls Community Learning Sessions; then, she encouraged her board members to help lead them. The idea behind Community Learning Sessions is twofold: to position the board as lead learners and to establish strong partnerships with diverse organizations beyond the walls of SKPS.

The first Community Learning Session launched in October of 2021. SKPS connected with a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, who shared about her tribe and the nine other federally recognized Indigenous tribes in Oregon. “It was about learning,” Perry says, “and then the panel took questions from the audience. About 45 people listened in—it was awesome.”

For Perry, this kind of listening and learning is absolutely essential to equity work. And both are necessary skills for leaders who want to make real change. “I have the ability to listen until my ears bleed,” she says. “And, in my mind, I’m always thinking: Where can I improve our system? ”

partnership that led to the establishment of a Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC).

According to the SKPS website, “the vision for CTEC is to prepare high school students for high-skill, high-wage and high-demand careers.” CTEC students do more than just spend an hour in shop class. They’re completely immersed onsite in state-of-the-art facilities for two and a half days a week. Students can even take their English and math classes at CTEC. “We’re all here to advance ourselves,” one North Salem High School senior says of the program.

Building on this momentum, the district also passed the third-largest school bond in the state’s history. This investment expanded career and technical education opportunities in all six of the district’s comprehensive high schools and alternative schools—all while complementing CTEC’s existing programs.

And these changes are proving their worth. Now, “the grad uation rate for career tech concentrators is over 93%,” Perry tells us. “Our reimagined career tech is one of the rea sons we’ve increased graduation rates each year and have closed achievement gaps for many of our marginalized stu dent groups.”

CTEC

Perry believes that supporting equitable education for all students at SKPS also means offering diverse learning opportunities. “Equity calls on each of us to be allies and advocates, and to take action,” she says, “including how we conceptualize and deliver education.”

It’s well known that “traditional” pathways to four-year universities are not always best for every student. In response to this, Perry knew the district needed to invest in career and technical education. So along with Mountain West Investment Corporation—a local business that values philanthropy—Perry developed an innovative public-private

“I’m a strong female because I had that modeled for me growing up.”
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Looking to the Future

A while back, Perry was in a board meeting that started to get chaotic. “I was struggling to get through it,” she says, remembering how difficult it was to keep her emotions in check. She thought about leaving right then and there—but then she remembered the female student member on their school board. “And I thought: Oh, I can’t let her down,” Perry tells us. “I need to model for young girls what this looks like.”

So Perry waited for her turn to speak at the end of the meeting. “I just want to say to any young women who are out there: It’s okay to feel emotions,” she said. “And it’s okay to feel bad in the moment. But we can also be really strong.”

Perry has brought so much passion to the superintendency because she believes in everything she’s worked for. Having navigated a number of oppressive structures herself, she spent her career clearing the path forward for those following her. “In the end, that’s why representation matters,” she tells us. “I’m a strong female because I had that modeled for me growing up.” From establishing equitable practices in her own district to fighting for change on a larger scale, Perry has done her part to ensure the lineage of strength that supported her will continue beyond her tenure.

Recently, Perry announced that she will retire from SKPS at the end of the 2022-23 school year, and she can do so knowing she’s paved the way for future leaders. “I’ve always believed that the leaders I hire should be able to advance beyond the positions they are hired to do,” she says. “I trust our leaders and know the district has strong people who will help our entire community navigate this transition.”

During Perry’s very first call with SchoolCEO, she made sure we knew not to call her “Dr. Perry” because she doesn’t have a doctorate, and she didn’t want us to be separated by a title. That same honesty and personable humility threaded its way through every conversation thereafter.

In her retirement announcement to the Salem-Keizer community, Perry wrote: “Planning to leave hurts my heart, but it also makes my heart happy for what is next for SKPS and for my family. I think being a bit brokenhearted is healthy and means a person loves what they do even if it’s the right time to do something else.” Then, she signed off simply: “With appreciation, Christy.”

Christy Perry is proof that a superintendent can be both tough and soft, serious and kind, steadfast and personable. During her time at SKPS, she has poured herself into creating equitable systems and supporting the growth of those around her. “She’ll be able to move on knowing that she left that as her legacy,” says one SKPS staff member. “We are better because she was here.”

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KEEPING IN TOUCH

How to Maintain and Reenergize Your District Advocates

It always bears repeating: To be a thriving school system, you need a strategy for developing strong, passionate ad vocates. After all, what you say about your schools matters much less than what others say about them. In past issues, we’ve compared growing advocates to farming: planting the seeds of personal, intentional moments that inspire your staff, students, and community members to tell your schools’ best stories.

But what happens when your advocates lose their imme diate connection to your district? When families no longer have school-aged children? When a devoted teacher retires or a student graduates? Are they still adding to a positive narrative surrounding your schools? And don’t forget the countless members of your community who have no direct ties to your district. How do you plant those seeds of advo cacy when your audience may not even know they should be listening?

With support for public education at a cultural and political flashpoint, it may be time to consider not only how you’re growing advocates for your district, but also how you’ll main tain them. It’s crucial, now more than ever, to keep all of your advocates engaged, informed, and supportive—no matter their relationship to your schools.

Perhaps this calls for a new metaphor altogether. Let’s talk about quilts—multilayered patchworks bringing together

Create meaningful, personal connections. Think about the people who already speak up for your schools. What stories do they normally tell? Usually, they’ll point back to a meaning ful moment that somehow said to them: I know you. I hear you. I’m thinking of you.

arrays of colors, textures, and designs. Each piece of a quilt’s fabric has its own unique shape and character, all combining to make one interconnected piece of art. But weaving those composite pieces together also takes time, dedication, and attention to detail.

Can you see where we’re going with this? Your district’s story is the quilt, and its fabric is made of the students, families, and community members you serve. Each of your advocates is a distinct patch on that quilt, and the threads that tie them together must be intentional, thoughtful, and—more than anything—long-lasting.

Thread the needle.

The most important aspect of advocacy is the foundation you build with your school community. Your first and most important goal should be to consistently and systematically develop advocates who will sing your district’s praises. This is the backbone of advocacy marketing—collecting a co alition of storytellers to share your best work. By putting in effort on the front end to nurture and grow your advocates, you’re investing in long-term dividends. Your advocates will remain an engaged, active part of your district.

Remember, advocates don’t come from a barrage of bill boards, ads, and flyers. Advocates are born in singular moments that make people feel seen, understood, and cared for—moments that make for stories worth telling.

Here’s a quick recap of our tried-and-true methods for culti vating the kind of advocates that last a lifetime:

Think systematically about how and where to connect. You need to find a systematic way to engage with community members. Find spe cific, repeatable actions you can consistently take to connect with your community. You can’t wait for people to come to you; you have to go to them.

• Tie all these moments back to your district brand. To cultivate advocates for your district, not just individual schools, tie your communi cations back to your district’s overall brand. For example, many districts use the same hashtag on every social media post.

It’s not enough to create a strong foundation of advo cates—you also have to maintain them. Let’s look at a few districts who are keeping their communities of advocates tightknit and ensuring that no matter where they are, the people who love their schools stay connected, informed, and enthusiastic.

Foster mutually beneficial partnerships.

Dr. Benjamin Churchill is currently serving his seventh year as superintendent of California’s Carlsbad Unified School District (CUSD). When we asked him how he grows and maintains advocates for Carlsbad’s schools, he brought up the district’s history of strong partnerships. “We are inten tional about finding ways to maintain engagement with those who have historically been very supportive of our schools,” he explains. “We think carefully about how to engage with parents, community members, and business folks.”

One of the district’s most successful partnerships is with their education foundation, which raises about $1 million annually for Carlsbad schools. “We are fortunate to live in a community where people support our schools, but that doesn’t happen by accident,” Churchill says. “We do it through a lot of outreach, by finding concrete ways for our

Photos courtesy of Southside ISD
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partners to see the fruits of their labors and the impact of their financial donations.”

Carlsbad finds unique opportunities to stitch partners into the fabric of the district while also meeting the needs of another group of advocates—parents. “We have a par ent-superintendent advisory council made up of the PTA presidents from every school site,” he tells us. “We also invite representatives from our education foundation to at tend those monthly meetings.” Moreover, these meetings are held at a different school every month. “I prioritize holding them in the schools that have been most recently modernized or schools that have programs directly impacted by founda tion support. I get to meet with parents and community mem bers, and they get to visit our schools and see our programs,” Churchill says.

CUSD also has a strong re lationship with the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, and that partnership continues to impact countless students every day. “Our chamber is one of the largest in Southern California,” Churchill tells us. “We collaborate with them on a couple of projects that connect our students to business people they wouldn’t ordinarily net work with.” One such initiative is the Rising Star of the Month Program, in which each of the district’s high schools nom inates a “rising star” student to attend a monthly breakfast with local business leaders. In addition to giving presenta tions to attendees, these business leaders get to learn about students’ interests, plans for the future, and what resources they need to be successful.

“Once these business leaders make those connections with the students, they absolutely become advocates for our schools,” Churchill says. “Someone from an engineering firm might hear a kid talk about studying engineering and then

help them find an internship or other opportunity.” These partnerships with local businesses don’t just grow new ad vocates; they also build sustainable, long-term relationships that benefit the students, schools, and local industry.

This includes more than job shadowing and internships. The district is always looking for new ways to involve busi nesses in the learning paths they offer their students. For example, Churchill and his team often invite business lead ers to be part of the district’s Career Education Advisory Committee to discuss strengthening the career pathways in their middle and high schools. “We find ways, such as our committees and internships, to keep these advocates engaged in our schools,” says Churchill. “It’s a win-win.”

Illuminate your alumni.

“No one is more prideful than our alumni,” says Monica Saenz, web master and communications specialist at Southside ISD in Texas. Southside is known for what Saenz calls “feel-good community stories,” an identity they’ve built over time by prioritizing community involvement. A big part of that in volvement is rooted in their strong cadre of alumni.

“We’re on the outskirts of San Antonio,” Saenz tells us. “There’s not much in this area, so we have to stick together.” And that means graduates, too. Southside involves their alumni by keeping them in the loop about district changes, updates, and prog ress through their newsletter, Cardinal Headlines.

But while keeping alumni updated is good, getting them to talk positively about your schools is even better. This often means offering support to your advocates. As the largest organization in their community, Southside ISD fills a lot of gaps for their community members. Because the district is rural, alumni often look to Southside for resources they may not otherwise have access to.

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At their most recent Back-to-School Bash, the district not only gave away school supplies and uniforms to students, but also offered a free vaccine clinic for anyone in the commu nity, including alumni. That may sound like a lot of work—and it is. But it also provides the district with a never-ending sup ply of positive stories that instill and sustain a strong sense of pride in their graduates. “Our alumni really are our biggest advocates,” Saenz says. “When someone tells you they’re from Southside, you know immediately how much pride they have in our schools and what they’ll do to support us.”

By maintaining relationships with your alumni, you’re also investing in future generations of students. If a former stu dent is still connected to your schools in some way, they’re all the more likely to choose your district for their own chil dren. “Our biggest goal is keeping the community involved,” Saenz says. “They’re the ones supporting us; they’re the ones sending their kids to our schools.”

Serve with empathy and kindness.

There are myriad ways to connect and stay connected to your district’s stakeholders. But the best and arguably eas iest strategy is to serve them with empathy and kindness. The long-term advocacy earned through hospitality isn’t something to be overlooked. Leading with kindness and modeling it throughout your district makes for a stronger, more passionate network of advocates—ones who are proud and excited to help tell the story of your schools.

As you interact with your school community—whether stu dents, families, or staff—your goal should be more than just delivering services. Providing those services with kindness and empathy meets a deeper need: the inherent human de sire to feel important, cared for, and valued. It’s not just about meeting needs, but meeting them in a way that makes peo ple feel like they matter to you. More often than not, that means going above and beyond what’s necessary in a given situation—making someone feel special not because you have to, but because you want to.

Now retired after more than 30 years in public education, for mer superintendent Kelly E. Middleton continues to promote the power of genuine relationships in schools, training other educators to think about hospitality and service. He once took a walk in a student’s footsteps—literally.

Just after taking the helm at Kentucky’s Newport Independent Schools, Middleton received a call from a grandmother asking if a school bus could pick up her granddaughter, Lisa. Because she lived near the school, the second grader was expected to walk or ride a bike. Middleton could easily have cited the district’s transportation policy, closing the case there. Instead, he visited their home to look at the path himself. What he found was a series of busy streets, abandoned buildings, and an unmanned cross walk that would have been terrifying for Lisa to navigate alone. After learning more about this student and seeing things from her point of view, Middleton made an exception. Lisa mattered more than the transportation policy.

There’s no measuring the impact that serving with this type of empathy truly has on your community. But we can guar antee that leading with kindness and hospitality will inspire those serving with you to do the same. Winning the longterm advocacy your schools need isn’t such a tall order—it’s already woven right into the fabric of your district.

For more tips on growing advocates, check out “Advocacy Marketing 101” at  schoolceo.com/advocates

CALM IN THE STORM

Minimizing conflict and maximizing cooperation with parents and families

It’s no secret that over the past few years, public educa tion has become a flashpoint in our ongoing culture wars. What began with tensions over masking and vaccination requirements has spiraled into a seemingly never-ending series of conflicts over Critical Race Theory, banned books, gender identity and expression, and more. That’s not to mention the more commonplace conflicts schools have al ways faced. If you’ve been in this job for long, you know that just about any decision a superintendent makes will be met with some level of opposition.

This climate of dissent is intensifying, and it’s taking its toll on school leaders. According to a 2022 poll by education company EAB, 36% of “veteran superintendents”—those with six or more years of experience—were planning to re tire within the next three years. In the same survey, 80% of all superintendents said that “managing divisive conversations is now the most challenging aspect of their job.”

Of course, there’s no perfect solution that can completely eradicate conflict and pushback from your schools. In fact, that may not even be desirable; after all, conflict is often a healthy part of community relationships. So instead, we’ve compiled a few strategies to prevent, minimize, or de-esca late those conflicts, making them a little more manageable. Our hope is that these ideas will help you find some calm in the storm of conflict and controversy, where you can focus on your top priority: your students.

Preventing Conflict

Wouldn’t it be nice to stop conflict before it starts? Well, here are a few strategies that work—most of the time. These aren’t foolproof solutions, but they can help minimize the amount of discord that arises with your parents and families.

Communicate clearly.

If we’ve learned anything over the last few years, it’s that misinformation and disinformation are dangerous. In no time at all, a false rumor or misunderstood policy can snowball into a screaming match at a board meeting.

Your best defense against misinformation is crystal-clear, proactive communication. If people know exactly where to find the truth about your district’s policies, they’re less likely to buy into whatever toxic rumor is going around. That’s exactly why Enumclaw School District in Washington cre ated a “Trending Topics” page on their website. Accessible from the site’s main menu, the page includes links to board

policies on several controversial topics like equity, gender inclusivity, and sex education. Parents and community mem bers don’t have to guess at the district’s responses to these issues; they’re all clear, transparent, and easy to find.

“It’s been received well,” says Jessica McCartney, Enumclaw’s director of communications. “Even if someone disagrees with the policy around an issue, at least they can gain some clarity on what’s happening in the district—because in my experience, it’s rarely what they’ve heard.” The page makes things easier on staff members as well. “When teachers get calls from concerned parents, the page keeps them from hav ing to track down all that information,” says McCartney. “It’s a nice resource to point to when you don’t have all the answers.”

If you fail to communicate about potentially controversial issues, your families’ minds—or even the local rumor mill— will fill in the blanks with worst-case scenarios. But when you address those issues proactively and transparently, you assuage those fears before they have the chance to take root. “It’s really empowering and settling when people can understand what’s actually happening,” McCartney says. “Everyone can move from ‘what if’ to ‘what is.’”

Collaborate with your community.

Think of the biggest controversies in education right now. From Critical Race Theory to book banning, many fraught is sues stem from one common source: parents wanting more control over their children’s learning.

How much control should families have over what schools teach or how they operate? That’s up for debate. But we can say one thing with confidence: Considering your parents’ perspectives and including them in your strategic planning is almost always a good move. When you invite families to weigh in on new initiatives or projects, you diminish the chance that they’ll get up in arms about them.

Dr. Matt Montgomery is the superintendent of not one, but two Illinois districts: Lake Forest School Districts 115 and 67. Both are high-achieving school systems in affluent communities—but even with those benefits, certain challenges emerge.

“Parents and teachers have really high expectations, and the students have very high expectations of themselves,” Montgomery tells us. With so much pressure to succeed, that environment can become “caustic” for kids. But when

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students are doing well academically, parents and families are sometimes reluctant to support change. After all, if it’s not broken, why fix it? “Of course we strive for academic excel lence,” Montgomery explains. “But our students also need balance and life skills—abilities that will allow them to suc ceed in a rapidly changing world.”

Rather than handing a life skills initiative down to his school community, Montgomery started a conversation. Bringing together students, teachers, staff, families, and community leaders from both districts, he asked a question: What qual ities and skills would the ideal student have? The answers agreed upon by the collaborative group would make up Lake Forest’s “Portrait of a Learner.”

Alongside competencies like “critical thinking” and “adapt ability,” the final Portrait included many of the life skills both districts had hoped to instill in students, like “communication” and “confidence.” “The number-one characteristic that came forward was empathy,” Montgomery says. “That’s the one that resonated the most with our people.”

This semester, strategic planning at both districts “is going to be aligned to the Portrait,” Montgomery tells us. Now, both districts—families included—can use the Portrait they all collaborated on as a guidepost. If parents keep in mind that they want empathetic kids, they’ll be more likely to buy into initiatives that support that goal. “A clear vision helps focus and prioritize the work,” Montgomery says. “Our Portrait is like a North Star for our school community, creating clarity and alignment of goals for our faculty, staff, and students. With that common framework, the sky’s the limit.”

De-escalating Conflict

Unfortunately, while these preventative measures can fend off some challenges before they occur, your schools will in evitably deal with some level of opposition and conflict. But if conflict is unavoidable, how do you handle it? The answer is effective dialogue.

In her book Beyond Your Bubble , Professor of Counseling Psychology Dr. Tania Israel offers practical advice for fos tering understanding and de-escalating conflict through healthy, empathetic dialogue. While she focuses primarily on bridging political divides, the principles she shares could apply to any ideological disagreement. Dialogue, she says, is distinct from diatribe —angrily venting frustration at the other point of view—or debate —trading clever arguments

to one-up each other. “Dialogue isn’t about winning,” Israel writes. “It’s about understanding.” The more we understand someone else, the better we can empathize with them—and empathy almost always de-escalates conflict.

Before you jump into a dialogue, consider these guidelines:

• This conversation should happen offline . In Beyond Your Bubble , Israel emphasizes that di alogue is most effective when it’s “face to face, not Facebook to Facebook.” Conversation on social media, she writes, “tends to focus on the expression of one’s own views, without try ing to comprehend other people’s positions. This may feel satisfying in the short term, but it does not promote mutual understanding and connection.”

• One-on-one is best. “It’s challenging to try to re pair relationships in a public forum,” Israel tells SchoolCEO. “When people are observ ing our behavior, we often try to demonstrate solidarity with those who have similar views.” Unfortunately, this alienates those on the opposite side of the issue. In a one-on-one con versation, you can focus on addressing your conversation partner’s specific viewpoint.

• Both sides must be open to conversation. Dialogue is a mutual back-and-forth, and it re quires both sides to enter into the conversation in good faith. No matter how open-minded you are, you can’t have a dialogue with someone who’s not interested in understanding your point of view.

• Your safety comes first. S chool issues often bring up powerful emotions for both families and educators, and, as you know, it’s not unusual for discussions to get heated. However, if you feel physically threatened, you have no obligation to continue the conversation. “Don’t worry about being polite,” Israel writes. “Just get yourself out as quickly and safely as you can.”

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Examine your thought processes.

Before you begin a conversation, it’s important to get your thoughts in order. Here are a few guiding questions to con sider as you prepare.

How am I thinking about this other person?

How do you feel about the person on the other side of this conversation? Do you really have a clear picture of them, or is your view clouded by bias?

“Most of us have a lot of cognitive biases that skew our un derstanding of people, especially those we perceive as different from ourselves,” Israel tells SchoolCEO. “We tend to view people on a different side of an issue as being more extreme than they actually are and as being misinformed or uninformed. We might question their motivations and even their morality, and we are more likely to see people who dis agree with us as being motivated by political ideology or even hatred.” However, most of the time, this isn’t the case, she says. “It’s important that we correct that misperception.”

To counteract this thought process, Israel encourages in tentionally adopting a charitable view of the person you’re disagreeing with. After all, even if you believe they’re totally wrong or misguided, they probably aren’t malicious. “ You might try identifying some of their good qualities,” she writes. “Find out more about their context if that helps you soften to ward them.”

What do I hope to get out of this?

Before entering into a dialogue, it’s helpful to establish a goal for the conversation. Are you hoping to find common ground? Understand the other person better? Convince them of your point of view?

It’s pretty common to enter a conversation like this attempt ing to persuade the other person that your ideas are correct, and that’s not necessarily a bad goal. It is, however, very dif ficult to accomplish. “Have realistic expectations of your power to shift someone’s views,” Israel suggests in Beyond Your Bubble . “Success may be incremental and require pro longed contact, or it may not happen at all.”

The good news is that there’s a huge difference between disagreement and active conflict. While a bitter conflict can be damaging, disagreement is a healthy and even essential part of human life. To have a successful dialogue, you don’t have to convince anyone that you’re right. You just need to

de-escalate the conflict—and all that takes is empathy and mutual understanding.

Practice active listening.

If you want to successfully de-escalate conflict, it’s cru cial to prove to the person on the other side that you see where they’re coming from. “The safer and more understood people feel, the more they will be open to engaging in dia logue,” Israel writes. “They are less defensive, less agitated, more able to express their views, and more likely to listen to yours. They will be more willing partners in seeking common ground and less resistant to opening their minds to alterna tive ways of thinking.”

To foster this feeling in others, it’s not enough to let them air their grievances while you wait for your turn to speak. If you really want to understand someone else—and make them feel understood—you have to practice what Israel calls ac tive listening.

Nonverbal attending

According to Israel, active listening begins with nonverbal attending . This term encompasses all the small actions that show someone you’re giving them your full attention. These can include keeping moderate eye contact, leaning forward in your seat, nodding occasionally, or saying “mmhmm.”

While they may seem insignificant, these little gestures sig nal to the speaker that you’re interested in what they have to say. Remember, though, that “the final key to nonverbal at tending is the nonverbal part,” Israel writes. “You can’t listen to somebody very well if you’re talking.”

Reflecting

Next, Israel encourages active listeners to reflect , or repeat what the speaker just said back to them. This shows the speaker that you not only heard them, but also understood their point. It’s okay to slightly rephrase or paraphrase the point your speaker is making, but be careful not to

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editorialize or change the substance of what they said. If you disagree strongly and don’t feel like you can outright repeat a statement, say, “You feel like…”

Even if you agree with their sentiment, now isn’t the time to say so. Agreeing “puts you in an evaluative position rather than an understanding position,” Israel writes. “It puts the focus on your preference, and implies the importance of your judgment, rather than signaling to the speaker that you have understood their assertion.” The goal here isn’t to make a point—only to make the speaker feel understood. So instead of saying, “I agree,” try saying, “I hear you” or “I understand.”

Open-ended questions

Once you’ve attended and reflected, you can deepen your understanding of the speaker’s perspective by asking ques tions. “It might be helpful to dig a little deeper, to encourage somebody to say more about where they’re coming from,” Israel tells SchoolCEO. “Often we cut people off because we want them to say less. But to foster healthy dialogue, we re ally need to make sure that we’re understanding the fullness and complexity of their position before we respond.”

Be sure to keep it short. “The more airtime you occupy to ask your question, the more you draw the focus to yourself rather than trying to understand the other person,” Israel writes. And, as with your reflections, remember to stay neutral. Don’t ask questions that imply a specific answer, like, “Don’t you think…?” or “Wouldn’t you say…?” Again, you’re not trying to make a point; you’re trying to understand the other person.

Respond with empathy.

You may be wondering when it’s your turn to speak. But to be honest, the hard work of conflict resolution is mostly lis tening. When it does come time for you to express your thoughts, make sure you continue to acknowledge your

conversation partner’s point of view. “You won’t always be able to align to what this person wants,” Israel says, “but once you know where they’re coming from, ideally you can explain why that policy is in place or why it’s being enforced in the way that it is, so that it makes sense to them.”

Most importantly, stay calm and kind. As Israel puts it in Beyond Your Bubble , “antagonism does not change minds.”

Healing Divides

It may seem like schools are at the epicenter of cultural con flict these days, but Israel believes there’s a reason for that. “Schools are sites of diversity within communities, so of course schools are where these conflicts are going to play out,” she says. “As adults, we often have more opportunity to separate ourselves from people who are different from us.” But public schools are, by definition, for everyone. Somehow, we have to learn to live with one another.

As a school leader, you know how difficult that can be. But as Israel points out, “at their cores, superintendents are educa tors.” By dealing with these contentious issues in a healthy and productive way, you can show your community how it’s done. “Sometimes, we’re afraid to spend time with a differing position because we feel like that will legitimize that other po sition,” Israel says. “But when superintendents are willing to do that, they’re modeling some of the very skills we encour age students to learn.”

Every time you listen carefully to a viewpoint you disagree with, every time you treat someone with compassion, you’re moving us all toward a better world. You can’t blow away the storm clouds of conflict and division—but you can act as a lighthouse, guiding your community to calmer, kinder shores.

Research consistently shows that companies who invest in their employees’ experiences offer better service than those who don’t. Our culture guides the way we work and shapes the experience of every one of our clients. Learn more at apptegy.com/service

Where Social Media Falls Short

…and how your website can help.

When members of your community need information about your district, where do they go? Do they turn to teachers, call the front office, reach out to other parents? Or—more likely— are they looking online for help?

You already know the advantages of using social media to connect with families and staff, share stories, or build your brand identity. But are you putting the same amount of care and attention into your website? Where can parents find your ADA policy, parking permits, or bus schedules? What about your calendar, enrollment forms, or career opportunities? Your community should be able to find all this information—and anything else that doesn’t quite belong on social media—by visiting your website. Here, we’ll explore the areas where social media falls short and make the case for prioritizing your district website as your most important communication resource.

Brand Management

There’s no doubt that social media can be extremely advan tageous for building your district’s brand. Posting photos of pep rallies, talent shows, and athletic events is a great way to generate positive associations with your district’s name. It also gives your families the opportunity to share your con tent with their own personal networks. But while this process of sharing and being shared is important for establishing your brand, social media is not always the appropriate place to share other information that your families, staff, and pro spective employees need.

For example, it’s probably not practical to share printable PDFs of registration documents to your socials. Instead, you might post a photo from last year’s first day of school, captioned with a reminder of an approaching registration deadline and a link to—you guessed it—a “Documents” page on your website. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great tools, but at the end of the day, your website is the core

of your brand identity. Whenever possible, you should be us ing social media to redirect people to your site.

Unlike social media, your website can tell the whole story of your district’s brand at one time, in one place, rather than piece by piece as content is s orted through an algorithm. On your website, visitors aren’t distracted by content from other accounts or pag es. In other words, your website can illus trate the totality of your district’s brand, culture, and values without engaging in overly performative behavior to boost likes—as you might feel inclined to do on social media.

Exclusion

When you make your socials primary sources for nec essary information, you may unintentionally be blocking families who don’t use social media. Even though it seems like everyone’s online these days, 28% of adults don’t use social media at all, according to Pew Research Center. That means that if you’re using Facebook and Twitter as your primary communication channels, you’re leaving a considerable portion of your community in the dark. Plus, features like Facebook groups may impose additional de grees of exclusion, especially if invitations are required in order to view or interact with content.

That’s where your website comes in handy. There, anyone with internet access can browse your content without needing to create an account. And as consumers become increasingly concerned about privacy, data tracking, and social media’s impacts on mental health, your website can be a safe and secure space for your district’s families.

Control

Even though social media platforms have a range of advan tages and rewards, they’re still third-party communications tools and should be treated as such. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter will always have the last say over what content can or cannot be shared on their platforms, who sees what information, and which stories or posts take priority. All of these variables are beyond your control. But on your dis trict’s website, you decide where and in what order your information appears. Websites also offer districts a broader range of customizability than social media platforms do; at a glance, your socials may not look much different than those of competing districts.

Your website is also a place where your community can find information without the excessive noise of social media. For better or worse, your district’s socials might draw a lot of at tention, which could invite trolls and conflict into your online spaces. And if your socials become spammed with irrelevant comments and counterproductive dialogue from community members or outsiders looking in, you may lose control over your district’s narrative indefinitely. This, in turn, could com promise your district’s reputation.

Social media is a powerful force that brings communities together by diminishing barriers between individuals and groups across time and space. It allows you to share infor mation and stories about your schools playfully, in a way that has the potential to increase community engagement with your content. But social media can also be a highly toxic space, and your families should not be forced to interact with these platforms to access information about your district.

The goal here isn’t to scare you out of using social media. Rather, we encourage you to utilize social media as one of many communications tools—as opposed to relying on so cial media as your primary platform. Families should trust that they can follow your socials for content about your schools, but Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter should never replace your district’s website.

When families need to find lunch menus, details about af ter-school programs, or course catalogs, they should be able to find that information all in one place online. And they shouldn’t need to take on privacy risks, sign up for an ac count, or accept an invitation to access it.

We don’t mean to imply, though, that managing a website is a piece of cake. Each element of your total marketing and communications strategy takes quite a bit of thought, ef fort, and time. But in the end, your website provides you and your families with a sense of security, control, and func tionality that social media can’t offer. It’s your website—not Facebook—that should be the end-all-be-all source of infor mation about your district.

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THE WHAT AND WHY OF SCHOOL WEBSITES

We analyzed 700 homepages to see what they include—and what’s missing.

It’s hard to imagine a world without school websites. Gone are the days when teachers sent home notes in backpacks and news spread by word of mouth. For the most part, school districts have migrated the majority of their information and updates to comprehensive websites and social media platforms. But as public favor of social media waxes and wanes, your district’s website is becoming increasingly important.

By this point, most districts feel obligated to have a web site—and there are a plethora of laws detailing what districts must include on their websites.¹ But what does this mean for you? Regardless of how well your social media ac counts are performing or how in-the-know your staff is, your district’s website should be your first line of defense against misinformation, disconnectedness, and confusion.

It’s imperative that your website is an easy-to-use and up-to-date resource for your entire community. In fact, user experience researchers find that approximately 88% of site visitors are less likely to return if they have a bad experience. 2 So whether your focus is recruiting new teachers and families or serving those already in your network, maintaining a thorough and user-friendly website is essential to ensuring your audience comes back again and again.

Our Methodology

The SchoolCEO research team performed a multivariate frame analysis of 700 randomly selected district homepages from across the United States. Every district in our sample was determined to possess—or lack— specific dimensions and content features, which we refer to as frames . Our in-house experts identified 30 frames that, together, comprise a comprehensive homepage— things like taglines, privacy statements, and calendars, to name a few. Every school district in our study was coded—or labeled—as having or not having each of the frames we identified.

For our analysis, we focused solely on homepages and what can be accessed from them in just one click. For example, if a district has job openings listed elsewhere on their site, but they aren’t directly accessible from the homepage, this district would be coded as not having the “careers” frame. Even though we limited our study to homepages, we assert that our findings are still relevant for districts who want to improve their websites, especially if they don’t know where to begin. Homepages are the launching point for almost all of your website visitors—and information linked from the homepage is a good summation of a district’s priorities.

Using NCES’s enrollment database, districts from our sample were sorted into one of four categories:

• Small districts (2,500 students or fewer)

• Medium districts (2,501 - 10,000 students)

• Large districts (10,001 - 25,000 students)

• Mega districts (more than 25,000 students)

Grouping our sample into these categories allowed us to identify differences in homepage content between school sizes and to make recommendations for schools of these specific sizes. In the end, our sample consisted of 446 small districts, 177 medium districts, 50 large districts, and 27 mega districts, with at least one district included from each state (Fig. 1). We used SPSS software to run various models identifying variances in content and information available on these homepages between our four specified groups. While we won’t be discussing each of our 30 frames here, we do have a few important findings that we believe are relevant to your schools.

Fig. 1: Distribution of district sizes across sample LARGE 7.14% MEGA 3.86% MEDIUM 25.29% SMALL 63.71% 25FALL 2022 /

Across our work with schools, we’ve noted patterns in the types of information districts include on their homepages. Some homepages exceed expectations while others leave plenty to be desired. These observations inspired us to systematically investigate what information is—and isn’t— typically available on district homepages and how that information is distributed across districts of various sizes.

Here—at the intersection of our observations, analysis, and existing expertise on school sites and marketing—we’ve built a comprehensive overview of what schools are and aren’t including on their homepages. We’ll also take a look at how you can use this information to elevate your website. Overall, we identified three areas in which district homepages vary the most:

1. The frequency with which they address their roles within—and the services they provide to—their communities;

2. The accessibility and visibility of the district’s careers page or job listings; and

3. The frequency with which districts address privacy, accessibility, and technology concerns within their schools.

We found these takeaways by analyzing the presence of frames on each district website, which encompass specific types of information (see “Our Methodology”).

Your Website, Your Community

While approval of public education has declined among Americans in recent decades, most people still have favorable opinions about their own local schools. 3 This is no coincidence. Schools—especially those located in small, rural districts—fill a variety of social services for their communities extending far beyond the scope of academics. They operate as community centers, food pantries, and event spaces; they provide guidance, support, and safety for those in need.

Even the scope of what’s considered an inherent function of schools has expanded in recent decades. According to an article in the Journal of Applied School Psychology, schools have inherited “an increasing demand to meet children’s health and mental health needs in order for them to benefit from, and progress in, their educational experience.”⁴ Fig. 2: Proportion of small, medium, large, and mega district homepages that did and did not have the “community” frame

SMALL DISTRICTS MEDIUM DISTRICTS LARGE DISTRICTS MEGA DISTRICTS NO 66.82% YES 33.18% NO 48.59% NO 34.00% NO 33.33% YES 51.41% YES 66.00% YES 66.67% 26 FALL 2022/

One important function of your district’s website is to gen erate positive associations with your district by illuminating the roles it plays within your community. However, because the roles schools occupy and the services they provide vary depending on the needs of their communities, some of these inherent school functions may go unnoticed—and therefore unnamed—on district websites.

We found that only 41% of districts in our sample acknowl edged, referred to, or provided information regarding their greater communities or the services their schools provide. Small districts’ homepages were significantly less likely to have the “community” frame than medium, large, and mega districts. In fact, only 33% of small school districts in cluded information about their communities. Alternatively, approximately 67% of mega districts included this informa tion—double the rate of small districts (Fig. 2)

This isn’t to say that small districts aren’t connected to their communities and families; in fact, research indicates quite the opposite. Small school districts are actually deeply involved with their communities and—if conditions permit— frequently exceed their community obligations. 5

Why, then, are small schools neglecting to use their websites to acknowledge all the social services they provide? Because small schools frequently fill such expansive and fluid roles in their communities, it could be that explicitly defining all of these services is nearly impossible. Small districts may also hesitate to delineate all the services they provide because they’re often the only education option in their areas, and therefore don’t have to compete for students in the same way that larger districts do.

Your website has a unique ability to make the invisible— community support—visible. And if you aren’t using your district’s homepage to highlight the relationships you’ve built and the services you provide, you’re missing opportuni ties to connect your community to important resources—or even to recruit new teachers and students. What if a family in your district is experiencing food insecurity? They can find the help they need through your homepage. What if a teacher is considering relocating to your district and wants a workplace with a strong social support system? Your web site can show them just how much your community loves your schools.

The larger districts in our sample did the best job of spot lighting this facet of their schools. Small districts could follow suit by foregrounding their presence in their local communi ties—and using their websites to advance this narrative.

Careers and Incentives

As we’ve already pointed out, your district’s website is an active recruitment tool for teachers. But successful recruiting takes more than just job postings; it’s an allencompassing endeavor. Potential job candidates won’t just explore the pictures, stories, and news you share; they’ll also explore how accessible your district is, how easy it is to interact with your online spaces, and what they should expect from your application and hiring processes—all before they ever decide to apply.⁶ First impressions are everything, and these features will likely inform a teacher’s decision to pursue a career in your district—or not.

According to researchers from Kansas State University and the University of Illinois, there were an estimated 36,500 vacant positions in school districts across the United States at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.7 Chances are, your district experienced at least a few of those vacancies. Similarly, in a July 2022 report from EdWeek Research Center, nearly three-quarters of the principals and district leaders surveyed said that the number of candidates for teachers and various support staff roles was “insufficient” to fill gaps. 8

Even if you haven’t personally struggled to fill positions yet, a decrease in education majors at universities across the nation means that, at some point, practically every school

Fig. 3: Percentage of sample that had the “careers” frame

Fig. 4: Of the districts that did have the “careers” frame, only 20% also had the “incentives” frame.

referred to open positions—on their home pages (Fig. 3) However, only 20% of those districts had the “incentives” frame, mean ing they included information on how to apply, benefits for working in the district, or further incentives for applying (Fig. 4). And overall, only 15% of districts included in our sample provided incentives for applying or offered help with the application process on their homepage. In other words, while more than three-quarters of district home pages listed information about or referred to open positions, less than one-fifth of dis tricts in our sample provided any incentive or guidance for applying (Fig. 5)

Furthermore, we found that medium and large districts had a higher rate of “careers” frames than smaller districts. Our data also suggest that the mega districts in our sample had a higher proportion of the “incentives” frame than small and medium districts (Fig. 6) . This doesn’t surprise us though—according to the Institute

Fig. 5: Percentage of all districts in the sample that had the “careers” frame and the “incentives” frame

YES 76.00% NO 79.89% YES 20.11% NO 24.00% YES YES INCENTIVES CAREERS NO NO 76.00% 15.30% 28 FALL 2022/

SMALL MEDIUM LARGE MEGA

Fig.6: Small districts had less information about available careers than medium, large, and mega districts.

of Educated Sciences, “smaller school districts have a higher three-year retention rate than larger school districts,” 9 suggesting that smaller districts simply may not be under the same pressure to fill open positions as larger districts.

Of course, when teachers search for information about available careers, they’re looking for more than just a job posting. They want to see indicators of a school’s cul ture: what day-to-day life looks like, what resources are available, and how teachers are valued by families and administrators. Linking job openings from your home page is the bare minimum—but it is a crucial first step. If prospective employees can’t even find where to apply, you’ll have no chance of hiring them.

Perhaps because teacher recruitment can look different in small or isolated districts, administrators in these tightknit communities typically focus their energy on in-person recruitment rather than online efforts. These districts frequently share information about open positions by word-of-mouth, and recruitment often takes place face-to-face through relationship-building endeavors, such as local events or job fairs.10

But, as we’ve all learned over the past couple of years, making available careers readily accessible online is critical to ensuring that the best and brightest talents are—at the very least—aware the opportunity exists. It’s also particularly important for attracting candidates from outside your local talent pool. If an educator you’d like to

hire is willing to relocate for work, then you’re competing with every other district you can imagine. So why wouldn’t you highlight job opportunities—and incentives—right on your homepage, where they’ll be as visible and accessible as possible?

Privacy, Accessibility, and Technology

Digital technologies such as tablets, computers, and even wifi-connected toys are now commonplace in most U.S. classrooms.11 As schools make these shifts, districts need to be prepared to describe the extent to which they utilize technology in the classroom, how accessible these technologies are, and exactly what measures are being taken to protect student privacy.

Even though most privacy concerns, such as identity theft, are unlikely to occur inside your schools, the expansion of digital technologies in the classroom inherently leaves students, families, and faculty at risk of having their data exploited, sold, or shared. Schools, like any other recordkeeping institution, are vulnerable to data breaches. In addition, research suggests that faculty members—even those who have leaned into technology in the classroom— are largely unaware of the issues and concerns revolving around student data and privacy.12

Also, while technology improves the quality of some children’s educational experiences, it can greatly disadvantage others. In some cases, technology-oriented classrooms can exacerbate challenges faced by students

YES YES YES YES NO NO NO NO
69.51% 85.31% 92.00% 92.59%
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PRIVACY

ACCESSIBILITY TECHNOLOGY

with certain disabilities. According to research from Natalie Shaheen, an assistant professor of special education at Illinois State University, equitable access to learning is disrupted “because the technologies that mediate K-12 education often prohibit the forms of digital movement and interaction [that] disabled students employ.” 12 That means districts should take extra care to ensure that technologyoriented advantages are equitably distributed to all students within the district and that families can find information about technology easily on the homepage.

According to our research, overall, approximately 29% of school districts acknowledged or referred to access or accessibility on their homepages, with approximately 19% discussing privacy. Unsurprisingly, mega districts discussed privacy more frequently than small and medium districts, while simultaneously out-performing all other district sizes in acknowledging accessibility. Over half of homepages analyzed referenced technology in schools, either by providing a direct link to a technology department or page, or by describing their student-to-device ratio. The only significant difference between districts regarding technology lies between medium and small school districts; medium school districts had more information about technology available on their homepages than small districts (Fig. 7)

Very few schools in any size category addressed data and privacy concerns or issues of accessibility—particularly re garding technology—on their homepages. But given that trends indicate an increasing digitalization and technologi zation of society, these technologies are likely a permanent fixture in American classrooms for the foreseeable future. Using your website’s homepage to make information about technology and privacy easily accessible will go a long way toward improving the accessibility and safety of your schools. What could be a more important investment?

What does this mean for you?

While we designed this study to reveal what district websites actually include, our in-house expertise is all about what school websites should include. So we’ve built a checklist to give you a new perspective on the functions of your district’s homepage. While not all these features will be important to your district’s specific goals, we hope this list serves as a guide to strategically assessing whether or not your district’s website—especially its homepage—is addressing your community, recruitment, and accessibility needs.

Fig. 7: Percentages of all districts in the sample that did and did not have the “privacy” frame, “ADA/Accessibility” frame, or the “technology” frame
ADA /
NO NO NO YESYESYESYESYESYES 18.70%28.60%56.29% 30 FALL 2022/

CHECK OUT YOUR HOMEPAGE

A HOMEPAGE CHECKLIST

Community:

W Is there a tab for your community on your homepage?

W If your school has an education foundation or parent-teacher association, can this information be found easily?

W Is your tagline or mission statement clearly listed?

W Do you specifically address your district’s role in your community—and how the community has supported your schools?

Recruitment :

W Are job openings listed and up-to-date and linked to from the homepage?

W Does your website have a designated careers page?

W Do you share information about what it’s like to work in your district or live in your community?

W Do you talk about what incentives are available to new hires?

Accessibility :

W Are visitors able to contact the district from the homepage?

W Are highly sought-after resources (lunch menu, handbook, etc.) clearly linked ?

W Is your accessibility policy clearly linked to?

W Can visitors easily find information about student data or privacy policies?

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References

1. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 2003. “Weaving a Secure Web Around Education: A Guide to Technology Standards and Security.” National Forum on Education Statistics. Washington, DC.

2. Northern Arizona University. 2022. “Great UX Is the Art of Invisibility.” NAU Experience Design. (https://in.nau.edu/experience-design/)

3. Mahnken, Kevin. 2022. “New Pole: Majority of Adults Don’t Trust Educators to Handle Sensitive Topics.” The74. August 25. https://www. the74million.org/article/new-poll-public-rateslocal-schools-highly-but-is-split-on-teachers/

4. Hughes, Tammy L., Pamela A. Fennings, Franci Crepeau-Hobson, and Linda A. Reddy. 2017. “Creating Safer and More Nurturing Schools: Expanding the Capacity of Schools in the Era of Future National Reform.” Journal of Applied School Psychology 33(3):195–213.

5. Eccles, Jacquelynne S., and Robert W. Roeser. 2011. “Schools as Developmental Contexts During Adolescence.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 21(1):225–41.

6. Podolsky, Anne, Tara Kini, Joseph Bishop, and Linda Darling-Hammond. 2016. “Solving the Teacher Shortage: How to Attract and Retain Excellent Educators.” Learning Policy Institute. September 15. https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/ solving-teacher-shortage-brief.

10. Saenz-Armstrong, Patricia. 2022. “How Are School Districts Using Strategic Pay to Attract and Retain Teachers Where They Need Them?” National Council on Teacher Quality. September 8. https://www.nctq.org/blog/ How-are-school-districts-using-strategic-payto-attract-and-retain-teachers-where-theyneed-them.

11. Kumar, Priya C., Marshini Chetty, Tamara L. Clegg, and Jessica Vitak. “Privacy and Security Considerations For Digital Technology Use in Elementary Schools.” Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, May 4-9, New York, NY.

12. Shaheen, Natalie L. 2022. “Technology Accessibility: How U.S. K-12 Schools Are Enacting Policy and Addressing the Equity Imperative.” Computers & Education 179.

Madeline.

“How Bad Is The Teacher Shortage?

New Studies Say.” Education Week. September

https://www.edweek.org/ leadership/how-bad-is-the-teacher-shortagewhat-two-new-studies-say/2022/09)

Mark.

“The

Is Bad for School Hiring This Fall.” Education Week.

https://www.edweek.org/leadership/the-out look-is-bad-for-school-hiring-this-fall/2022/07.

7. Will,
2022.
What Two
6.
8. Lieberman,
2022.
Outlook
July 28.
9. TeacherCertification.com. 2022. National Turnover Rate in Early Education. https://teachercertifica tion.com/national-turnover-in-early-education/. 32 FALL 2022/

THE POWER OF TRUST

Dr. Andrew Dolloff tells us what he’s learned about trust in school leadership.

Education runs in Dr. Andrew Dolloff’s family. His father spent 40 years working in schools—28 as a high school principal—and both his sisters are educators as well. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when Dolloff felt drawn to the classroom himself. It had been a dinner table topic his whole life.

Now, Dolloff is in his ninth year as superinten dent of Yarmouth School Department, a small suburban district on the southern coast of Maine. After more than two decades in edu cation leadership, he’s learned a thing or two about what it takes to run a school system. He believes it all comes down to one crucial fac tor: trust.

In the current climate surrounding public schools, trust is more important—and perhaps harder to come by—than ever. That’s just one reason Dolloff wrote The Trust Imperative , released earlier this year. Writing from his firsthand experience as a practitioner, Dolloff offers school leaders a wealth of practical strategies on how to build trust, whether with teachers, community members, families, or students. In our conversation, he shares just a few of those ideas.

QWhy is trust so crucial for strong leadership?

AI’ve been doing this work for nearly 26 years, but until I started teaching for the University of Southern Maine, I had never really thought in tentionally about why I did things the way I did. Of course, I have always strived to treat people with dignity and respect and be collaborative— but in teaching at the graduate level, I wanted to be able to explain the why behind these ac tions. Through my own reading and the papers

my students turned in, it became clear to me that trust is at the core of what we do as educators, especially in public schools.

I define trust as the confidence or belief others have in your reliability, integrity, and competence. Research shows that organizations with a high level of trust—not just schools, but all organizations—are more efficient and more productive. Their employees and constituents are more content and more likely to engage fully in the work they’re asked to do. That’s even more true in education. We have to earn the public’s trust in order for them to support their schools, whether financially or otherwise. For us to move the mission of our schools forward, teachers and students and families have to trust us.

In every single moment of every day as a school leader, you either build trust or break it down. So in all your interactions—from one-on-ones in your office to presentations in front of the entire district—you have to communicate in a way that leads people to trust you. They need to know that they’re being given the facts, that they will be listened to, and that their opinions matter.

Once you have that culture in your schools, your work goes to the next level. People be come much more engaged. They want to be at school and at work. They want to participate in programs and have a say in how those pro grams are administered. Thinking about it has really opened my eyes to some of the specific things that we do—and the things that we need to do—to build more trust with our communities.

QPublic trust in schools seems to be eroding. Why do you think this is happening?

AIn my book, I speak to building trust with the community and even with those on staff who ar en’t likely to trust school leadership. And it’s not just public schools that deal with this issue. If you look at statistics from Pew Research, you’ll see that since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, trust in public institutions in this country has declined. You’ll see a couple of spikes where it picks up—after 9/11, for example. But over time, the decline continues.

Our public school system is one of those entities. But interestingly enough, PDK International’s an nual survey on trust in schools almost always shows that while Americans don’t trust public schools in general, they tend to think their own local school is doing pretty well.

Dr. Andrew Dolloff
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We in education have to remember that we actu ally enjoy a bit more trust from our communities than most public officials. It’s still lower than it was back in the 1950s and ‘60s, obviously— but it’s helpful to know that diminished trust in schools is also part of a broader phenomenon.

We can also build trust with our students through our expectations and standards. At Yarmouth, our mission is sloganized as “Empowering Students.” In every setting, we’re asking how the decisions we’re making and the programs we’re offering are empowering students.

AThe level of voice that we give to members of the school community—including students—is a hallmark of our district, one that really speaks to a great sense of trust. At our high school, we have a very active student senate, but several other student groups also have significant voice in their schools’ day-to-day work, from our civil rights team to our Black Student Union to our environmental club. All of them have made pro posals to school leadership that have brought about change.

I also think one of the greatest ways to build trust with students is to surround them with high-quality educators who have their best interests at heart. That’s my job as the superin tendent: to put compassionate, ethical, talented teachers in every classroom in the district. When you put great people in front of students, those students trust that their needs are being met. They’re more comfortable. They want to be in school. And as a result, we’re going to see better academic performance.

One way to ensure that is through equitable hiring practices. We talk a lot about giving students “windows and mirrors”—folks who provide them with windows into other experiences, as well as those who mirror the learner’s own experiences. We know that kids learn and perform better when they are working with at least some adults who serve as mirrors for them—so we need to make sure all students, not just white students, have those mirrors.

ACommunication and presentation are key. At Yarmouth, the materials I prepare for our board meetings are very extensive. I try to give board members all the information they’ll need to make informed decisions ahead of time, so that our meetings go as smoothly as possible in pub lic. There are no surprises at board meetings—I don’t bring up anything they aren’t expecting, and they don’t spring anything on me. Setting those norms and ground rules is very important.

Just like any other trust-building situation, board relations are also about personal relationships. As a superintendent, you’re going to have lots of opportunities to be in one-on-one or small group settings with members of your school committee. It’s important to get to know them as individuals and to know their families. If they have students in the district, what grades are they in? Who are their teachers? What activities do they participate in? Ask questions, show in terest, and be curious.

Of course, there are going to be board members you don’t have a great personal affinity for—but there will be moments when even those individ uals make points or comments that you agree with on some level. It’s important to capitalize on those moments. Saying things like, “You have an excellent point there,” or “Great question”— that helps build a relationship. In my 13 years as a superintendent, I’ve worked with dozens of different school committee members, and I’ve

QHow do you build trust with your most important stakeholders: students?
QSchool boards have become especially contentious lately. How can school leaders build trust with their boards?
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been able to find at least some common ground with every single one of them. That has not only strengthened our relationships, but made our work more efficient as well.

AI believe that our recruitment, hiring, and reten tion practices speak to the level of trust that exists in our organization. From the time we start advertising for and recruiting educators to join our team, we need to be upfront about every thing: our mission, our expectations, our salary and benefits packages, our day-to-day work.

Providing people with information helps them make a good decision, which is good for the district, too. We don’t want to hire anyone who doesn’t want to be here, so they need to know what they’re walking into.

Even our communication with people who aren’t hired is critical. You never know if somebody will

come around again looking for a job. They may get hired at another district, work their way up, and be in a position to interview you one day. So it’s important to build those relationships, too.

At Yarmouth, we make sure that everyone who interviews with us gets a phone call. If we’re in terviewing for a principal position, I call and have a conversation with every single candidate, try ing to give them some positive feedback and constructive criticism. That goes miles for our reputation as a district. Even when the candi dates are hired elsewhere, they remember we treated them well.

In terms of retention, teacher evaluations are a critical opportunity to build trust. We want folks to understand that we should all have a growth mindset and be willing to hear critical insight on our performance. So we don’t just have evalua tions for teachers; we follow that set-up for our principals, too. And as the superintendent of schools, I have an annual evaluation process. Because we’ve implemented an evaluation model from the superintendent level down— where people can receive input, reflect, and improve—there seems to be a great deal of trust in our organization.

The relationships people have with their col leagues and supervisors also factor into retention. You have to make sure that people ar en’t isolated, provide opportunities for common planning time, and give them some direction in their own professional development or contin ued education. All those things are what make

QHow can trust help school leaders address issues with recruitment and retention?
Photos courtesy of Yarmouth School Department
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employees feel valued, beyond attractive salary and benefits packages. It’s how they’re treated as professionals, how they’re respected, how they’re included in the decision-making process within their own schools. Being part of a team and actually having a say in things like sched uling and programming are critical for teacher efficacy and their sense of value.

QAnother theme in your book is the importance of trusting others. How can school leaders do that effectively?

AOne of the first self-help books I read as a young professional was Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , and I always remem ber him saying, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In my book, I parallel that state ment with this idea: Show trust in others first as a way to build their trust in you. That goes all the way back to the Golden Rule: “Treat people the way that you want to be treated.” If you want to be trusted, then you have to demonstrate trust in others.

So how do we do that? First, we have to show people that we respect their time. School leaders often make the mistake of overcommitting ourselves and others to meetings. But when you allow people the time and space to do their work, you may find that a meeting isn’t even necessary. Having too many long meetings makes your employees wonder whether you trust them to do their jobs. By not dominating their time with meetings and seminars—by allowing them to do their work— you’re demonstrating trust in them.

And that trust is essential. If you don’t trust your staff to do their jobs, you’re going to be following buses around, making sure the drivers are stop ping where they’re supposed to. You can’t do that. So start from a position of trust.

QHow can schools build collaboration with other parts of their communities?

AWe talked about respect earlier—well, that involves providing opportunities for input and re ally listening to people. For example, during the pandemic, we revamped our five-year strategic plan. To make sure the community was involved, we conducted surveys and gave them opportu nities to provide their input digitally as well as in person. We also invited them to be members of the strategic planning team itself.

Another example: We just started a pre-K pro gram, and we actually invited private pre-K providers in the community to be part of that planning process. That not only gave us access to their expertise, but also helped us communi cate to them that we weren’t necessarily their competition; the families we’d be serving were less likely to have the resources or the inclina tion to choose a private program.

As a school leader, I can’t just tell my staff and community, “This is my vision for the school district.” We have to develop a vision together. Now, as we move forward with that strategic plan, every single person in the district will be able to think about how their work furthers our mission— because they were part of developing it.

For more practical tips on building trust in your school communities, you can find Dolloff’s book The Trust Imperative online through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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In her debut TikTok, Dr. Georgeanne Warnock greets her audience with her hair in a towel as she’s getting ready for her day. Clearly, the superintendent from Terrell ISD in Texas isn’t afraid to be real with her audience. “We are short on substitutes,” she tells the camera. “We have teacher shortages. We have all of our central office out subbing. And today, I am subbing in a seventh grade class.”

Warnock began the onboarding process for her new role as superintendent in January 2020, only a few weeks before COVID-19 started making headlines in the U.S. But with her community-building plans cut short by impending school closures and social distancing, Warnock knew she had to find a creative solution to connect with her community. As they scrambled to make plans over spring break of that year, Warnock and her then-Director of Communications and Marketing Olivia Rice both hoped that video content could help them connect with their district audience during the early days of the pandemic. Rice imagined well-lit, scripted videos filmed in Warnock’s office—but the superintendent had other ideas.

“She sent me a video of herself sitting on the front porch of her rental cabin with a baseball cap on,” Rice says. “I hadn’t worked with her very long—I didn’t know how to say, Absolutely not .” But the more Rice watched, the more she realized the power of this authentic, vulnerable approach to messaging. “It just reso nated with me so much,” she explains. “And if it resonated with me, it was going to resonate with our community.”

Although she originally joined TikTok to keep up with her sons, discovering videos from other educators and administrators inspired Warnock to create content of her own. So when she started subbing once a week at schools throughout her dis trict, she used TikTok to share her experience as “The Subbing Superintendent.” In recent videos, Warnock also discusses mental health needs in schools, interview tips for aspiring teachers, and the various ways she connects with her commu nity. Scrolling through her profile, you can find TikToks about her personal life as well, including videos of her own children and how she spends quality time with her family.

Even without speaking to her face-to-face, it’s easy to see that Warnock cares deeply about her community. More impor tantly, recording her growing involvement with her district’s classrooms on TikTok has ultimately improved Warnock’s relationships with her staff by opening new lines of communi cation. “Documenting my subbing journey has really shifted my relationships as I work in new ways, side by side with my staff,” she says. “Now I think more of our staff feel comfortable shar ing their needs with us, and they trust that we’re going to take action in whatever ways we can.”

You may associate TikTok with “devious licks’’ or other viral social media challenges, but as Warnock’s story proves, the platform could be an extremely valuable tool for your district’s communications. Like Warnock, you might even find your own voice on the trendy platform. But should you be using TikTok to engage with your community and build your district’s brand? Let’s get into it.

Why TikTok?

As you may already know from your students or even personal experience, TikTok is currently the most engaging app on the market. TikTok’s average user session is 10.85 minutes— nearly four times that of Instagram. Even though Gen Z—the oldest of whom are now turning 25—uses the platform more than any other group, over half of all active users are over 30. Chances are, a surprising number of students, teachers, and parents in your district are on the app. And considering that its

rapid growth has made it the world’s seventh-most popular so cial media platform in terms of users, it’s safe to say that TikTok is here to stay.

As a school leader, you’ve weathered immeasurable chal lenges over the past couple of years. As your families and faculty learned to navigate in-person and remote learning in tandem, you probably began relying on online communication and social media more than ever. Visibility and accessibility online aren’t just essential for building and maintaining your dis trict’s current relationships—they’re also crucial for marketing your schools to potential families and teachers.

The marketing industry also underwent some pretty dra matic changes during the height of the pandemic. According to research from social content marketing platform Stackla, consumers increasingly began favoring intensely authentic brands that embrace imperfections and the messiness of life, rather than conventional “perfect and packaged” brands. We probably don’t have to tell you that appearing relatable during chaotic times is better than appearing unfazed. And because TikTok is so personal and informal, it could help you create a casual, low-risk space for your community to engage with your content. All you need is a little creativity and a desire to play.

Play is a powerful aid for reinforcing positive associations with your schools, promoting your district’s culture, and cultivating authenticity. Although it might seem ambiguous, it’s actually pretty simple: Incorporating play just means incorporating fun. According to researcher Paul Lopushinsky, an expert in creat ing positive work cultures, play in the workspace, classroom, and other traditionally formal spaces is associated with higher engagement, bonding, solidarity, and a decreased sense of hierarchy. So when schools incorporate TikTok into their marketing repertoires, they’re diversifying their online commu nications toolkit to include play—and play, in turn, increases a brand’s authenticity.

Simply put, highly authentic brands are transparent and emo tionally available to consumers. They’re also clever, engaging, and playful. With a little patience and consistency, TikTok could help show your community just how genuine and enjoyable your schools are.

Is TikTok Right for You?

As much as we love to see schools get creative on TikTok, it’s also important to consider whether the platform is right for your district before diving in. Even though TikTok is user-friendly

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and free, using the app successfully comes with its own set of challenges. For example, learning how to create a high volume of quality content is difficult. And because TikTok rewards fre quent posters with higher visibility, posting sporadically won’t get you very far. In fact, Kate Rodriguez from Digital Marketing News claims that for growing businesses and brands, “it is a good general rule of thumb to post a minimum of one time per day.” Depending on your particular goals, posting every day may not be necessary, but be aware that you probably need to share content at least weekly.

Keeping up with current trends is also time-consuming and requires a certain degree of social media literacy. If you ar en’t using social media frequently, it’s difficult to be “in on the joke” in time to produce engaging content. More than likely, you’ll need additional help from your staff, faculty, or even stu dents to keep your account active and current. If your district is well-resourced, you may already have a point person for your socials. But if your district is unable to designate a specific po sition for managing your online presence, you might end up relying on staff and students who are already spread too thin. Your time, your staff’s time, and your students’ time are all valu able and need to be considered when weighing the pros and cons of pursuing TikTok.

It may also be a good idea to ask whether your students and parents are interested in consuming information through vid eos, especially in TikTok’s format. TikToks are designed to be short and sweet, but maybe you’ve learned through ex perience that your community engages more with long-form videos on your Facebook page or website. Perhaps your fam ilies are more responsive to newsletters than videos. In these cases, it may be best to consult with other administrators or staff about whether or not to create a TikTok account. Your faculty knows students and parents better than anyone else; lean on their expertise.

You can also join TikTok without posting content to see if it will be a good communication option for your district. Acclimate yourself to the platform, see how other educators use it, and decide whether it’s right for your schools. If it’s not a good fit right now, consider revisiting this conversation next year. But if you do make the decision to dive in, the sooner you get started, the better.

Ready to Get Started?

Although TikTok may feel more intimidating than some other social media platforms, its features are intuitive and

beginner-friendly; more than 80% of users have posted at least one video. TikTok’s format also inherently minimizes barriers between creators and viewers, helping you cultivate strong connections between your district and your commu nity. And for better or worse, with consistency, TikTok’s highly sophisticated algorithm will help your content reach your de sired audience, especially if you encourage your community to “follow” you.

Perhaps the most attractive feature of TikTok is the “For You” page (or FYP)—the first page you see when you open the app. This is the endless feed of videos produced by creators you may or may not know, about topics you may or may not be in terested in. When you follow creators or “like” videos, you tell the algorithm what kind of content you prefer to see.

According to Christina Newberry from social media man agement platform Hootsuite, the algorithm functions as a recommendation system, in which “no two users will see the same videos…and the videos you see might change over time

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based on your viewing preferences.” Because of this, any video has the potential to go viral; as long as the content is in teresting and engaging, it can end up on anyone’s FYP.

If you don’t already know how to create and upload a video to TikTok, we recommend you start with TikTok support either online or through the app. Plenty of other guides are also avail able from sources like Hootsuite, Wired, and YouTube.

We also recommend that you explore the app and get com fortable interacting with others’ videos before you start creating content of your own. This is a great opportunity to see what’s trending at the moment and to get an idea of what to expect once you start posting. It’s also not a bad idea to ex plore the non-education side of TikTok. Take notes; investigate what makes successful content and what flops. Then, once you’re ready to start sharing your content, consider following some of these tips:

1. Use trending music or “sounds.” Music and sounds are at the heart of TikTok, and using them appropriately and cleverly can make your videos sing. Think of music and sounds as inside jokes; the better—and timelier—the ex ecution, the greater the response.

2. Talk about where you are. We don’t know much about TikTok’s super secret algorithm, but we do know that it shows viewers local content along with general content. As you can imagine, this is particularly helpful for small businesses, but you can make the algorithm work for your schools, too. Mention your location—like your school, city, state, or region—in your videos and captions. And remember: Hashtags are your friends!

3. Explore TikTok for Business. TikTok of fers a compre hensive website—TikTok for Business— detailing how to use the platform to your brand’s advantage and promote your organization to your target audience. The site provides details about paid advertisements, as well as information on how to increase visibility without paid ads. Even if you’re not interested in ads, we highly recommend exploring the site’s blog for tips on marketing.

4. Incorporate student voices. Your students are your best storytellers. Allowing them to share unscripted joys and successes in your schools is the key to building an authentic brand. Your students will also probably be in touch with current TikTok trends, helping your content stay relevant while providing the op portunity for spontaneity.

5. Don’t delete videos—even if they flop. M any creators suspect that deleting videos may re sult in a “shadowban,” in which the algorithm begins to hide your content from audiences that you would otherwise reach. Shadowbans are designed to deter spammers and trolls, who frequently upload and delete content strategi cally. Fortunately, knowing that you shouldn’t delete videos requires you to critically examine your content prior to posting. Before you up load, make sure you’re confident in what you’re saying and how you’re saying it.

Being intentional, consistent, and genuine with your presence on TikTok is undoubtedly the most important thing to con sider. Like Warnock says, “try to be mindful about maintaining authenticity, and keep it real.” Whether you personally create content or encourage your teachers and students to post vid eos, the benefits are substantial. Take this as a sign—maybe TikTok is for you.

COMPETING WITH YOURSELF

MANAGING INTRADISTRICT COMPETITION

You’ve probably seen articles detailing the droves of students fleeing public schools for alternative education options like virtual classes and homeschooling. As to whether or not these numbers accurately represent the state of public education, the jury’s still out. One thing’s for sure, though: In the age of COVID-19 and school choice, competition is on everyone’s minds. But so much of what we hear is about competition between districts. What about schools under the same district umbrella?

If your district is large enough to have multiple schools at the same level—more than one high school, elementary school, etc.—then you’ve probably given this some thought. How can you keep your schools from overshadowing one another? How do you resist the narrative of “good school” vs. “bad school”? How do you make sure every student in your district gets the quality education they deserve without micromanaging each individual campus?

Part of the solution to building consistent excellence across your district is having each campus cultivate its own unique identity. By doing so, you encourage friendly competition between your schools, promoting innovation while still prioritizing your district as a cohesive team. Of course, in order for this to happen effectively, every building in your district must have equitable access to available resources.

Think of your district like a grove of aspen trees. On the surface, you see singular structures standing alone. But when you look deeper, there’s an interwoven root structure tying everything together. Your schools are the same way. Each individual building is responsible for its own growth, but at the end of the day, you’re all one interconnected district— one organization. For a district to succeed, every school within it must succeed.

Studying Intradistrict Competition

While there’s substantial research into the effects of school choice between districts, there’s not nearly as much out there about the effects of competition within a district. What is available, though, is illuminating.

Take, for example, a study conducted by Lawrence Chisesi from the School of Business Administration at the University of San Diego. In his study, “Competition for Students in a Local School District,” he tracked the movement of students between elementary schools in a large district after its board implemented school choice policies. The study found that as schools began losing students to others in the district, their efforts to recruit students intensified.

Test scores didn’t have as great of an effect on families’ choices as you might think. According to the study, families who chose schools outside their own neighborhoods seemed to gravitate toward schools with higher test scores than their own—but not the schools that had the highest test scores overall. In other words, test scores matter, but they aren’t the number-one priority for families.

The study also found that families’ choices are affected by socioeconomic factors. For example, minority populations are more likely to choice into schools with student bodies that reflect the identities of their children. Another study found that families in struggling areas are more likely to choose schools outside their own neighborhoods than families in affluent areas. And when families in prosperous neighborhoods do choice out, they travel farther than folks with fewer resources.

But, according to Chisesi’s study, “The most important finding is that schools that adopted alternative programming had more success in recruiting students.” Parents seemed

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to be most influenced by the varying approaches different schools took to delivering the same state-mandated standards. In other words, the most important thing a school can do to better recruit students is differentiate itself from the others in its district.

What does this mean for you? It means prospective families look for schools with unique identities. It means competition can breed innovation—and it can be leveraged to bring out the best in each of your schools.

Intradistrict Competition in Action

So what does it look like to encourage individual schools to cultivate singular identities? And how can you leverage competition while still keeping your dis trict working together as a team? Here’s how two very different districts managed to do just that.

The GISD Effect

Garland ISD (GISD) serves approximately 53,000 students and supports 7,500 staff members. You’d think it would be impossible to get every employee from the large Texas district under the same roof—but that isn’t the case. Before beginning the 2022-23 school year, GISD hosted a massive convocation attended by every single staff member.

The event was a hit—complete with drumlines, light effects, and even glow sticks. Several staff members took to Twitter to document the success of the event. One popular tweet sported the caption: “Is it a rave? No, it’s #TheGISDEffect.”

Even though the event’s primary goal was to bring the whole district together, Executive Director of Communications Sherese Nix also envisioned it as an opportunity for different campuses to show off their school pride. In the videos GISD shared, staff members dance into the arena to the beat of high school drumlines, sporting their school colors and waving homemade posters. “We had people come with their mascots. They brought their school flags, and some had all the same T-shirts on,” Nix tells us. “We welcomed that. When you take ownership and pride in your school, that resonates with the students. It creates an environment where they feel proud to come to school.”

Then, GISD turned that sense of pride into a motivator. During their convocation, the superintendent recognized every campus that had earned A’s and B’s on their state report card. One school at a time, he invited staff members

from the designated campuses to stand up as the rest of the district applauded. Because not every school had earned A’s and B’s, not every school was recognized. But the superintendent reminded everyone that even if they hadn’t earned the ratings they’d wanted, they’d have another chance next year.

It would be easy to assume the campuses that weren’t recognized felt disheartened. But that wasn’t the case. “Our staff went crazy cheering and clapping for the campuses that had received those ratings,” Nix tells us. Each individual school was proud of the successes they saw around them. They fed off the celebration, determined to be one of the schools recognized at the next convocation.

By encouraging campuses to cheer one another on, GISD was using one of the oldest tricks in the book: Recognizing individual success motivates every individual to be successful. If the convocation had only addressed districtlevel concerns, staff members might have tuned out.

Instead, GISD intentionally created an environment where staff members felt empowered to take ownership over the work happening in their schools. Then, GISD’s 7,500 staff members went back to their respective buildings motivated to make positive change in the coming school year.

A Monticello Buckaroo

San Juan Unified School District in Utah is another large district—at least geographically. Though it serves only 3,000 students, it covers a whopping 7,815 square miles. KC Olson, principal at Monticello High School—one of San Juan USD’s five high schools—says that while district families have the option to choice into different schools, most simply choose

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the one closest to them. That doesn’t stop San Juan USD schools from competing with one another, though. In fact, Olson tells us Monticello’s chief rival is San Juan High School, mainly because they’re the closest—only 25 miles away.

If you were to walk through the halls of Monticello High School, you’d see all kinds of posters emblazoned with the same three words: Respect. Responsibility. Integrity

According to Olson, being a Monticello Buckaroo means embodying these three values. Monticello decided on their core values as part of a district-led initiative. Because they wanted their community to feel represented by the school’s values, they included faculty, parents, and students in the selection process.

Olson tells us that in a district as large as San Juan USD, students are more likely to identify with their specific schools than with the district as a whole. “So it’s really important that our school building also has an idea of what our identity is,” Olson says. “My efforts are focused on making students proud to be Buckaroos and giving them the expectations that come along with it.” And because those expectations are at the heart of Monticello’s brand, each student and staff member who walks through the school’s doors knows exactly what it means to be a Buckaroo. By tying everything back to their values, the school has built an identity their community can own.

As you might expect, Olson wholeheartedly believes that Monticello is the best high school in San Juan USD—and he’s always keen to prove it. Monticello often enjoys a bit of friendly competition with San Juan High. During the holidays, they compete to see who can collect the most change to purchase gift cards for under-resourced students. The winner gets to decorate a Christmas tree in the other high school’s lobby. “So if we win, they end up with an orange and black Monticello High School tree,” Olson says.

But competition between the two schools isn’t always planned. Olson and the principal at San Juan High like to keep each other on their toes. It’s not uncommon for one of them to pick up the phone and call the other with a challenge. It could be anything from a friendly bet on an upcoming volleyball game to a more academic challenge—like which school will have the most honor roll students at the end of the quarter. For impromptu challenges like this one, the losing principal’s punishment is always the same: wearing the other school’s colors for a given amount of time. In fact, each

principal keeps a T-shirt from the other school in his closet at all times—just for challenges like these. But even when one school loses, it becomes an opportunity to celebrate the other school by sporting their colors. After all, they’re both a part of San Juan USD.

By creating space for your schools to differentiate them selves—whether by wearing school colors to a districtwide convocation or establishing a shared set of values—you’re setting the stage for the kind of healthy competition that can motivate your schools to give every day their best.

Remaining Unified

So what role should you play in helping your campuses establish unique identities? As a district leader, it’s your job to establish the kind of positive culture that keeps staff motivated while also promoting a sense of solidarity and shared ownership.

Think back to GISD’s convocation. Yes, individual schools were congratulated on their achievements, but every campus got fired up by the district’s collective success. The convocation never would have happened at all if the district hadn’t prioritized a culture of celebration. “We hadn’t been together as a family in four years,” Nix tells us. It was important to use the opportunity to make every staff member feel special, while also reminding everyone of the district’s central goal.

Nix also intentionally struck a balance between campus pride and district unity by doing something GISD had never done before. Instead of having a keynote speaker at their convocation, she organized the event around stories from

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people within the district: students, teachers, and principals. “The GISD Effect is us,” Nix says. “There is pride in the community and pride in the schools, but at the end of the day, we are all GISD, and we’re here to support all of our students.”

And what about Principal Olson’s rivalry with San Juan High School? Those friendly challenges would never happen if the principals in San Juan USD weren’t just that: friends. And that type of relationship usually results from a district culture of collaboration.

Even though Olson is determined to be number one in his district, he and other building-level leaders are always picking each other’s brains. They even read over one another’s handbooks to offer feedback on improving certain policies. “The goal is for me to take what I learn and improve Monticello,” Olson says. “And they’re going to do the same. We’re going to keep fine-tuning our practices so that our ideas and our work become higher and higher quality as time goes on.”

Pushing Each Other Forward

When it comes down to it, encouraging school pride can lead to productive, healthy competition—but the ultimate competition for each of your schools will always be with themselves. Their primary goal shouldn’t be to score slightly higher on standardized tests than the school down the street. It should be to continuously improve—to challenge themselves to keep growing.

However, that doesn’t mean your schools won’t ever rely on others in the district to keep pushing them forward. At the end of our conversation with Olson, he shared a story about his son, a three-time state championship wrestler. “His coaches told me that the only time they ever saw him mad was when his practice partner wasn’t working hard enough,” Olson says. “He’d take it as an insult.” Olson’s son knew that he could only keep getting better if his partner did the same.

Olson says that’s exactly how he sees his relationships to the other schools in his district. The success of his school depends on the success of the schools around him—it depends on everyone doing their best. “At the end of the day, I want to be better,” he tells us, “and I hope they want to be better, too—because that’s what’s going to keep driving us.”

Ultimately, pride in your school and pride in your district are two sides of the same coin, and you need both in order to promote student success. “The common denominator is our students,” Nix says, “and, as a district, if one campus fails, then we all fail.” Students are the root structure connecting each of your individual schools, and as your campuses push themselves and one another to strive for success, education

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MULTIPURPOSE SCHOOLS

HOW CALIFORNIA’S COMMUNITY SCHOOLS CONSIDER EVERY STUDENT’S NEEDS

For a hundred years or more, the American schoolhouse was the center of each town. These spaces did more than just educate children; they were anchors of their commu nities. Civic meetings, potluck dinners, spelling bees, you name it—they all took place within the confines of the local school. Today, however, schools don’t always hold quite the same space in their communities.

States like California are working to change that through the community schools model by incorporating wraparound services beyond their core academic offerings. If you take a walk around a community school, you might see a stu dent getting a toothache looked at in a dental clinic (a la Los Angeles Unified’s Murchison Street Elementary) or parents studying English as a Second Language (like in Anaheim UHSD’s Sycamore Junior High). The overarching goal is to support the whole child. After all, schools cannot accom plish their mission without addressing the barriers students (and their families) face outside the classroom.

California’s legislature recently set aside funds for the biggest investment in community schools to date. The California Community Schools Partnership Program is awarding $649 million dollars in grants to districts with es tablished programs as well as those just getting started.

While your state may not have the same funding opportu nities, the values and experiences of those doing the work in California offer important lessons for anyone looking to

implement community schools in their own districts. What’s more, you probably already have some experience in this work. Over the past few years, for example, schools have taken on the monumental task of feeding students regard less of whether they’re on campus or not. The promise of the community schools model is the opportunity to systematize the extracurricular supports your campuses already offer, al lowing you to fully lean into supporting every learner’s needs.

The Four Pillars

In setting up their new program, policymakers in California have defined four values that make up a successful commu nity school:

1. Collaborative leadership

2. Integrated student supports

3. Family and community engagement

4. Extended learning time

These four pillars describe how community schools should operate and what should drive their work. Integrated stu dent supports, for example, encompass not just academic needs but students’ physical, socioemotional, and mental health needs as well. The form these supports take depends on the community. Campus leadership has one perspective on what their students need, but parents and learners them selves should also have a voice in what schools provide. That’s where collaborative leadership comes in.

Laying a Strong Foundation

“Relationships and collaborative leadership are the through lines for community schools,” Aronn Peterson tells us. Peterson is the community schools coordinator for San Diego Unified, one of the California districts using state fund ing to launch their own community schools program. San Diego’s work in this area spans all the way back to 2020 with the creation of their Community Schools Implementation Team. This group laid the foundation by defining job respon sibilities, ironing out funding details, and establishing how site coordinators will work with campus leadership.

This collaboration with building-level leaders is very import ant, argues Peterson. If there isn’t a strong sense of buy-in from principals and their teams, important work could wind up being siloed. Getting everyone on the same page involves connecting the work of community schools with the overall vision for each campus. The same can be said of the dis trict as a whole. “The vision of community schools isn’t much

Photos courtesy of Oakland Unified School District
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different from the vision of most superintendents,” Peterson tells us. “How are we supporting our kids? How are we re moving barriers? How are we building equitable systems? Those are the main tenets.”

Another important point is that there is no template for what a community school should look like. In San Diego, five campuses have been selected to be the district’s initial community schools—and each one is being treated as com pletely independent from the others. That’s because each school’s community is different. Stakeholders ranging from teachers to parents to students are consulted about their own unique needs.

The timeline for Peterson and his team starts with laying the groundwork in the first year. Internally, this includes training and learning as much as possible about each school’s re spective community. Externally, the team conducts a needs assessment that includes the voices of the community, teachers, staff, and students. In Years Two and Three, the real work of addressing current systems and building new programs begins.

But the work of community schools isn’t about tackling ev ery single issue students and their families face. The key is to focus on addressing the needs your community identifies as most important to them. “All is not always best; be strategic,” says Andrea Bustamante, Oakland Unified’s executive direc tor of community schools and student services. “If the need is around mental health, find a really great mental health pro vider and make sure they reflect your community. It’s about balancing the right supports and services for your students.”

The district’s main role is ensuring that the proper resources are there to support the work.

In San Diego, that’s where site coordinators and Peterson’s role as district coordinator come into play. This team builds connections with community partners who can help ensure each school’s success. And just because each campus is fo cused on their own projects doesn’t mean they’re working alone. The whole system is stronger because of the collab oration between site coordinators and the district. What’s more, San Diego is able to learn from other California dis tricts already in the process of running community schools, such as Riverside Unified and Chula Vista Elementary School District.

In Oakland Unified, one of the state’s most established com munity schools networks, any campus has the authority to hire a community school manager. The district’s community schools leadership coordinator then helps principals through the hiring process. Bustamante tells us that these site co ordinators come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are former teachers or social workers, while others have worked in family engagement or after-school programs. Many are also alumni of Oakland Unified. Whatever their prior experi ence, it’s important that these hires look and sound like the students—and communities—that they’ll serve.

From a Campus to a Network

Scaling community schools involves a few important factors. Aside from funding, the biggest key to long-term success is patience. The barriers to learning that create dispari ties in education outcomes haven’t cropped up overnight. As Peterson says, “We need patience to be able to build relationships, understand the issues, and then go in and problem-solve.” One year of attending a community school might not move the needle on a student’s test scores—but that’s okay.

Data on lagging indicators such as attendance levels and reading scores absolutely does matter—and improvements there will come with time. In the short term, what matters more is evaluating and responding to campus and com munity needs. How’s relationship-building going? What are family engagement and involvement like? The answers to these questions will hint at success in other areas down the road. This is where opening up strong lines of communica tion among building-level leaders, teachers, and families pays dividends.

Another factor in successfully scaling community schools within a district is the actual growth pattern itself. Which cam puses become community schools—and when—matters for your district’s feeder pattern. It could be jarring if a student transitions from a community school to a traditional one. Continuity of services makes a difference. After all, a stu dent’s needs don’t change when they move from one school building to another.

Part of that continuity of services also means setting up staff members at each community school for success. Peterson says one strength of San Diego’s approach has been the fo cus on capacity building. As part of their onboarding, all site

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coordinators are trained on the four pillars and what they look like for the district. This ensures they are ready to pur sue the goals of the community schools model once they are enmeshed in their individual campuses.

What’s more, San Diego is piloting an instructional coach role at one school to work directly with the principal. The goal is to help campus leaders embrace the tenets of collaborative leadership, which are vital to the whole endeavor. At the end of the day, principals and community schools liaisons should work in concert. As Bustamante says, these employees “al low the principals to focus on learning and instruction while the community school manager helps with the other sup ports students need. That way, kids can get to the classroom ready to learn.”

In any implementation effort, there are going to be mis takes—strategies that don’t work out or don’t fully address the challenges at hand. However, any misstep is also an op portunity to learn, adjust, and pivot. Foundational changes won’t happen overnight, but that’s what the community schools model is all about. As Peterson describes it, “At its core, it’s about ensuring equity for our students. We’re re moving barriers. We’re looking at fundamentally changing how we do school.”

Currently, 66 campuses in Oakland Unified (three-quarters of the district) have dedicated community school managers. The goal doesn’t have to be 100% adoption at the cam pus level, however. Over time, practices from community schools can become part of your entire district’s standard practices. According to Bustamante, Oakland views all of their campuses as community schools because each one now has a coordination of services team and an attendance

team to support students. The work of making sure all stu dents are successful doesn’t just belong to one position or department. Supporting students is everyone’s job, and that mindset can be a powerful motivator across an entire district.

Getting to Work

Whether today or tomorrow, there’s never a bad time to start building the relationships that lie at the core of success ful community schools. However, when thinking about this work, remember that community schools are not an all-ornothing endeavor. You don’t have to solve every problem; just focus on where you can chip in. Partner with the local health department for a vaccine clinic, or team up with a food bank to offer meals over the summer.

While community schools framework may sound like some thing you’ll have to build from scratch, that’s really not the

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Reach your community instantly. Anywhere, anytime.

THE REAL DEAL

Authenticity in the Superintendency

When Dr. Terri Bresnahan greeted the crowd of staff and teachers at Community Consolidated School District 59’s Opening Institute Day, she started by sharing a story. “Setting the tone for the year in front of this sea of people was really an opportunity to share who I am as a person,” the Illinois superintendent says. Bresnahan told her nearly 1,000 staff members about a sixth grader in a nearby district who used to struggle with separation anxiety and had a hard time getting to school every day.

The boy’s counselor eventually set up dedicated times for him to start his day at school in a safe space and also proposed a creative idea: What if he brought a picture of his mother to have with him whenever he was feeling anxious in class? Before long, he and his mother were taking daily selfies together for him to keep on his phone whenever he needed to see her.

But for Bresnahan, this story wasn’t just a colorful anecdote for her speech. “That mother happened to be me,” she told the crowd before flipping through slide after slide of selfies from her son’s collection.

“Sharing my story was so powerful and incredibly vulnerable for me,” she says. “And it was really scary. I’m only in my second year as superintendent in this school district.” But Bresnahan immediately knew she’d done the right thing. “Just watching people’s reactions, I could see how they were able to relate,” she adds. “I could see them thinking: She’s a mother and she struggles, too, you know? We immediately had that connection.”

Connecting to her employees by being authentically herself was a thoughtful move—and a smart one. Research shows that leaders in the private sector who embody authenticity foster happier, healthier workplaces and relationships. In fact, according to a study in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal, “employees’ perception of authentic leadership serves as the strongest predictor of job satisfaction.” Not only that, but being authentic encourages the same in your employees and students. Having staff and students who engage in the personal work necessary to live more authentically won’t just make leading easier. It’ll make those you’re leading happier.

To find out what it really means to be an authentic leader, we looked to an expert on the subject. Julie Jungalwala is the co-founder of the Institute for the Future of Learning and

the author of The Human Side of Changing Education: How to Lead Change With Clarity, Conviction, and Courage. She also teaches a course on authentic leadership at Harvard University. Jungalwala argues that in order to accomplish the very goal of public education, authentic leadership is a necessity. “We want to graduate critical thinkers and agile problem solvers—kids who are creative, who can speak truth to power. Asking children to find their authentic talents and voices means that the adults should be provided the opportunity to do the same,” she says. “To make this possible, school superintendents have the opportunity to lead the way by showing up as their authentic selves.”

So what does it look like to be authentic day-to-day? How exactly should you show up for your staff and students?

Here are a few things to keep top of mind as you explore your own approach to authentic leadership.

Be your own author.

Many define “authenticity” as simply being yourself every day, but to truly harness the power of authentic leadership, it’s important to understand the depth of its meaning and the impact it can have on others.

“Being authentic means being the author of your own life,” Jungalwala says. “It’s understanding that every day you have a choice—are you living an authored, created life or a default one? Either way, you’re making a choice. When I think about leadership and authenticity, I think: Are you cultivating choice for yourself? Are you cultivating that ability for folks to make a different kind of choice within your work environment? ”

The concept of self-authoring comes from psychologist Robert Kegan, who includes it as an integral step in each person’s self-evolution. Marcia Baxter Magolda, a distinguished professor of educational leadership at Miami University of Ohio, more plainly describes it as “the internal capacity to define one’s beliefs, identity, and social relations.” Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably already familiar with the internal work required to reach a place of selfauthorship. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be where you are today.

As a leader, making the choice to show up authentically every day isn’t just hard work—it’s also courageous work. This is especially true for school leadership. “One of the great ironies is that our institutions of learning should be these hotbeds of growth for students and adults alike, but we’re still in the industrial, mechanistic model of management

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and leadership, where the culture is to simply mitigate risks, to control, and to comply,” Jungalwala says. Fostering environments of authenticity and vulnerability, however, can break you free of traditional models that are no longer serving today’s students and teachers.

“I think people really want someone they can approach,” Bresnahan tells us. “They want someone they can trust, someone who shows empathy and vulnerability. Those are core values for me, and they really do change how people are willing to work together as an organization.”

Stay true to yourself.

According to Harvard Business Review, “authentic leaders are genuine and honest, admit error, and stay true to what they believe. When leaders are true to themselves and ad mit their mistakes or failures, it gives others permission to do the same, changing the norms of the workplace.” You don’t always have to know exactly what to feel or say, but know ing what you value most and using that as a compass in your leadership is the first and most essential step toward genu ine authenticity. A leader who is steadfast in their convictions and trusts their internal voice is more likely to lead others down the same path. What’s more, if you make decisions based on a set of core values, then admitting doubt isn’t a display of weakness. It’s just the start of a conversation.

When we spoke with Bresnahan about leading from a set of core values, she expressed her determination to lead with

conviction and truth. “This work is about empowering oth ers and closing those achievement and opportunity gaps for all. I feel very strongly that this is my purpose, that this is my mission,” she says. “If I do anything less than that, my district needs to look for a new superintendent.”

Jungalwala says that living in a post-COVID world has made this kind of bold, self-authored leadership all the more nec essary. “There’s an opportunity here, because you can’t do everything,” she says. “You have to start making choices, and ideally those choices are coming from a place of deep know ing. It’s only when you ground yourself in the authenticity of your leadership—your values, your purpose—that you’re able to lead from that place.”

Be vulnerable with purpose.

It’s easy to say “be yourself,” but much harder to put this into daily practice—especially when things aren’t going so well. Maybe you’re struggling as a parent, like Bresnahan was, or a program you championed for your schools has fallen flat. In these and most other cases, the old adage rings true: The only way out is through. You have to lean into vulnerability.

It’s a heavy word, isn’t it? Vulnerability . The most common definition certainly doesn’t sound ideal: the state of be ing exposed to harm . But vulnerability in leadership can be strategic as long as it has a purpose and stays true to your established core values.

Leaning into authenticity, Bresnahan prioritizes collaboration in all her leadership work. (Photos courtesy of CCSD 59)
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When we shared Bresnahan’s story about her son with Jungalwala, she had this to say: “What’s clear is that she was vulnerable with a purpose. Ideally, you’re telling your story as a way to humanize and dramatize—because we’re humans and we love stories. Embedded in that story are challenge, choice, and outcome. Bresnahan did a beautiful job weaving that seamlessly into the point she was trying to make: that she struggles, too. And I’m sure she followed up by saying, This is what’s possible .” Jungalwala also says that when we listen to leaders, we need to feel some sense of empower ment and see a path forward. “We need to feel that hope and that possibility,” she adds.

Being vulnerable isn’t just powerful behind a podium, though. Sometimes it’s about being brave enough to ask hard ques tions and to reevaluate the status quo. “It sounds simple, but when everything is overwhelming, you as a leader can take a step back and say, What should we stop doing? ” Jungalwala explains. “Too often change in schools is change by bar nacle—just sticking another thing on another thing, and so on—and rarely is the conversation: We’ve been doing it this way for one hundred years. What should we stop doing? ”

Having the vulnerability to question and move away from “the way things have always been” frees you and your staff up to prioritize your most crucial work. This type of vulnerability takes self-awareness and courage in the moment, but it could impact your schools for years to come.

Inspire authenticity in others.

The most powerful aspect of authentic leadership is the way it inspires and drives others to live more authentically. It’s a huge part of why a culture of authenticity makes for happier, more empowered organizations. And for schools, a happy, engaged, and inspired staff of teachers and administrators is nothing short of life-changing for the communities who rely on them.

So how can you best inspire and encourage your employees to self-author and show up authentically? The obvious first step is modeling authenticity with every chance you get. Whether it’s a heartfelt convocation speech or a private conversation asking a staff member for their input, being a truly authentic leader means acknowledging with your actions that you can’t do it on your own. “I never do this work alone,” Bresnahan says. “It is always in collaboration and always about building capacity. It has to be connected to something greater for the community. And as steadfast as I

am in my values, I am just as open and flexible to learning and growing. That’s the difference between needing to be right and wanting to learn and do what’s best.”

By openly building space for growth and learning in her leadership, Bresnahan offers her staff a level of transparency and autonomy that allows them their own chance to evolve. “When you lead that way, through a lot of experience and mistakes and faltering, you allow others to do the same,” she says. “It helps them be free to grow. Good leaders build other good leaders, and they empower others to be authentic.”

Both Bresnahan and Jungalwala acknowledged that the work of authentic leadership doesn’t come easily or quickly. Bresnahan admits that her own authenticity is an ongoing seven-year journey. But it’s clear that with a foundation of self-reflection and awareness, an open-minded devotion to your core values, and a little bit of courage, authenticity isn’t far beyond your reach.

Recently, Bresnahan’s leadership team has been studying Peter Bregman’s Leading with Emotional Courage: How to Have Hard Conversations, Create Accountability, and Inspire Action On Your Most Important Work . When we spoke, the superintendent shared her favorite quote from the book: “If you are willing to feel everything, you can do anything.” It’s true. When you prioritize authenticity in your leadership, you’re taking an emotional risk. But if you face that risk head-on, there’s no limit to the impact you can make.

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UNIQUE S ELLING POINT

The Anatomy of a School Landing Page

Think of a recent school initiative you launched. What steps were involved in reaching your goal? Maybe you needed parents and teachers to volunteer to help with a school harvest festival, or perhaps you were hiring 20 bus driver po sitions. There are always new initiatives happening in your district—both big and small. So what steps can you take to make sure they’re successful?

One of the best tools to have at your disposal is a thought fully built landing page : a page on your website that collects important information. You might use one to capture teacher and parent information so you can reach out to them with volunteer instructions. Similarly, you’d direct prospective bus drivers to a landing page to apply for open positions. In other words, they help you collect and organize information so you’re one step closer to reaching your goal.

Landing pages have many different facets, and they work a bit differently than a typical page on your website. To under stand the full power of what a landing page can do, let’s start with the basics.

What is a landing page?

We all know multitasking is difficult. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what most webpages do: They present too much information all at once. Landing pages, on the other hand, are created with one specific goal in mind. In fact, they’re called landing pages because users often “land” on them when they have a very specific need. So, instead of bombarding visitors with a ton of information, landing pages focus on one central topic. For schools, this could be enrollment, teacher recruitment, or bringing awareness to an upcoming school event.

To put this in perspective, think about your school enrollment page. It may include information about your application process, your admissions team, or even a video. Since all of the information here is about enrollment—meaning it focuses on a single topic—this would be considered a landing page.

Now, let’s say you created a page on the same topic that included additional information outside of the enrollment process—like employment opportunities, your different campuses, or the history of your district. While this informa tion is crucial to have on your website, housing it all on one page takes the focus away from your main goal: enrollment. Therefore, this page wouldn’t be classified as a landing page.

Along with a goal, a landing page also includes a singular call-to-action : an invitation to complete the specific action you want visitors to take. Most of the time, this action is filling out an inquiry form or subscribing to a newsletter. Whatever it may be, the most basic rule of thumb is that a landing page should only include one call-to-action. In fact, research shows that landing pages with multiple calls-to-action get 266% fewer completed forms than those with only one. Why? Having a single call-to-action on the page helps elim inate distractions so people can focus on the specific step you want them to take.

Landing pages are among the most powerful pages on your website. According to a report from digital marketing tool HubSpot, companies that have 10 to 12 landing pages

The most basic rule of thumb is that a landing page should only include one call-to-action.
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YOUR OFFER

on their websites saw a 55% increase in leads , or potential customers. Since landing pages are designed to capture information, they’re the perfect tool to help you reach your goals, whatever they might be. But what exactly does a land ing page look like?

Essential Elements of a Landing Page

Though they can serve a variety of purposes, the most suc cessful landing pages have these six elements in common:

Unique selling proposition

A unique selling proposition is a statement summarizing the singular goal or purpose of your landing page. Usually, it’s in big, bold letters, followed by a sentence or two of supporting text. It’s a best practice to place the unique selling proposition above the fold , or in the top portion of the page visitors see before scrolling down. This way, it captures users’ attention as soon as they land on the page.

Banner image or video

A video or image can be used to visually reinforce your proposition. The unique selling proposition and image are like two peas in a pod; they should be placed together at the top of the page. As you choose your image, keep in mind how it will look on all device types. You want your image to look great on smaller screens, like tablets or mobile phones, as well as on a computer.

Call-to-action button

You’ll also want to include a call-to-action button at the top of the page, near the proposition and banner image. This button calls the user to take an action, like “Sign Up Today,” “Start the Enrollment Process,” or “Apply Online.” This button should always link to an online form where the user can complete the desired action.

Benefits of your offer

Below these elements, highlight the benefits of your offer or proposition. Your benefits make the case for why your offer is the right choice or best option for your target audience. If your goal is enrollment, you might provide a list of reasons your district stands out from others. On an employment landing page, this section could include your employee benefits and more information about your community.

Social proof

Your landing page should include some form of social proof —examples of people who have accepted your of fer and would recommend that others do the same. These can take the form of direct quotes, testimonials, or interviews from your school community.

Social proof is a critical trust indicator for people visiting your landing pages. It directly influences the way consumers make decisions these days—whether we’re purchasing some thing online or deciding where to have dinner. According to a survey from BrightLocal, a search engine optimization plat form, social proof is just as powerful as a recommendation from a friend. They found that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Form

Forms collect user information so the district can reach out later. In other words, they move your leads further into the decision-making process. In some cases, the form itself may appear on another page, but as long as a call-to-action button on your landing page leads to the form, you’re still fol lowing standard best practices.

There’s a lot of debate in the private sector marketing world over how long a form should be. Some studies show that shorter forms increase conversion rates —the percentage of users that fill out the form. But other studies seem to prove the opposite. While most marketers agree that short forms lead to higher conversion rates, long forms are a great way to weed out people who aren’t truly interested in your offer. Why? Because someone who is seriously interested in tak ing the next step generally won’t be phased by long forms.

You may find that longer landing pages work for an enrollment campaign, but shorter pages perform better when getting teachers to sign up for a back-to-school event.
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Landing Page Tips and Tricks

While these six elements should serve as the foundational pillars of your landing page, private sector marketers are constantly testing new ideas and approaches. Here are three ideas worth trying.

Simplify your design.

When it comes to landing pages, a general rule of thumb is less equals more. As we said earlier, eliminating distractions makes it easier for people to focus on your central offer. The best way to do this is to simplify your design. While you should have at least a few photos or a video on your page, you don’t want to overwhelm the viewer with an excessive amount of information. Take away unnecessary graphics, photos, design elements, and harsh colors. Instead, stick to a template that’s clean, easy to read, and looks great on all devices. This makes the user experience more enjoyable and can help keep your site as accessible as possible.

Add video.

It should come as no surprise that video dominates other forms of online content. But video is more than just a means of entertainment. Google reports that more than 50% of people have used videos to help them make purchasing decisions. What’s more, videos on landing pages have been proven to increase conversions by up to 86%.

There are plenty of creative ways to incorporate video into your landing pages. Try including testimonial videos in your social proof section or creating a highlight reel of your showing how it feels to attend or work in your district.

There is no “one-size-fits-all.”

It has been commonly understood by private sector marketers that short landing pages out-perform long ones. Short pages, after all, eliminate distractions and provide a simplicity that keeps people’s attention. But marketers have recently begun to debunk the “one-size-fits-all” theory in favor of a more nuanced approach. One study reports that longer landing pages increase leads by 220% compared to short pages with calls-to-action above the fold. As a result, more and more marketers are experimenting with longer pages—especially when the unique selling proposition is difficult to explain.

Think about an expensive online purchase you’ve made. Chances are, you did a lot of research on the front end before making that purchase. When people in your community are making big decisions, like enrolling their kids in school or applying for an open position, they’ll want as much information about your district as possible. In other words, those who are serious about taking the next step will not be deterred by a landing page containing a lot of information.

That being said, if you opt for a longer landing page, keep our first tip in mind: Simple design is key. Make sure your text is laid out in a way that’s easy to read and not visually overwhelming. And, of course, tailor your approach to the task at hand. You may find that longer landing pages work for an enrollment campaign, but shorter pages perform better when getting teachers to sign up for a back-to-school event.

Whether you’re looking to do something simple, like getting families to sign up for a summer meal program, or something more complex, like launching a full-scale employment campaign, landing pages are one of the best tools for collecting information and supporting initiatives in your schools. But just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, sometimes it takes time to get the results you want. Keep experimenting and trying new approaches. Soon enough, your landing pages will be among your website’s most powerful assets.

CALL-TO-ACTION

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There are few projects more exciting—or more stressful— than launching a new school website. For a brief moment, the possibilities seem endless. Better navigation, more user functions, pages for every classroom—what can’t your envisioned new website do? But getting from the initial brainstorming session to the website launch can be a long, tedious process, involving a lot of well-organized coordination among many professionals and teams.

But how do you get there, especially with so many tasks to be done and such high stakes? It’s all about teamwork. Moving forward not only requires a lot of hard work, but also communication within a team that understands their roles, responsibilities, and limitations.

The best school websites reflect the strengths of the districts that build them. Laying the groundwork for strong coordination within your team is the first step to ensuring your website is everything you and your community have dreamed of.

When to Start Planning

Sometimes, it feels obvious when a district needs a new website. Maybe the current site is too old to function on mobile or no longer reflects your brand. But other times, a new website has more to do with what’s happening in the

district. A new website rollout might coincide with some other event, such as an important anniversary or the successful completion of a five-year plan. For example, Texas’ Laredo ISD decided to launch their new website with their 140-year anniversary. “We wanted our website to complement the years of culture and tradition that we had established,” says Veronica Castillon, the district’s executive director of communications and community relations.

Initiating a new website launch usually involves a multitude of stakeholders—all with their own priorities and opinions. The first step in launching a new website is making sure that you, the school leader, understand how each stakeholder group feels about your website—what they like, what they wish for, and what they find difficult to use.

You’ll want to learn this information over time through careful listening, rather than through a one-time survey. “We pretty much knew how our community felt about our website and that they wanted a one-stop shop,” explains Erica Chandler, director of communications at Affton Schools in Missouri. “We were entrusted with finding a solution that met all of our community’s expectations.” Once you understand what your stakeholders want from your website, you can begin the process of translating those wants into reality.

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Uniting Behind a Purpose

The best teams are motivated by a single purpose—and a website launch team is no different. Before you dig into the specifics of who will do what, it’s important to unify behind a single goal or mission for your site. Maybe it’s to better facilitate your district’s storytelling. Maybe it’s to serve as a strong recruitment platform for teachers and students. Regardless of which vendor you choose or what other decisions you make, this consistent guiding mission will be your touchstone as you navigate whatever challenges arise.

Sharing this vision will keep your team unified even when tensions are high and help you navigate minute decisions along the way. When you reach a decision point, consider the question, “Which option best serves our original mission?” This will help you stay aligned to your website’s intended purpose—and justify your team’s decisions if anyone has questions.

Defining Your Roles

Building a new website is a much bigger project than simply maintaining an old one. It requires close, interdependent work, blurring the “lanes” that normally help keep distinct departments on track. Since the work of launching a school website involves tasks that aren’t typically in anyone’s job description, you have to set clear roles and responsibilities within your team.

The good news is that if your district site is a team effort— and carefully reflects the needs of all its stakeholders—it’s much more likely to win your community’s approval. Almost every website launch team will involve at least three individuals or departments: leadership, communications, and technology.

The School Leader

Sometimes leadership is pretty hands-off when it comes to a new website, but in other situations, they play an integral part in cultivating the vision. If you’re a school leader, you should think carefully about what role you will take in developing your site and how you’ll function within the broader capacity of the launch team. Being less involved isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it could help you manage your time more sustainably and show that you trust your communications and technology teams.

However, smaller districts with fewer central office staff members will almost definitely require a more substantial

leadership presence in this process. After all, launching a new site is a lot of work for just a few people. In Affton, Chandler expressed that the continued availability of their superintendent during the entire process was very helpful. “Our superintendent was super hands-on, as he is with everything,” she explains.

There’s no doubt about it—a new website needs a lot of time and attention. However, districts have the resources to hire new people to tackle that work. While your website vendor will likely handle many aspects of the launch, your team will still need people with the capacity and authority to steer the ship and make decisions on behalf of the district. It’s your role to make sure the people on your website team have enough time to get the work done while still managing other aspects of their jobs. This means setting reasonable expectations for the timeline of the process, as well as regularly checking in with other members of your team. In any case, clear communication is essential.

Questions for the Leadership Team:

1. How involved do we plan to be in the formation of the new website?

2. What are our non-negotiables for the new website?

3. What central goal do we intend the website to achieve?

4. How can the school board’s expectations be communicated to other stakeholders?

5. How should progress be communicated to the board?

The Communications Team

It’s important to recognize your website as a small piece of a larger brand—and your communications professionals are experts in that brand. They’re in charge of making sure the look and feel of the new website fits within your district’s broader brand narrative.

In fact, all the content on your website—from photos and videos to articles about alumni—falls to the communications department. Think back to the original purpose of the new site—all of your content should align to this original purpose as well as to your district brand. Comms will also be responsible for ensuring that the website’s content

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is updated regularly. As Chandler puts it, “a website can become a graveyard of information. Our ideal website was a living, breathing space for our community.”

There’s also a chance that you’ll get some negative feedback about your new website, but you can chalk a lot of that negativity up to unfamiliarity. “Change is never easy, and getting used to something new can be challenging,” explains Castillon, “but you can’t be afraid of making a decision to improve the experience for your community.” Come up with a game plan and resources ahead of time to equip staff members to help any frustrated stakeholders navigate your new virtual space.

Questions for the Communications Team:

1. What narrative or values do we want to emphasize in the creation of the website?

2. How can we best prepare ourselves to have enough content to update the website regularly?

3. Whose job is it to keep the website updated, and what are the responsibilities involved in making this happen?

4. What overall experience do we want all our users—whether families, students, teachers, or community members—to have as they navigate our website?

The Information Technology Team

The role of the technology team is all about functionality. “Our IT director wasn’t concerned about the way things looked, but rather that everything was working and integrated the way our users needed,” Chandler explains.

The technology team will have the best grasp on how your website’s previous iterations have been used and what the new site will need to do to serve stakeholders even better.

The tech department also has a big role in making sure the future website is sustainable. While they probably won’t be updating content, they will be the ones who understand how a website integrates with other platforms and tools.

Launching a new website can also involve making changes to your Domain Name System (DNS) records. This may sound tricky, but the process is usually quite simple. In fact,

most issues are caused by simply being unable to login to the domain hosting platform—especially for folks who haven’t had a site refresh in a few years. So all you need to do is track down the necessary login information. For example, if GoDaddy is your domain provider, do you know who has the login credentials? The sooner you find that out, the easier launch day will be.

Questions for the Technology Team:

1. What information and data can we share about how the website was used previously?

2. What functionality areas did our previous website struggle with? How can we improve these in the future?

3. How could our website better support the tools that our educators use?

Understanding what each of these groups brings to the team can help you work more smoothly and efficiently through a potentially difficult process. It also sets you up for success as you prepare for the regular maintenance of a strong, thriving website.

What happens after launch?

Once your website has launched and your community is familiar with its functionality, you can switch gears into maintenance mode. If you’ve built strong relationships and an understanding of how each segment of your team functions, keeping your site running over time will be that much easier. Maintaining a website is, in most districts, part of the regular scope of the communications and technology teams’ jobs. Still, it’s good to have a clear plan for how to keep your website the living, breathing space that your community deserves.

A new website is a big deal. Once your website is live and functional, be sure to take a victory lap. Not only have you shifted the way your school community interacts online, but you’ve also changed the first impression your digital visitors will have for years to come.

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