TSPRA Communication Matters Fall 2020

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Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org

500 N. Central Expy, Ste. 231 Plano , TX 75074

2020-2021 OFFICERS PRESIDENT Veronica Castillon, APR Laredo ISD

NORTHWEST Kenneth Dixon Lubbock ISD

PRESIDENT-ELECT Veronica Sopher Fort Bend ISD

FAR WEST Melissa Martinez, APR, CPC El Paso ISD

IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT Monica Faulkenbery, APR Northside ISD

SAN ANTONIO Kim Cathey Floresville ISD


AT-LARGE POSITION 1 Rebecca Villarreal, APR New Braunfels ISD


AT-LARGE POSITION 2 Stephanie De Los Santos HCDE

GULF COAST Craig Verley Mission CISD HOUSTON/BEAUMONT Kim Hocott Pearland ISD EAST TEXAS Jamie Fails Willis ISD NORTH CENTRAL Megan Overman, APR, CPC Eagle Mt.-Saginaw ISD WEST CENTRAL Kyle DeBeer Waco ISD CENTRAL Corey Ryan Leander ISD

AT-LARGE POSITION 3 Sherese Nix-Lightfoot Lancaster, ISD PARLIAMENTARIAN Beth Trimble, CPC Red Oak ISD Texas School Public Relations Association 406 East 11th Street, Suites 101-105 Austin Texas 78701 Phone: 512-474-9107 Fax: 512-477-0906 For questions, submissions and advertising, contact TSPRA: info@tspra.org Copyright 2020. Texas School Public Relations Association. All rights reserved. Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


Fall 2020 | Volume I, No. 2 MANAGING EDITOR GRAPHIC DESIGN Tracie Seed tseed@tspra.org EDITOR Adam J. Holland La Porte ISD COMMITTEE CHAIRS Veronica Castillon, APR Laredo ISD Stephanie De Los Santos Harris County Department of Education COMMITTEE Art Del Barrio Pasadena ISD

Texas School Public Relations Association

Adam J. Holland La Porte ISD Cissa Madero Pearland ISD Sheleah D. Reed, APR Aldine ISD




EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Linsae Snider lsnider@tspra.org




Phil Campbell, Chelsea Ceballos, Danielle Clark, Jenny Davenport, APR, Monica Faulkenbery, APR, Toni Garrard Clay, Dr. Walter Jackson, Matthew Jones, Dr. Tanya Larkin, Katie McClellan, Chris Moore, Angelique Myers, Sherese NixLightfoot, Steven Offield, Olivia Rice, Rachel Ross, Peyton Trawick, Arianna Vazquez-Hernandez, APR CPC, Andy Welch

for by my friends and family. At just the right moment, I received encouraging phone calls and text messages with many helpful tips to promote my recovery. My Birthday Club friends organized and set up a schedule to deliver lunch and supper to my front door with dessert included. I brought home my laptop and I was able to keep up with my emails. I even attended a few Zoomed meetings from the comfort of bedroom. My granddaughters Face-Timed with me and cheered me up immensely.


shuddered when I read the message on August 27. A positive case of the COVID-19 had been confirmed at work. The confirmed case they were referring to in the email was me.

There was one big commitment that I didn’t want to miss. The Texas Teacher of the Year finalists were scheduled to be judged on September 12. As president of TSPRA, I had committed to serving on the Judges Panel and I was not about to miss this opportunity. Fortunately, the organizers at TASA had already decided that the finalists judging would be conducted virtually.

Like all of you, I had been running on overdrive since the school closures were announced in March. So, I thought I was just tired and stressed. My doctor said to get tested right away.

After 24 days of being home, my COVID test came back negative, and I returned to the Office of Communications. Laredo ISD now has 1,040 students coming to class in person every day. We hope to have everyone back by late October.

Despite the fact that I had been dutifully wearing a face covering, maintaining my social distance, and washing my hands frequently, the test was positive.

I never knew a pandemic could create so much work for all of us. But this too shall pass and one day the coronavirus will be a distant memory.

Our superintendent Dr. Sylvia Rios sent my staff and fellow cabinet members to get tested that afternoon. Thankfully, everyone’s results came back negative.

I hope you enjoy reading your second edition of TSPRA’s Communication Matters in good health. Please take care and do whatever it takes to stay healthy. More importantly, appreciate your blessings and look for the silver lining.

My husband’s results came back negative, too. Carlos would stay on one side of the house while I stayed on the other side throughout the required 14-day quarantine period. Those three weeks in bed gave me time to reflect and count my blessings. Never had I felt so cared


Summer 2020 | www.TSPRA.org

Virtual hugs and kisses to everyone. Veronica Castillon, APR TSPRA President Executive Director of Communications Laredo ISD

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Should We Translate all of Our Social Media Pages to Spanish? The perspective of a communications professional


Keeping Students Healthy and Poised for Success in Times of Uncertainty Mental health strategies to pass on to your community


Conquering the Enemy from Within The effects of COVID-19 on our school communities


The Divine Nine How this philanthropic group helps public education


Is Your School Made of Straw? A deep dive into school cyberattacks


Ed-vertising Strategic marketing for Texas Public Schools


Leading a School System Through a Global Pandemic A look at one superintendent’s experience with navigating a new norm


The Struggle is Real A Leander ISD student gives a peek inside the lives of seniors impacted by COVID-19




In a Minute Industry facts, figures & fun


Member Moment Get to know your fellow TSPRAns


Q & A Chris Moore, Chief Officer of Communications & Operations Management, Crandall ISD


Point of View Olivia Rice, Director of Communications and Marketing, Terrell ISD


18 EduLege Top news in school communications 44

5 in 5 Tips & tricks from industry experts


TSPRA Talk What’s new and happening in TSPRA


Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


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In a Minute Tidbits & Trivia The first schools in the 13 colonies opened in the 17th century. The Boston Latin School was the first public school opened in the United States in 1635. To this day, it remains the nation’s oldest public school. Early public schools in the United States did not focus on academics like math or reading. Instead they taught the virtues of family, religion and community. By the mid-19th century, academics became the sole responsibility of public schools. Source: americanboard.org

by Tracie Seed

r a m m G ra e Ti m


Pour: To “pour over” something, means to take a substance and physically pour it over another item. Example: Pour the chocolate sauce on top of the ice-cream. Pore: To “pore over” something, means to study it closely. Example: Pore over the text to see if you can find the answer.

National Celebration Days

Oct. 17: Black Poetry Day Oct. 24: Make a Difference Day Oct. 28: First Responders Day

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Nov. 1: Family Literacy Day Nov. 8: STEM/STEAM Day Nov.13: Kindness Day

Dec. 1: Day of Giving Dec. 12: Gingerbread Day Dec. 18: Ugly Sweater Day

One of the main decision designers have to make when creating collateral is the color scheme. Various studies have shown that people associate certain traits, emotions or views to different colors. So the next time you’re feeling stuck on what palette to choose, check out this guide.

Just Breathe In the age of COVID-19, practicing self-care at work is more important than ever. How can you find the time? Check out these five simple tips to help you find those relaxing moments throughout the day. Set boundaries: Choose a specific time or place to turn things off for the day. Whether it’s dinnertime with your family or a lunchbreak, take time to yourself without work interruptions. Make your desk a zen space: A well-organized, clean workspace is visually appealing, relaxing and promotes productivity. Take a walk: Being deskbound can lead to all sorts of health issues. Schedule little walk breaks. Bonus points for outside! Take your lunch break: Step away from your desk for your break instead of typing with one hand and holding a sandwich in the other.

Want a fast way to generate a color scheme? Check out coolors.com for inspiration. Source: conceptdrop.com

Take a moment to breathe: These few seconds can make a world of difference. Close your eyes and breathe deeply in through your nose for the count of five and out your mouth for the count of five. Repeat five times. Source: thejobnetwork.com

Who am I? Try this at your next staff meeting to get to know each other better. Give participants 10 minutes to write a poem about themselves—the only catch is that each sentence must start with “I am.” Leave it open to their interpretation as much as possible, but suggest that they can, if they wish, include statements about where they’re from; memories from different points in their lives; interests and hobbies; mottos or credos; favorite phrases; family traditions and customs; and whatever else defines who they are. Give each person a chance to read their poem. For larger staff, break up into smaller groups, so everyone has an opportunity to share. Source: edchange.org Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


Getting to know your fellow TSPRAns Cami Steele

Director of Communications Hillsboro ISD

What did you do before this job? I worked in PR for an SEO agency in London, UK. Something TSPRA colleagues need to know about you: My most prized possession is my dog, Piper. Something TSPRA colleagues do not know about you: Without knowing anyone and with all of my belongings in two bags, I moved to England. I ended up living there for 3 years and it was the best experience. Something on your bucket list: Travel to every continent! Anything else? I find it so rewarding to work for the same district that I grew up in.

Ed Suarez

Public Relations

Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD What did you do before this job? Television sports reporter/anchor. Something TSPRA colleagues need to know about you: My family (wife and three daughters) are the center of my world. Also, I have essentially worked as a one-person department nearly my entire career in school PR. Something TSPRA colleagues do not know about you: I had a cameo as an extra in the movie, “Selena”. Also, I worked on the UTSA football radio crew for the first five years of the program’s existence. Something on your bucket list: Visit my parents’ homeland of Cuba. Anything else? Never stop learning and getting better at your craft.

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Want to be featured? We want to know you! Email info@ tspra.org

Socialize with Us!

@tspraoffice @tspra


with Chris Moore Chief Officer of Communications & Operations Management Crandall ISD What positions have you held, what was your favorite one and why? I began school PR in 2004 at Kilgore College. It was a new hybrid role—part public information officer, part sports information director. For a 26-year-old journalism major who unofficially minored as a Longhorn sports junkie at UT-Austin, it was lots of fun starting up that position. From there, I jumped into the K-12 school communications realm with Garland ISD. It was much different going from a one-man shop to a district with a then-student enrollment of more than 57,000 and almost 8,000 employees. I worked my way up to executive director of communications and public relations for about 10 years and then went to Frisco ISD in the same role for a year. Afterwards, I became chief communications officer in Richardson ISD, managed some consulting work for school bonds and TREs with EdVantage Strategies, and I am now in Crandall ISD. All the roles have been great and I am happiest when working with the news media and crisis management. But Crandall is giving me the opportunity to expand into oversight of transportation, security and general operations. I am really enjoying it.

in Garland and I received a call from Garland PD within the first 15 minutes of the tornado hitting. Logistically, we were able to deploy school buses to provide transportation from an interstate overpass that was hit where eight people lost their lives, and began evacuating tornado-ravaged neighborhoods. An elementary school provided a location and staff for a Red Cross Shelter established that night. Two high schools were opened for first responders to sleep and shower.

Tell us about the Garland Christmas tornado in 2015 and what you learned. What are your top tips for other districts dealing with disasters? 2015 was an interesting year in GISD. We had the first confirmed ISIS attack on American soil in May with a shooting at the district’s special events center, then six months later the tornado hit. It was the day after Christmas. An EF-4 tornado tore through two cities in the district—Garland and Rowlett. It destroyed about 1,200 structures and homes. Relationships were the key to managing that crisis. The district maintained an extremely close relationship with first responders

Communications launched a GISD Recovers webpage, which helped more to identify additional students and staff affected. The page asked storm victims were asked to let the district know if they had a temporary address, if they needed transportation to and from school, and if they needed meals, clothing or school supplies. We then partnered with city police departments to organize a press tour that took care of the media at one time, and also ensured their safety in an area that was quarantined and curfewed. A phone bank was established to help collect responses with more than 100 volunteers, and more than 200

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From a district vantage point, one of the largest tasks initially was determining what students were impacted. GISD is a choice-of-school district so students can attend almost any campus, which complicated tracking. In total, students from more than 50 of the 72 schools were impacted. This was during winter break so that afforded some time and we lit up social media in the next several days because much of the city’s infrastructure was damaged, which impacted Skyward and callouts to phone lines. Preliminary numbers showed approximately 3,500 students and employees were significantly impacted.

a massive wake in its path. Now, with specific regard to leading a group, I am humbly proud of my authenticity. To lead, you must learn. To learn, you must listen. And to listen requires humility. I think that is possibly the most overlooked and underestimated quality of a good leader—humility. Not the type that stems from passive or fearful insecurity. Rather, the humble disposition a person has to recognize their own flaws and defects. Being grounded and balanced. Possessing awareness, perspective, openness and self-understanding. And embracing that no single person will ever have all the answers, including leaders. Learn how to delegate. I am still horrible at that. calls came in the first day alone. A GISD Giving Place put together more than 330 backpacks filled with clothing, supplies and hygiene items. It was open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. every day through Jan. 8. You’ve won several Star Awards. What’s the secret to a good submission? I am beyond fortunate to have worked with extremely talented people. That is secret number one. Beyond that, plan your projects. Like Kristin mentioned last month, if something is a planned project or planned initiative, take the time to also look at it as a potential STAR submission. Planning for a STAR or Platinum are really projects within projects. Take notes on the project itself and use those to package for your TSPRA submission. We all know, that submission deadline creeps up in a hurry. If you already have your notes and criteria in hand, you can quick-turn the submission. The three Platinums we won in Garland were year-long packages. It seems like more time went into packaging them than turning the actual project. But they were sleek, sharp, highly detailed and clearly defined— again, thanks to the talented folks I have worked with. You’ve worked for districts and with staffs of different sizes. What is your advice for working with a large staff and with a small one? Because school communications is all-encompassing and touches every aspect of a school district, organization within the department is key no matter the staff’s size. I have been fortunate to work as both the Lone Ranger in a single communications department and to manage upwards of 27 employees across five different departments. Small shops have to be inventive and blend roles to compensate for less staff. But if the blending is not organized, people will end up swerving into the same lane and killing a lot production time that will sink a project. But large staffs need just as much organization, if not more. When you set something in motion with lots of people and moving parts, it can spin out of control in a hurry and leave

Remember when you were a one-man shop? What is your advice for other communicators in the same boat? My advice – be a sponge. Soak up each opportunity you have to learn from those around you. Ask lots of questions and engage with other areas and departments. Sit in on educational operations meetings so you can learn curriculum. Do the same with maintenance, facilities, auxiliary services, athletics, etc. Talk with department heads so you can see how to best help them with communications initiatives. Work their calendars into your own. We work in a cyclical business and that lends itself to communications departments helping others “remember” their upcoming events. If you are in a district that has you as a one-man shop, odds are that others are wearing multiple hats, too. Calendar out their years for publicity and awareness purposes. They don’t think like we do. There is a story everywhere! If you help others see what lies in their area, then help them project it, you will be invaluable and expand your role. But in all of this, stay up to date in communications trends and practices. Professional development for communicators is just as important for us to be effective as training for teachers, principals, etc. in their areas. Is there anything else we should know? Embrace the news media. Plain and simple. Reporters have a job to do just like us. Why not help them? The more you visit and talk with reporters, the more opportunity you have to shape whatever story they are covering. Multiple times for me, those off-camera conversations have redirected a story’s angle, or even killed the piece all together. Does it always work? Of course not. Some stories are not salvageable, but I would much rather have the opportunity to talk through something and reshape the perspective— even if it is on camera—than to issue a statement with no conversation. The only way you can develop relationships like that with reporters is to be responsive.

Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


THREE THINGS I NEVER WOULD HAVE DONE BEFORE COVID-19 by Olivia Rice Director of Communications and Marketing Terrell ISD


t was my fifth year in school PR and for the first time, I felt like myself and my department were finally firing on all cylinders. We had routine, consistency and, for the most part, very few minor speed bumps along the way. Enter the year 2020. On the heels of welcoming a new superintendent to the district a month earlier, COVID-19 made her grand entrance into my life – uninvited, loud and disruptive. Naivety or just plain hopefulness, it never crossed my mind how drastically and seemingly permanently this unwelcome guest would alter my job and life. While the COVID-19 pandemic brought both inconvenience and uncertainty, it has also provided opportunity for fresh new ideas, self-reflection and solidified the need for meaningful relationships. When the day comes that the word COVID-19 is no longer in my daily vocabulary, I will, perhaps begrudgingly, be thankful for the leaps and risks it made me take, both professionally and personally.

I put my perfectionism on pause.

Type A by nature and an actively recovering perfectionist, few things went to print or were published that were not polished with precision. So, when my new superintendent sent me a vertical selfie video announcement, I could not help but cringe. The video was not staged, a script had not been written and it certainly was not accompanied by music. As I deliberated on how to ask her if we could wait until we were back in the office to reshoot, I watched it. It was perfect. The authenticity of her message was nearly tangible. It received more engagement, positive reactions and heartfelt feedback than I could have imagined. In fact, many of our parents made specific comments on how appreciative they were for such a genuine message. This became our daily norm. She would record herself every day with a message to our parents, from her office, from her front porch or even from her son’s college campus when she was dropping him for freshman orientation.

I reinvented celebrations and district traditions.

Like many districts around the state and the country, one of the biggest pivots related to our jobs was the manner in which we carried out celebrations. Awards ceremonies, retirement 16 Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org

parties, and most pressing – graduation. How would any of these be possible in the midst of COVID-19? At the time, it felt like we were trying to make lemonade out of lemons, but what we actually may have stumbled upon were new district traditions. In an attempt to allow graduates to bring more guests with them to graduation, we came up with the plan to fill our entire football field with chairs for all 300 graduates along with five members of their family. To change any long-standing tradition, namely senior graduation, seemed risky. However, the payoff was worth it. Families were thrilled to be part of an up-close and personal graduation experience with their student and the request to make it a permanent tradition flooded in immediately. We received similar reactions to our senior parade, celebration yard signs and personalized student video messages.

I stopped doubting myself and leaned into my community. The world of school PR is one that I still feel

fairly new to and am often intimidated by. It is teeming full of incredibly talented, experienced, and creative individuals. More often than not, I felt like the new girl at school who did not quite know if she was brave enough to walk into the lunchroom and find a seat. More than anything, COVID-19 has put those thoughts and feelings in my head to sleep for good. I had never worked with such confidence as new announcements, videos, photos, graphics and newsletters were being sent out daily. COVID-19 did not give me the luxury of time to overthink – things just simply had to be done and I knew I was doing it well. This came in conjunction with me “stepping into the lunchroom” and grabbing a seat at the table with my fellow PR friends by way of joining NSPRA, contributing to Facebook group discussions both in my region and around the country, and cultivating deeper relationships with my colleagues and friends I have met through TSPRA. Of all of the leaps I have taken during the pandemic, this is the one for which I am most grateful. Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


by Andy Welch

EduLege Extra

Some of the timely issues that have been addressed in recent editions of EduLege

Teaching or talking? The president of the Texas Federation of Teachers says that Education Commissioner Mike Morath maligned classroom educators by contending that “teaching without some form of testing is just talking.” Commissioner Morath shared those thoughts at a State of Public Education luncheon hosted by the Dallas Regional Chamber. The shutdown of classroom teaching in mid-March, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, led Governor Abbott to waive the administration of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests last school year. Parent groups and educators had hoped the STAAR might also get benched again for the current school year, but that is not the path that Commissioner Morath intends to take. When asked by Dallas business leaders about his plans for STAAR this year, the Commissioner replied, “The expectation is certainly by April, we should be able to assess (students.)” “Teaching without some form of testing is just talking,” he added. “Just talking? Educators spend their evenings, weekends, and holidays writing lesson plans. They pour their hearts

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and souls into this profession. But without high-stakes testing, Mike Morath thinks we’re just chit-chatting,” said TFT President Zeph Capo. “Mike Morath diminishes our profession while he pushes an agenda of privatized schools, teacher pay tied to student performance, and constant, unending testing.” The Commissioner was not as explicit when questioned about the state’s A-F school rating system, which largely uses STAAR results to grade campus and district performance. He did not address whether the Texas Education Agency would alter those grades, perhaps limiting them to districts only, as the agency did in the first year of the rollout of A-F. The Commissioner was clear, however, that he believes it is critical to evaluate how well school districts are doing to prepare students, adding that TEA does “intend to publish” accountability data. “We spend a lot of money on public education,” Commissioner Morath said. “We need to find out how well that money is working for those kids.” A projected extension… The Texas Education Agency now says that it will wait an additional six weeks before it reduces state funding to local school districts that experience a decline in student

participation in on-line learning because of COVID-19. The state’s funding for schools is based on attendance, whether students are learning in classrooms or, in response to the pandemic this fall, tuning in at home from their computers or phones. Knowing that the transition to remote learning has been difficult for many schools and students, Texas had already agreed to fund school districts for the first 12 weeks of this semester, based upon projected attendance numbers. For most Texas districts, TEA’s six-week extension, when added to the initial 12-week grace period, will now cover the entire first semester. As economic instability and residential evictions persist throughout the state, local school administrators and teachers are still calling parents on mobile phones; knocking on doors; and scouring neighborhoods in search of thousands of missing students. The six-week extension “provides time for the enrollment picture to become more stable, so that schools can wait to make operational and budget adjustments based upon clearer information,” according to TEA. To receive the extension, school districts must offer inperson instruction to all students whose parents request it. They must also continue trying to find students who are missing from their enrollment data. Local school officials say that TEA’s extension is a good first step, but they hope relief will continue through the rest of the academic year. Drive a truck through it… As a growing number of coronavirus cases are reported in Texas public schools, the state is again changing how it reports that information to the public—and those changes make it more difficult for Texans to identify school districts where outbreaks occur.

cases among Texas public school students who have returned to classrooms were found in middle and high school students. To date, districts said most infections were either contracted off campus or their source was unknown. A small percentage of cases was reported as being contracted at school. The Texas State Teachers Association, which has been critical of the state for the way in which it has allowed classrooms to reopen, released a statement calling it “inexcusable” that there is no complete information on the number of confirmed school cases statewide. TSTA called for the state to release the data for each school district and each campus in Texas. Some districts have created their own COVID-19 tracking dashboards, which students and parents can easily access online, even as their data is excluded from the state’s tracking sheet. Contraceptives and climate change… Hundreds of witnesses signed-up to testify virtually at the most-recent meeting of the State Board of Education on the new health education curriculum that should be taught in Texas public schools. Most of the witnesses urged the State Board to include sexual orientation and gender identity as part of the sex education curriculum. Many witnesses also encouraged the board to include teaching climate change in core science courses. This is the first time in over two decades that the State Board has considered revisions to its sex ed curriculum. Aside from contraceptives, the board is contemplating requiring that middle school students be taught about sexually transmitted infections, birth control options and consensual sex. Most notably, however, the proposed revisions do not address gender identity and sexuality.

The Texas Education Agency and Department of State Health Services released a new spreadsheet of coronavirus infections in school districts, after first posting—and then retracting—the data, because of inaccuracies.

“We actively teach that only heteronormative love exists, only heteronormative families exist, only heteronormative sex exists,” testified Cynthia Soliz, the Chair of the Austin School District’s Student Health Advisory Committee.

But the latest numbers are also confusing for a different reason: officials decided to “mask” data from any school district that had fewer than 50 students in classrooms during the first week of classes.

After hearing nearly two hours of testimony, most of which revolved around the omission of climate change in the health curriculum, State Board Chair Barbara Cargill, R-Conroe, offered a clarification

Of the data that is not hidden, the broader analysis appears to remain unchanged: The vast majority of known

“Those topics are covered in our environmental science and our earth and space science courses,” Chairwoman continued on p. 20 Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


continued from p. 19

Cargill said. While Texas public schools are not required to provide students with sex education under current curriculum standards, those that do must—by law—emphasize abstinence. The board adopted abstinence-only health textbooks in 2004, and they remain in Texas schools today, according to the Texas Freedom Network. More than 80 percent of Texas school districts either teach an abstinence-only curriculum, or provide no sexual education at all, though more than 60 percent of high school seniors say they have been sexually active, according to the Texas Freedom Network. The State Board is scheduled to take a final vote on adoption of its new health education curriculum standards in November. If history is any indication, the standards are likely to remain in place for over a decade. Honoring the best… The US Department of Education named 26 Texas public school campuses as recipients of its 2020 National Blue Ribbon honors. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools that have high student achievement and/or highlights where exemplary progress has been made in closing achievement gaps. Nationally, more than 9,000 schools have received this prestigious designation since the program was created in 1982. In Texas, public schools are considered for nomination based on student performance on the first administration of the previous year’s State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness. Each Texas campus receiving Blue Ribbon honors this year has an economically disadvantaged student enrollment of 39 percent or more. All 26 campuses nominated by the Texas Education Agency in February received Blue Ribbon designation. Here are the 2020 Texas Blue Ribbon campuses: Exemplary High-Performing Schools Carrollton-Farmers Branch – Early College High School Corpus Christi – Windsor Park Gifted & Talented Elementary Corpus Christi – Early Childhood Development Center Dallas – Henry W. Longfellow Career Exploration Academy Dallas – Dr. Wright L. Lassiter Jr. Early College High School Eagle Pass – Maude Mae Kirchner Elementary

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El Paso – Transmountain Early College High School Fort Worth – Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences Houston – High School for Law and Justice Houston – Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy Laredo – Heights Elementary Nederland – Langham Elementary Windthorst – Windthorst Elementary Exemplary Achievement-Gap-Closing Schools: Alvarado – Alvarado Elementary-South Austin – Reilly Elementary School Dallas – Edward Titche Elementary School El Paso – Milam Elementary School Grand Prairie – Hobbs Williams Elementary Houston – Memorial Elementary Lancaster – West Main Elementary School Laredo – John Z. Leyendeker Elementary School Pharr-San Juan-Alamo – Kelly-Pharr Elementary Redwater – Redwater Junior High School Spring – Dr. Edward Roberson Middle School Texas College Preparatory Academies Vista Academy of Austin-Mueller Ysleta – Desertaire Elementary School The 2020 National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony will be held virtually on November 12-13. There may be a perfect storm brewing… Governor Abbott and state health officials are warning Texans not to wait to receive a flu shot this year. The governor says he remains hopeful that increased social distancing and mask-wearing amid the coronavirus pandemic will also help slow the spread of the seasonal flu. “That should lead to a flu season that is not as severe as it would otherwise be,” Governor Abbott maintained. “It will also reduce and slow the spread of the flu.” Countering the governor’s optimism, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center President Daniel Podolsky says the combination of the flu and the coronavirus present a unique set of circumstances. “We do understand that we’re facing a challenge of a flu season unlike any other,” Dr. Podlosky said. Flu and COVID-19 share many similar symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath and fatigue. But there are differences: Some individuals experience loss of taste or smell with COVID-19, which is not a symptom of the flu.

It also can take longer to develop COVID-19 symptoms, and the virus can remain contagious for at least 10 days after testing positive. Children and adults with the flu may remain contagious for about seven days, according to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

students who refused to cut their dreadlocks due to their family’s cultural practices. The case drew national attention after cousins Kaden Bradford and De’Andre Arnold were punished for wearing their natural hair in the 6,200-student district just east of Baytown.

And, of course, while there is not yet any approved treatment for COVID-19, the flu is treated with FDAapproved prescription antiviral drugs.

Both Bradford and Arnold are Black, and Bradford’s attorneys argued that young white men who attended their high school were allowed to wear their hair longer than the dress code permitted—but were not punished.

The trend continues. Downward… Texas collected about $2.6 billion in state sales tax revenue in September, according to State Comptroller Glenn Hegar. That total is 6.1 percent less than what the state collected in September 2019. “The COVID-19 pandemic and low price of crude oil continue to weigh on the Texas economy and sales tax revenue,” Comptroller Hegar said in a news release. “As was the case the last month, state sales tax receipts from all major sectors, other than retail trade, were down compared with the same month last year, with the steepest declines in the oil and gas-related sectors.” State sales tax revenue is—easily—the state’s single largest source of funding. The total revenue for July, August, and September this year, Comptroller Hegar said, was down 2.5 percent, when compared to the same period in 2019. Receipts from restaurants, Comptroller Hegar said, are still “significantly below pre-pandemic levels.” Receipts from “big box retailers” generally increased, he said, while department stores and apparel stores saw a decline. Other sources of state revenue are still being impacted by economic shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic. For example, Texas collected $78 million in revenue from alcoholic beverage taxes in September—down 33.7 percent from the same month last year. Another major source of Texas revenue, the hotel occupancy tax, is also down about 37 percent, when compared with September 2019. First comes the warnings. Then comes the lawsuits… The Texas Civil Liberties Union sent letters to hundreds of school districts last week, urging them to change their dress code policies to allow young men to wear their hair long. It warned that districts that refuse to change their dress code might face a legal challenge. The warning letters come on the heels of a Texas federal court decision that struck down a dress code policy in Barbers Hill that led to the in-school suspensions of two

“While school districts throughout the county have removed policies that were based on antiquated sex stereotypes, many school districts in Texas still have policies that treat students differently on the basis of their gender, such as requiring different hair and dress standards for male and female students,” wrote Brian Klosterboer, an attorney for the TCLU. “Recent court decisions, including from the US Supreme Court, have found that this type of gender-based discrimination is unconstitutional. School districts need to conform to federal law and fix outdated policies that cause serious harm to students in Texas.” One of the last… Goose Creek School Trustees voted 4-3 against changing the name of Baytown’s Robert E. Lee High School, capping off a contentious board meeting that lasted more than eight hours. However, the board did approve the creation of a committee to study changing the name of the school, and potentially others, and trustees could revisit the issue once the committee has finished its work. The debate over changing the name of one of Texas’ last remaining schools to bear Robert E. Lee’s name comes amid national calls to remove monuments commemorating and rename schools honoring Confederate figures. Those who spoke in favor of keeping the name said removing it would show the district had caved to outside influences and “cancel culture.” They said removing Lee’s name would not make the history of the Confederacy go away, but would tarnish the memories of the generations of people who attended the 92-year-old school. Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin Independent School District, compiles and writes two issues of EduLege every week during the school year, copies of which are typically distributed by the state TSPRA office to members on Mondays and Thursdays. That schedule is altered for holidays, and for winter, spring and summer breaks—and when he needs the occasional day off. Email any questions, suggestionss or concerns to Andy at andywelch1@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @welch_andy.

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Should We Translate all of Our Social Media Pages to Spanish?


by Arianna Vazquez-Hernandez, APR CPC Director of Communications, Marketing & Public Information Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD

was recently asked this question from colleagues in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who now have a large Hispanic population in their district. Being from Deep South Texas, this is not new to me. At Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, we have a 99.08% Hispanic population with 42% of them being EL (Limited in English) and our work must be produced in English and Spanish to ensure everybody gets the same message. But when we look at social media, should we do the same? My answer is No. A neighboring city tried to run two Facebook pages simultaneously, one in English and the other in Spanish. Ask me how long that lasted? Not long at all. It is hard enough to keep up with one, let alone two different pages. They had tried to provide the same content in both languages, but what they ended up doing was segregating their constituents and biting more than they could chew.

“...if you are dealing with a crisis situation and it is imperative that all of your stakeholders are on the same page.”

My suggestion is to stick to one page per outlet. The good thing about Facebook (which is for the most part the number one outlet for parents) is that it has a translation button. So, for the most part your regular posts are translated using a Google Translate type of service with minimal mistakes for the end users to understand the content better. However, if you are dealing with a crisis situation and it is imperative that all of your stakeholders are on the same page, always post information in both languages within the same post. This is crucial, especially when you are posting directions or updates as you want to make sure the meaning of the message is not changed. This is the same regarding content like bilingual fliers or posters. Make sure you post both sets (English & Spanish) within the same message, so individuals don’t have a hard time understanding the topic as images are not translated on social media outlets. For other outlets such as Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, my recommendation would be to stick to English. Again, for crisis situations that rule might vary depending on the type of crisis, audience and importance. I hope this information was useful to you, don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to continue the conversation at arianna.hernandez@psjaisd.us or via Twitter @gareymu. Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


Keeping Students Healthy and Poised for Success in Times of Uncertainty A few mental health reminders to share with Texas families


by Rachel Ross Communications Coordinator Fort Bend ISD

he true value of our schools has never been more apparent than in the age of COVID-19. Many of us have seen the remarkable work of our administrators, teachers and school staff because it is our privilege to tell their stories every year. Now with the ongoing pandemic, our community members and leaders recognize that school means more than just a formal education for children; there are countless, intangible benefits to students, adults and the wider community. Among them are the immeasurable social and psychological benefits that in-person learning provides children and adolescents. With many districts turning to online learning, parents and caregivers can still provide children with the support they need to learn and grow. Here, TSPRA members can discover ways to support their families for a successful year, regardless of its format. Kendall Phillips, a therapist with the Family Service Center of Galveston County, stresses that parents’ mental health and wellbeing is essential to students’ health, and that parents should take the steps necessary to manage their feelings and emotions, including, if necessary, seeking the help of a professional therapist. This will help parents not project their feelings onto their children. “Parents should be assessing their own thoughts, feelings, and actions, and seeking support for themselves. If parents are able to be aware of, and process, their own mental health experiences, their children will be in a much better place to be successful,” says Phillips. In addition to caring for their own wellbeing, Phillips shares that a big key to a strong start is creating a routine that mimics the structure of a regular school day. “Having designated times for designated tasks, and clear expectations of what the day should look like will help students feel organized, accountable, and successful each day,” she says. To further support students, she suggests that parents: • Have students set small goals for each day. These short-term gains are rewarding to a student mentally and emotionally. • Be honest with children about the uncertainty and stress of the school year and the overall situation. This will validate their feelings and help them feel more in control. • Provide plenty of positive feedback. Positive, loving and supportive words can make all the difference for children’s wellbeing.

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Parents are also encouraged to observe their children for any changes to their moods and behaviors, which may be signs that they are unable to cope with the demands of the situation and to seek professional help immediately. While parents, including many TSPRA members, may not be able to answer their children’s questions, Phillips shares that parents and caregivers can focus on what they can control to decrease and alleviate any sense of anxiety among children. “The most important thing a parent or provider can do during this time of uncertainty is focus on what is best for that individual student, help them use the skill they have to perform their best in the setting they are in, and work toward being successful with the tools they have rather than focusing on the change itself.” Phillips recognizes that the switch to distance learning has meant big changes for many students and adults, leading to feelings of fear, anxiety, frustration and sadness. But she remains optimistic that by caring for our needs and those of our students, we can weather this situation well and emerge from it in the same way. “As long as we, as a society of individuals, work together to help one another, and be considerate of one another’s needs, we will overcome this with success and dignity.”

Conquering the Enemy from Within by Monica Faulkenbery, APR Assistant Director of Communications Northside ISD/San Antonio 2020-2021 TSPRA Immediate Past President


chool districts are no stranger to crises. In many school districts, something unexpected goes awry almost every day. Superintendents and school public relations professionals deal with it and move on. We don’t like them, but we understand that they happen and have worked through enough scenarios to pretty much have a formula on how to deal with most of them. The pressure from those crises becomes almost second nature to some degree and we’ve long learned how to shake them off and move on to the next one. Then enters COVID-19. Unlike 9/11, we saw this coming – kind of. We heard about a strange virus based in another country but never realized the impact that it would have as it came barreling our way. At my district, prior to spring break, we started having discussions about what we might need to do “if” but none of us really thought that we would be closing campuses when we returned from break. By mid-spring break, it was all hands on deck and the pressure

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was on for superintendents to come up with plans for distance learning, food distribution, working at home, paying employees even though they might not be working, modifying grading systems, sanitizing facilities, canceling traditional events, communicating with families and dozens of other things. What added to the stress was the rate of change and the information overload that came as a result of this virus. Superintendents and school public relations professionals are planners by the nature of the job. When a crisis arrives, our offices are the first to respond and offer plans and support. Our jobs are 24/7 most of the time, and that can take a toll on a person. We are the ones used to taking care of others and not worrying about ourselves. “Like most who read this publication, I am here to help students be successful,” says Dr. Brian Woods, superintendent of Northside ISD in San Antonio. “One of the greatest perks of my job is to be able to, every day if I can, watch

students do what they love. Like all of us, not having this connection adds to the stress.”

envelope and burn the candles at both ends, but you can only do this so long before you flame out.”

Health care workers, preachers, counselors and even superintendents and school PR professionals can suffer from what is called “vicarious trauma” which in simple terms means “when compassion overwhelms the helper.” One can suffer from compassion fatigue which is emotional residue from exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events.

Stress can make one ill and prolonged periods of stress can also increase the risk of several diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Stress hormones

This past year, both the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA) have been focusing on “K12 PR Wellness,” something that superintendents should also consider. When Edna St. Vincent Millay said her famous quote, “I burned the candle at both ends and it often gave a lovely light,” she wasn’t thinking about the consequences when it came to working in the school business. Dr. Edward T. Creagan, a professor of oncology at the Mayo Clinic said, “It’s become a badge of honor in today’s driven society to push the

continued on p. 28

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continued from p. 27

affect respiratory and cardiovascular systems in addition to disturbing the mental state of mind. Some suggestions from Shawn McKillop and Kristin Magette, founders of the #k12prWell movement, list some helpful tips to start your wellness journey: · Make the most of Do Not Disturb setting on your phone Photograph by Luke Rabalais, Aldine ISD

· Make regular, uninterrupted sleep a priority · Invest in your wellbeing while you’re at workbreathe, take short breaks, get up and walk-around, hydrate · Practice simple deep breathing, gentle stretches, a short walk or a quiet drive · Get fresh air, enjoy nature and exposure to sunshine, engage in regular physical activity · Treat leave benefits as compensation · Prioritize personal relationships in your life when the evening and weekend arrive · Let email wait (if it’s an emergency, they will text or call you!) In Anne Grady’s book Strong Enough, the author says, “most of us are not intentionally taught resilience; rather, we gain it through life experience. Given that the average person experiences five to six traumas in his/her life, these seem like pretty necessary skills.”

“Taking care of yourself is a non-negotiable resilience-buidling strategy.”

“Taking care of yourself is a non-negotiable resilience-building strategy,” she says. “Part of treating yourself well is to identify what recharges you.”

When asked what she did to help relieve stress during the time of

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COVID-19, Dr. Sherri Bayes, superintendent of Floresville ISD said, “A lot of prayer, practicing mindfulness, exercising, and getting outside.” “I have hired great people and I trust them to be the expert in their areas and keep me informed,” she said when asked what she would tell other superintendents when handling a crisis. “Don’t work in silos; collaborate and share. You can’t do this alone.” Dr. Woods stated that continuing to observe some rituals helped him cope, like seeing his parents for dinner every Sunday evening. “And a silver lining is being able to see my family much more than in a typical school year.” “But regardless, as we transition from managing the crisis to working through the aftermath, districts will continue to do what is right for students,” he added. To quote a TSPRA member from Tyler ISD, “we need to focus on connection over perfection, and grace over pace!” This article was previously published in the Summer 2020 issue of TASA’s Insight magazine

TSPRA Conference

Don’t Miss It!

Feburary 22-25,2021

Denton Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton, TX

Distinguished Speakers KEYNOTE SPEAKER Judson Laipply “The Evolution of Dance”

Julie Jones Professor University of Oklahoma & Chair of the National Press Photographers Association News and Video Workshop

Andrea Gribble Social Media Storyteller Founder #SocialSchool4EDU

More information 29 www.TSPRA.org

Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org




by Angelique Myers



s conversations about race, systemic racism and social injustice are being widely discussed nationally, school districts are seeking opportunities to take action to help dismantle any barriers that stand in the way of success for Black students and staff. To enhance diversity across your school district, build a long-lasting partnership with one of the nine International Historically Black Greek organizations, known as the Divine Nine, to demonstrate how you engage all stakeholders to benefit students and their families. With service to others at the core of each of these fraternities and sororities mission, its members work to connect communities, promote social justice and mentor youth. Many members of these organizations work in public education already and are an asset to the school system, as they provide a unique insight into the meaning of brother and sisterhood. Districts should join these organizations to create student mentorship programs, build positive relationships with people of color and to encourage continuing education and volunteerism. Working together with this large network of educated professionals is invaluable to any school district. Due to the pandemic, most districts are starting school in a virtual environment; it may be a good idea to plan several innovative ways to engage students while they are learning online. To keep students connected, to each other and the community, a district could collaborate with one of these fraternities or sororities to kick-off the school year with a virtual step-off event. Students would have the chance to have fun, be active, remain socially distant, yet connect with their peers, as well as members of the Greek organizations. The National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations include Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity. For more information and to contact these organizations go to nphchq.com. Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


Is Your School Made of Straw? Cyberattacks are soaring and school systems are falling prey.

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By Toni Garrard Clay Communications Coordinator Athens ISD

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s if the COVID-19 virus weren’t enough of a challenge, another type of virus is increasingly wreaking havoc on public schools across Texas and the nation — in the form of malware attacks. This summer, just days before Athens ISD’s August 3 school start date, ransomware found its way through a virtual back door and encrypted data stored on district servers. Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts a victim’s files, paving the way for criminals, often operating from foreign countries, to demand an untraceable crypto payment in exchange for providing an encryption key. The malware that infiltrated Athens ISD overnight rapidly encrypted data on servers and their multiple backups, along with a few hundred computers across all five campuses, the administration building and operations center. Access to data was blocked, including teacher communications, student schedules, grades and assignments. While there was no indication any data was removed from the servers, the impact was profoundly disrupting. Ultimately, the start of classes was pushed back a week, far less of a delay than might have occurred had things not later taken a turn for the district. “We’ve seen a significant rise in cyberattacks since around the time of the first pandemic shutdown in March or April,” said Jason Stout, a systems engineer for the global cybersecurity company Fortinet. “Criminals are taking advantage of the distractions and the circumstances we’re currently living in.” Stout noted that more and more cyberattack messaging uses current buzzwords, particularly COVID-19 related, to increase the likelihood of an unsuspecting target clicking on a malicious link or attachment in a “phishing” email. And while there is no indication that Athens ISD’s breach entered

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through an email, that method of cyberattack remains the most used and successful. According to the cybersecurity research firm Emsisoft, the U.S. was hit by an unprecedented barrage of ransomware attacks in 2019 that impacted at least 966 government agencies, educational institutions and healthcare providers. The actual numbers are widely believed to be much higher because many victims opt not to publicize attacks. Multiple reports across the cybersecurity field indicate 2020 is well on track to pass up the previous year’s numbers, with public schools and colleges leading the pack of reported malware incidents. “Cybercrime is getting worse and worse every day,” said Athens ISD Technology Director Tony Brooks. “It’s a huge battle. No amount of money can keep any organization totally safe.” But there are ways to mitigate the risk, Brooks said. And as Athens exemplifies, there are happy endings — though rarely easy ones. The day after the attack, the AISD Board of Trustees authorized payment of up to $50,000 to the cybercriminals in return for a crypto key to unlock the vital data. At the same time, the district’s IT department, led by Brooks and aided by regional and national cyber response teams, executed a meticulous response protocol with the hope that one of the backup systems might hold uninfected data. About 48 hours after the attack, the second backup server was analyzed and yielded the holy grail: an uninfected Skyward backup only a few days old. Though negotiation efforts had reduced the ransom demand from the initial $50,000 to $25,000, once the data was recovered, no further contact was made with the cybercriminals. “It felt incredible. The Skyward database is the

most important one we have,” said Brooks, who worked nearly round the clock for days building a new domain controller and recovering essential data. He and his team then labored intensely for the better part of two months ensuring all the data was clean of malware and installing new hard drives on the district’s computers. “Though the payment was approved in the event we had no other option, we never stopped trying to find a solution,” said AISD Superintendent Dr. Janie Sims. “The board deserves credit for recognizing how dire the loss of data would have been to our district, requiring months to rebuild, delaying the school year significantly and ultimately costing us much more than the ransom amount.”

Antivirus software and EDR are particularly important today because so many devices, from laptops to tablets, regularly leave campuses and return. “Once upon a time, nothing ever left the office,” said Stout. “That’s no longer the case, and endpoint security is critical so that when a device comes back, it’s not spreading a virus to the system.” Another essential security feature: offline data backups. It’s important to have multiple backups of data, applications, and application platforms that are completely separated (or “air-gapped”) from the internal network.

“You’ve got to start with a really strong firewall, some kind of device between you and the Internet,” said Fortinet’s Stout.

“Some companies need up-to-the-hour backups because of the data they’re generating. I like to tell clients it depends on their pain tolerance,” said Stout. “By that I mean, how much data can you tolerate losing: hours, days? Don’t wait longer between backups than you can stand to lose.”

“Some companies need up-to-the-hour backups because of the data they’re generating ...”

No matter what security system is in place, there are three potential weak spots that can easily be overlooked within public school systems, where resources are limited and demands are ever increasing. One of those is the IT department itself. Don’t short staff that department, said Stout, and make sure there are enough welltrained individuals to handle difficult situations.

So how can school systems — or any organization — best protect themselves against cyberattacks?

He recommends that a robust cyber security protocol include antivirus software installed on devices, as well as endpoint security. EDR, or endpoint detection and response, can stop previously unidentified viruses from activating on a computer. Though not foolproof, EDR is an important tool. “Even if it’s something your antivirus has never seen before, EDR identifies known malicious or potentially malicious behaviors — such as encrypting files without you knowing it — and stops the action until you determine it’s OK,” said Stout.

Secondly, educate employees on cybersecurity so they are able to identify and avoid cybersecurity risks and phishing emails. And, finally, audit your own cybersecurity regularly, and have a third party do the same. “You can set up a great cybersecurity system,” said Stout, “but if you’re not monitoring it and looking for vulnerabilities as they pop up, it won’t help you enough.” Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


Ed-vertising: Strategic Marketing for Texas Public Schools by Dr. Tanya Larkin Superintendent Pampa Independent School District

L “... strategic marketing —or ed-vertising— is not only good for public relations and passing bonds, but may, in fact, become necessary for the survival of our districts, our communities and maybe even our democracy.”

et’s face it. Parents from all backgrounds, religions and political affiliations are savvier today than ever before about their intentional decisions on where their children will attend school. Recent shifts in public school reform, accountability policies and criticism over schools’ responses to the COVID-19 situation, have heightened parent awareness of school choice (Voss, 2019). We are witnessing a new era for school marketing, and public K-12 educational leaders can no longer avoid engaging in what has recently been termed “edvertizing” (DiMartino and Jessen, 2019). In their recent book, Selling School: The Marketing of Public Education, DiMartino and Jessen explore the concept of public-school marketing in New York and New Orleans. But what does strategic marketing look like in Texas? Before we dig into the current ed-vertizing trends of Texas in the midst of a global pandemic, let’s examine public school marketing before COVID-19 became a part of our lives. In early March 2020, I successfully defended my dissertation in which I conducted a qualitative study on the perceptions of Texas superintendents on the strategic marketing of K-12 public schools. As a current superintendent myself, I was and still am eager to learn more about the concept of public-school marketing. What the study revealed was both enlightening and compelling. After interviewing 10 superintendents from public school districts across the state of Texas, I synthesized their perceptions, beliefs, and thoughts around some of the very basic tenets of marketing. These included the challenges faced while implementing a marketing campaign, impacts and outcomes of strategies, and of course, the lessons learned and recommendations these successful educational leaders had for other superintendents for marketing their districts.

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Challenges of Marketing Two themes emerged from the study regarding common barriers and challenges that superintendents faced. The lack of knowledge and skills in the concepts and strategies of marketing was the number one barrier shared by the participants (all 10 superintendents noted this as their primary challenge). One superintendent from a mid-size school in North Texas explained that “no one on their team” had any marketing experience, and she “didn’t even know where to start.” Eight of the 10 school leaders expressed frustration with the lack of human resources to dedicate to marketing, public relations, and general communications. One superintendent further explained that nobody on his staff “had any extra time to make this kind of work their job.” Each superintendent also provided a cautionary tale or two of his/her mistakes and lessons learned from engaging in marketing. Overestimating the impact that some efforts would have and underestimating the amount of time needed to prioritize marketing efforts were two of the most shared challenges. In each case, these were mistakes made early on in the campaign before they sought out the advice and support of communications and marketing professionals.

Impact and Outcomes of Marketing All of the superintendents in this study had recently engaged in a short-term strategic marketing campaign. Each superintendent had engaged their district in marketing to either pass a bond election, increase enrollment, or impact public perception after an unflattering event. Conducting a targeted strategic marketing campaign was overwhelmingly effective, and all 10 of the districts in the study not only met their goals but shared stories of positive outcomes as well. One superintendent in West Texas noted that “this process (of strategic marketing) opened up new lines of communication that we never had before. It helped the community bond and gave a voice to an underrepresented population in our town!” The most compelling evidence from this study was that nine of the 10 superintendents expressed a genuine belief that all K-12 public schools need to engage in strategic marketing. One superintendent from a large urban district in South Texas stated very convincingly that “All superintendents need to realize that in today’s world, you need a plan--a strategic, written plan--and that they need to work that plan. If we don’t market public schools, who will?” continued on p. 38 Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org 37

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communicator--marketer of the district.” Another superintendent shared his belief that “if we as a district don’t put a message out there to our stakeholders, then somebody else will do it for us-and it may not be a message we like.” All of the districts represented in this study engaged in some of the more traditional marketing strategies according to research such as branding, publishing flyers, online newsletters magazines, and even using billboards (Lubienski & Lee, 2016). The one strategy that was overwhelmingly utilized was social media. The purposeful and ongoing use of Facebook (and more specifically Facebook Live), Twitter, and Instagram was a common theme in all of these successful campaigns.

She made a great point. Another participating superintendent drove the point home when he told me that “The public-school business is different today. Strategic marketing may be the best way to keep your district relevant to your stakeholders. They (parents) have options now, and they know it. You better have a plan.”

“The goodwill and support that public schools were enjoying quickly shifted to criticism, doubt and fear.” Strategies Recommended by Superintendents Nine of the 10 superintendents expressed that their lack of knowledge prior to engaging in marketing campaigns led them to seek knowledge, advice and practical strategies from experts in business and education marketing. Without exception, the resounding message from the participants in this study was the important role the superintendent plays in marketing. One superintendent stated during an interview that “Superintendents need to realize that they are or should be the chief

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Suggestions included the importance of telling your district’s story through the eyes of students and parents, illustrating how your district is unique and has opportunities for students with a multitude of interests. The messages you share should pique the interest of the parents and community, reflect the district’s values and mission. Of course, communicating important information is critical, but the marketing messages should basically answer the question: Why should a parent choose your district when they have so many options? The goal of any district marketing plan should be to answer that question in such a way that is compelling. It should be accurate and honest, and it must be conveyed often. The last recommendation from the findings of this study is that superintendents leading K-12 public districts must ensure that a strategic marketing plan is developed, implemented, and continually revisited in order to survive in the new competitive educational market. Although the superintendent must view himself/herself as the chief marketer, they must also enlist the participation of staff, students, and parents in sharing the story of the district. Ed-vertising and COVID-19 Although this study was timely before COVID-19, it is now more relevant than ever before. Before COVID19 led to school closures in Texas, public schools were facing recent changes in A-F Accountability and a surging interest in school choice initiatives such as private charters and education tax credits. During COVID-19, news media outlets, both large and small, saturated their

listeners and followers with stories of how the local K-12 public schools were rising to the challenge to meet the needs of their students, families and communities. School districts, those with communications directors and those without, shared pictures, told stories through videos and posted moving images of how their school community was coming together to overcome obstacles during a global pandemic. For the first time in a long time, it was popular to love and support the local public school. Ed-vertising was strong, and the public’s mood toward public schools was positive and supportive. Then, almost as quickly as COVID-19 school closures happened, the debate on if and when schools should reopen in Texas began. The goodwill and support that public schools were enjoying quickly shifted to criticism, doubt and fear. As we pivoted from providing meal services and online learning to speculating and planning on how to safely reopen schools, the private market shifted into overdrive. While the superintendents, principals and teachers in our Texas K-12 public schools have been digging into what has seemed to be nonstop preparation and planning, the competition has been

busy engaging in ed-vertising by marketing their readiness to meet the educational needs of our students and parents (NAIS, May 25, 2020). As K-12 public school districts, we must get the message out about our willingness and our ability to meet the needs of our students. Strategic marketing, just a few months ago, was a growing behavior for public schools of all sizes. Now, more than ever, K-12 public school leaders MUST accept the reality that this is indeed a competitive market. From the study referenced in this article and recent trends in ed-vertising behaviors in the midst of Covid-19, K-12 public school leaders should consider the lessons learned from previous successful campaigns while also paying attention to the behaviors in the educational market. As educators, we are in a business, a multi-billion-dollar business, whether we like it or not. For those of us in public schools, this work is our mission, it is our purpose, and we believe that we are here to educate, to serve, and to invest in our students and communities. Educational leaders are recognizing that strategic marketing—or edvertising—is not only good for public relations and passing bonds, but may, in fact, become necessary for the survival of our districts, our communities and maybe even our democracy. SOURCES: DiMartino, C., & Jessen, S. B. (2018). Selling school: The marketing of public education. New York: Teachers College Press. Larkin, T. (2020). A Dissertation of Practice of Superintendents’ Perceptions on the Strategic Marketing of K-12 Public Schools. Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas. Lubienski, C., & Lee, J. (2016). Competitive incentives and the education market: How charter schools define themselves in metropolitan Detroit. Peabody Journal of Education, 91, 64-80. doi:10.1080/01611956X.2016.1119582 NAIS. (2020). Enrollment decision-making amid covid-19. National Association of Independent Schools. Available online https://www.nais.org/learn/independent-ideas/may-2020 / enrollment-decision-making-amid-covid-19-4-effects-tomanage/

Dr. Tanya Larkin has served in public schools for more than 25 years as a teacher, principal, curriculum director, and currently serves as the Superintendent of Pampa ISD. Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


Leading a School System Through a Global Pandemic by Dr. Walter Jackson, Superintendent La Porte ISD

Dr. Walter Jackson became superin June — months after schools across COVID-19 pandemic. The following having taken the helm at La Porte in

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ntendent of schools at La Porte ISD in s Texas were shuttered because of the g is a retrospective essay of his experience, n the middle of the worldwide crisis.


ike a hurricane that leaves ruin and destruction in its wake, so has the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy, families, business, students, teachers, parents, principals and, yes, even school superintendents.

As I reflect on the past six months, I too have been emotionally maimed and tossed about in ways that, at times, I believed would clearly be detrimental to my health. I will attempt to share my story as candidly and honestly as possible, while leading a district of 7,200 students and 1,200 staff members. My journey in La Porte ISD, a beautiful school district in which the 5A high school and central office sit a mere 300 yards from Galveston Bay and the ever-popular Sylvan Beach, began in June. I had just been chosen to lead the district, following in the giant footsteps of a leader who had served boldly for the previous 12 years. I inherited an elite and highly respected district that boasts a great academics track record, world-class facilities, awesome teachers and leaders, and outstanding students in a historic town that has very high expectations for its leaders and school district. It’s a great job. And difficult.

From difficult to monumental

I believe without qualification, however, that the toughest job in America today is that of the public-school classroom teacher. The teacher, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has been expected to juggle teaching students in the classroom as well as virtually. Managing these daunting tasks simultaneously is indeed one of the most difficult challenges of our profession. In a matter of days this past March, schools were shut down, students were sent home, our economy came to a screeching halt and all over America, school immediately became a virtual concept. Teachers and parents were thrust into a situation in which learning was not just happening on the child’s part, but the teacher was forced -- under great pressure from parents, community, and the district -- to adapt to a “new normal” way of pedagogical delivery. Almost immediately gone were the days of hugs, handshakes and hellos; in came the days of checking your connection, speaking into a microphone and uploading lesson plans and homework. In addition to the stress of learning a new way of instructional delivery, teachers had to cope with the emotional strain of understanding that a significant number of students in the district do not have internet. Just as our teachers were faced with these daunting challenges under the immediate threat of COVID-19, superintendents bore the weighted burden of articulating to our parents, staff and stakeholders specifically how we would reopen schools while keeping everyone healthy in the Greater Houston area, a region reported to have had one of the highest infection rates in the nation. But we had neither a playbook nor continued on p. 42 Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


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Without a sound communications team promoting our message asking parents and stakeholders for ‘grace and patience,’ I am not certain we would be where we are. a similar situation from which to draw experience. In other words, we were flying by the seat of our pants. These decisions were additionally being made just as regional authorities had given the orders for schools to remain closed indefinitely, or at least until the skyrocketing rates of infection decreased to a percentage that would send a positive message to the community. As the leader of the school district, my top priority was to communicate a message of calmness and safety, and that we had a firm grip on the crisis at hand. This message was consistently broadcast from my office through our communications department through videos, letters, emails and social media. Without a sound communications team promoting our message asking parents and stakeholders for “grace and patience,” I am not certain we would be where we are.

Leading … virtually

The superintendent is effectively the CEO of the school district. In most cases, that chief executive leads the largest company in town. Imagine being named CEO of a company and then realizing that you cannot meet the hundreds of people in your charge for months on end. You cannot gather a convocation and show your gratitude to the many people who have kept the wheels turning. You cannot share your vision as you would if you were looking someone directly in the eyes. And you cannot hear their vision as you would if they were looking at you … in person. Though I can hear their voices via email, telephone calls or Zoom, such communiques are akin to written memorandums, facsimiles or all-calls. They might be effective, but such methods are hardly a substitute for face-to-face communication. As a former classroom

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teacher, I also know that that I’m not alone with my feelings of frustration and loneliness as I speak to my stakeholders through a camera. Virtual communication, though, had become our lot. Like many of my counterparts across Texas and the nation, feeling the weight and responsibility of leading the charge to offer virtual instruction and plan for opening school during the COVID-19 crisis caused me many sleepless nights. As the COVID-19 crisis continued to manifest in our community, there were times that I honestly felt that no decision I made was going to please everyone. When teachers agreed, parents took issue with the decisions; when parents and teachers agreed, state authorities dissented. The pressure cooker of publicschool leadership was on full display, and it took a toll on me. I had to pull myself together, since I had accepted the job. “These people believe in your leadership,” I thought to myself. “I can’t let the students, teachers and community down.” When backed into a leadership corner, I reverted to my instinctive ability to do several things that are burned into my leadership psyche: I knew that communication would be the trait that would buy me time to figure out exactly what next steps we should take.

Unchartered territory

We began working on our reopening plan by carefully and strategically posting everything that we were planning to do on our district’s website and social media outlets. Today’s parents are not like my parents of the 1970s and ‘80s. Rather, they demand communication not weekly or monthly, but sometimes daily! If they agreed with the plan (or disagreed), I would learn about it soon enough because I could read about it on Facebook! It was imperative that our leadership team was transparent throughout the process. We wanted our stakeholders to know that (like all other districts) we were struggling with exactly how to reopen our schools. Let’s be honest, prior to COVID-19, the average American educator never used words like synchronous and asynchronous or social distancing

…much less contact tracing. None of us, despite our education or experience, ever expected to plan or describe the nuances of virtual vsersus in-person learning. We had to slow down and learn. Together. I believed that if we were going to gain the trust in our teachers, parents and stakeholders, we needed to speak directly to them. Sure, we would have preferred face-to-face communication, but we were forced to accomplish our objective by utilizing technology and social media. We used frequently asked questions as our script and our guide. It turned out to be a positive and productive means of communication that helped us build trust with our stakeholders. We were forced to come to terms with the fact that our stakeholders were sometimes confused and scared and needed us to help them navigate through their fears. The combination of effective communication, transparency, honesty and speaking directly to the issues at hand provide the ingredients for the transformational magic that happens in a community between the home and school. Leaders must be willing to be vulnerable enough to ask for grace and patience all while extending the same to the stakeholders they are leading.

In an age of 24-hour news and communication, public school leaders and PR leaders must be willing to employ all the necessary traits of effective leadership: communication, transparency, authenticity, vulnerability and the willingness to go the extra mile to show the compassion, care and concern for the people they lead. I believe it will be years before research fully grasps how the pandemic and shutdown have impacted superintendents having to bear the weight of managing teachers and staff, parents and stakeholders and the board of education all at once. Odds are we will be forced to live with COVID-19 for a while. Solid leadership—complete with effective communication and the ability to establish meaningful relationships with stakeholders—is key. No matter what unexpected challenges we may face in the future, quality leadership and communication will continue to guide us. Being a man of great faith, I believe my leadership took on new meaning when the unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19 forced a confrontation with my courage and commitment to communication and transparency. Today my leadership is stronger, and better suited to adapt to our ever-changing times.

Dr. Walter Jackson is superintendent of schools at La Porte ISD. He was a 2019 finalist for TASB Superintendent of the Year, and NSPRA in 2017 named him as one of 20 Superintendents to Watch in the nation. Dr. Jackson currently serves on the board of directors of the TASB Risk Management Fund, UIL Legislative Council, Texas Association of School Administrators, and is a proud TSPRA member.

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Star Awards submission portal IS OPEN!

The deadline to enter Star Awards is 11:59 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. Central. In order to enter or have your name on an award, you must be a TSPRA member in good standing with your dues paid by Oct. 31, 2020. Please read the instructions carefully before submitting as errors made during entry could prevent you from getting an award. Invoices are created when you enter. Payment is due by Friday, Dec. 11, 2020 or you will forfeit your awards.

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Top five tips that industry experts want you to know.


up your Facebook Live when it starts up but the longer it runs, the greater the F.O.M.O (fear of Phil Campbell Community Relations and Communications missing out). Keep in mind that your audience is Bonneville Joint School District 93 continuously changing. Do a quick recap every few minutes to bring your audience up to speed. Plan ahead: Will you have a wireless signal? Is the school Wi-Fi reliable? Are you using an external microphone or steadicam? If yes, are the batteries charged? What are you going to talk about and who would be a good person to interview? Put together a few talking points that you want to focus on. You can even write them down if you need to. Your audience might not even know the difference between you and a traditional news reporter. They are probably watching you on the same device, their phone. News reporters have scripts. There’s no reason why you can’t have one, too. Be flexible: It’s live; things aren’t going to run perfectly. Just roll with it. You’ll connect better with your community when they see you are real. This is live and people are understanding. Relax, be human and answer comments and questions by addressing the person by name. Your audience appreciates it when you engage with them. Stream longer: People may not immediately pull

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Make it fun and do it often: Find what works for your community. Is it the marching band? Our community loves the “band cam” almost as much as the games themselves. We always make it a point to do a quick Facebook Live between quarters to show the bands. Your district might be different. Find what works for them and bring it to your community. Practice, practice, practice: Go live on your own profile or page. It might be easier for you to become more comfortable going live if it’s in front of your friends and family. Use other apps to simulate this. We have a MarcoPolo group of friends at work. You are practicing anytime you make a video of yourself for others without the ability to start over. This includes Facetime, Skype, and even those Zoom meetings. Of course, the best practice is the real thing and like I said before, your audience doesn’t expect you to be perfect. Odds are you are your own biggest critic when it comes to this. Just relax, have fun and see where it takes you!

HOSTING A PODCAST Steven Offield Communications Coordinator, Communications Rockwall ISD

Brand your podcast to make it instantly recognizable: Find the perfect intro/outro song for your podcast. It should be something unique that people will recognize instantly as your podcast. Make it no more than 30 seconds and add a voice over from your host welcoming them to your podcast and teasing the episode’s subject matter. Design some art to go with your podcast. The icon will be small on most screens, so don’t put a lot of text. Make sure listeners can recognize you by your icon art. NOTE: Choose your host carefully. You’ll want to deliver episodes to your listeners on a regular basis, but your ability to record depends on the host’s schedule. Get your audio quality right to sound like a pro: Audio quality is the first thing you’ll notice from any podcast which is why it’s so important to make yours top-notch! And you don’t have to break the bank to do it. Everyone who is on the podcast needs their own microphone so you can mix them individually in post-production. I recommend the Blue Yeti ($120) or Blue Snowball ($50). Both produce excellent quality and plug directly into your computer via USB cable. There are more ways to set up a studio, but this is the most cost-effective way to achieve the best results. Set yourself up for success when podcasting remotely: Everything is being done remotely now. How can you record a podcast with someone who isn’t in the studio with you and still achieve the high quality you demand? Easy! There are three steps: Connect, Record, Send. • Connect: All the participants will connect in a ZOOM so they can hear each other and interact with each other. • Record: Each participant will record their voice locally. This can be done two ways: record the audio in another app outside ZOOM, such as QuickTime. Another way is to record into a voice memo app on their phone. Make sure they aren’t

holding the phone or you’ll get noise in the background. If you want the best quality, send your participants home with one of your USB microphones to achieve that studio quality. • Send: Have all the participants email the audio file to your editor. Now the editor has all the individual audio files and can mix them separately. A little post processing goes a long way: There are many options available for audio editing programs. Here are a few: Audacity Free (Windows and Mac), Logic Pro X (Mac), Digital Performer (Windows and Mac), Pro Tools (Windows and Mac), Garage Band (Mac). You can even use your video editing program to edit audio. Most programs have plugins you can easily add to your audio. These are some of the most common ones you’ll use for vocals on a podcast. You don’t have to know a lot about them, because they’ll all have presets from a dropdown menu. • Compressor: This will make your soft audio and loud audio more uniform. • EQ: This can change the sound and tone of vocals. • Limiter: The limiter tells audio not to ever get louder than a certain level. • Noise Gate: If there is a lot of noise in the background, this can eliminate it while the speaker is not talking. Be careful with this one. If you use it too much, it can make the audio sound like it’s cutting in and out. • Reverb: Adds “room” effects to audio. It can be used to hide imperfections. Choose the right hosting service: There are many ways to host a podcast, both free and paid, but the best and easiest provider to use is Anchor. fm. This service, owned by Spotify, is free and robust. They will send your podcast to all the podcasting directories for you. Did I mention it’s free?

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continued from p. 35


Sherese Nix-Lightfoot Executive Director of Communications & PR Garland ISD

Growing Through Feedback: When I was a teacher, I looked forward to my observations, formal and informal, for the sole purpose of gaining feedback. As I progressed as a leader, I maintained this same mindset. While each team member is different, they all desire honest, objective feedback. This will foster an environment in which they feel comfortable asking questions and thinking outside of the box. Feedback has led to growth and allowed my team to become leaders in their own right. Know There is Purpose in Your Passion: As chief of communications, my job description states that I am responsible for managing the brand and reputation of our district, but for my team and myself, it is more than that. Although our roles differ, we are all undeniably passionate about the work we do. We work consistently to ensure each project, press release, and presentation highlights our district in the best way possible. Through this, we recognize that our work's purpose is greater than us, and with the work we do, we will leave a lasting legacy.

with our team name, "Team Exceed." Our mantra is, "We exceed expectations and do things never done before." In a short time, we developed a reputation for our unique vision and creating memorable experiences. However, this name and reputation are not without risk or chance. For instance, during last year's convocation, we used an LED screen, and although we had a dress rehearsal the night before, as the show began, the lights went out. After what seemed like the longest four minutes, our technician restored power, and we delivered the best convocation to date. Had we not pushed ourselves, we would never have known what we were capable of. Discovering Leaders Within Your Team: As a leader, I make it my mission to discover the natural talents and abilities of my team; I want to bring out the best in each person. This allows my team to hone their individual skills and collaborative skills and increase their confidence in their abilities. As a result, they now trust their ability to lead others. This inspires something greater than their work; this directly births the next generation of leaders and leaves a lasting impact.


Danielle Clark, APR Chief Communications Officer Harris County Department of Education, Houston

Trust and Transparency: I pride myself on operating in an environment of trust. This was not established overnight but through genuine honesty. My team knows that I want nothing but the best for them and our district. I trust their abilities; I give them the freedom to make decisions, work creatively, and pose new ideas. This allows me to easily have what some may view as "critical conversations" with them. Because of our rapport, these "critical conversations" no longer have a negative connotation; instead, they bring out the best in my team. This bond has also allowed them to redefine accountability, solidifying our transparent relationship.

Know that burnout is real: Burnout is defined as physical or mental collapse by overwork or stress. It is the loss of meaning in one’s work, coupled with physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. It can affect anyone but it is becoming more prevalent in PR. The Winona State University burnout study really helped me understand what burnout is, how it impacts your body and how you can change behaviors to more effectively manage stress. https://www.winona.edu/stress/

Taking Risks and Having Fun: As a leader, I take pride in challenging myself as well as my team while enjoying ourselves. My belief in this directly aligns

Recognize typical symptoms: This is critical. You can’t know if you are heading towards burnout if you don’t know what to look for. Chances are you are

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showing symptoms but may have pushed them off as just “normal side effects of a demanding job.” Typical symptoms include loss of appetite, finding ways to “numb” yourself to feelings (ie. drinking more than normal), getting sick frequently, detaching from personal relationships, a pessimistic outlook, physical exhaustion, over-reaction to minor things and a general lack of joy in your work. A great resource for me was the Reignite Project through www.thisiscalmer.com, which details the 5 stages of burnout and accompanying symptoms. If you can identify your issues early in the continuum, it is faster and easier to correct behaviors and move towards health again. I thought I was just run down a little, wasn’t sleeping well and couldn’t really think clearly. But I didn’t realize that all together that spelled more than just a crazy job. Do an honest assessment of your physical, mental and emotional health: Your mental health is personal. Every person handles stress differently. You need to take a frank look at how you are really doing, not just the face you put on at work or home. If you feel off or see physical changes, listen to your body and mind. You know yourself best. When I actually looked at all my symptoms and did a full assessment, I realized I was a classic case of burnout and didn’t even know it. Once you have an honest assessment, you can get help and start to make changes. Set boundaries: This is the biggest step. You need to recognize what your constant stress factors are and set limits on them. For me, answering emails at all hours became my first boundary. I started not answering my phone during dinner and not answering emails after 10 p.m. (unless it was a true emergency). And guess what? The sky didn’t fall, I didn’t get in trouble for not being “responsive” and some positive outcomes resulted. Additional boundaries for me included turning on the “do not disturb” function on my phone from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., not doing the work of other departments because “it made my job easier” and delegating tasks when possible. Yes, these are all major changes to typical school PR work behavior. But for me, I realized being superhuman wasn’t healthy, enabled poor work

habits in others and was slowly killing my heart, mind and body. Find what works for YOU: This is a personal journey that only you can create. What works for others may not work for you. When I was first diagnosed with clinical burnout, my doctor told me western medicine couldn’t help me. So I researched lots of eastern medicine practices for stress management/adrenal fatigue and ended up cobbling together a system of both proactive and reactive remedies including acupuncture, herbal teas, relaxation radio on Pandora during my daily commute, what my husband called “hammock time” (30 minutes in my hammock with music where my kids couldn’t bother me) and dietary changes. Some folks thought I was crazy and called my new lifestyle “hocus pocus.” But it worked for me. I gradually started to feel better. Three years later and I still have to manage my stress daily. But now I can recognize when I am getting out of balance and quickly correct behavior, so I am on the right track again. This was my path from burnout to recovery. But the wisest course of action is to be proactive in self-care to build your mental resilience. You are the key to avoiding burnout.


Chelsea Ceballos Communications Publications Specialist Klein Independent School District

Think about deadlines when deciding what content to print. With the rapid increase in the way we receive information, we have to be cognizant of what information will still be up to date and relevant once the print communication hits audience homes or is used for an event. Especially in current times when news is often out of our control, make sure you link back to a webpage that can be updated frequently if necessary. Make the most of the space you are given. continued on p. 38 Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


continued from p. 37

Utilize all aspects of the space with bold graphics and easy to read text in a legible font size. If your message is lost due to font size or design - you forgo your investment in the first place. Print space is even more valuable than digital space because it is more permanent. Consider the audience who will be reading your publication and the reason why you are using the print publication to reach them. If you are speaking to your audience using jargon or topics that do not pertain to them, you are much more likely to lose audience interest. Think to yourself, what do I want the audience to get out of this and start with that.

Build a partnership with local news agencies and print publications. This can pay off in dividends. Making connections with your local media will help you control the direction of your message in a positive light and possibly earn you some free advertising space in print publications. With a better relationship - they are also more likely to print your information.

Make your content interactive beyond what is just on the page. When your spread is interactive, it engages your audience to further investigate what else we can offer them. This can be helpful in utilizing resources to advocate for things such as bonds, etc. Always include links as a bridge between your communications. Using specialized links in your print publication will also help you see what interests your audience and what prompts them to look for more information.

WRITERS WANTED Have a great story idea for the magazine? Email Tracie at tseed@tspra.org.

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Adrienne Aguilar Forney ISD

Maria Floyd Garland ISD

Thomas Park Round Rock ISD

Jasmine Baker Sherman ISD

Sarah Gardner Meridian School

Tina Phan Austin ISD

Nancy Barboza Maldonado Sharyland ISD

Rosemary Gladden Plano ISD

Corey Phifer Lancaster ISD

Shelby Gordon Harlandale ISD

Amelia Portillo Edgewood ISD

Belinda Gorena Sharyland ISD

Amber Prince London ISD

Harris, Taylor La Porte ISD

James Rawls Killeen ISD

Juan Hernandez Forney ISD

Renee Smith-Faulkner Castleberry ISD

Molly Johnson San Angelo ISD

Luke Robson Deer Park ISD

Colby Knox Beaumont ISD

William Stokes Valley View ISD

Bridget Carpenter Valley View ISD

Tammy Kuykendall Highland Park ISD

Hillary Terry Valley View ISD

Jenn Burton Northwest ISD / Foundation

Rochelle Lebreck Harlandale ISD

Francisco Tristan Plano ISD

Todd Madden Beaumont ISD

Cooper Welch Community ISD

Lauren Murray Killeen ISD

Whitney Wood San Angelo ISD

Kristin Barnes Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD Abigayle Barton Pampa ISD Julie Baur Grand Prairie ISD Julie Berg Deer Park ISD Arena Blake Northwest ISD / Education Foundation

Andrew Coe North East ISD Jess Croshaw Northwest ISD / Education Foundation Tori Ewing Frisco ISD Marlys Diggles Crowley ISD

Carlos Molina Edgewood ISD Amy Palmer ESC Region 7

*as of 10/1/20 8/10/20

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The Struggle is Real

Thanks to COVID-19, high school seniors face their final year with great uncertainty

Written and Photographed by Katie McClellan, Senior ‘21 Vandegrift High School Leander ISD


s COVID-19 has swept across the nation, high school seniors have found themselves struggling to hold on to plans, college and their final year at home.

From the switch to online learning in March to the cancellation of many SAT and ACT tests, students like Vista Ridge High School senior Amelie Spurlin have felt the effects of coronavirus. “It was a scary time for everyone and it was like the whole time everyone was sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to see if we’d ever go back,” Spurlin said. “I missed out on seeing a lot of people for the last time, and even just building friendships that I had from that year.”

for the team, but it just gives us more motivation for next year.” Mia LeBoeuf, a senior at Vandegrift, says her college applications process is looking very different than normal due to testing cancellations. However, many colleges are offering testing optional admission for students who have been unable to test. “I initially registered for the ACT, but it kept getting cancelled,” LeBoeuf said. “After a few months, I’m hoping I can register and take the ACT/SAT, but if it doesn’t happen by the time I have to apply to schools, I’ve accepted that I am going to have to go test optional.”

For Vandegrift High School senior Charlie Fournier, a varsity soccer player and the kicker for the varsity football team, COVID-19 caused his soccer team to lose their shot at playoffs.

While LeBoeuf has struggled with college applications, Vista Ridge senior Leah Ingram’s situation is much more personal. Her mother’s longtime boyfriend is set to have surgery in November, which has led her to continue schooling virtually and be extremely careful when it comes to social distancing practices.

“Obviously COVID has affected both sports pretty heavily, for soccer we finished the season with a district championship and we were more than ready to make a playoff run when playoffs got cancelled,” Fournier said. “That was a huge loss

“It really forces you to remove yourself from the situation and do what’s best for those around you,” Ingram said. “So, for now until he is recovered, I will be staying home from school and staying distant from others whenever possible.”

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Despite Ingram’s precautions, she’s had close calls with COVID-19. Though she tested negative, she had to quarantine twice because a close family friend and then a family member both tested positive. “Being put in the position twice of being exposed to the virus as well as the carriers I was exposed to being family and close friends definitely made COVID more real to me,” Ingram said. “Not that I ever thought the virus was fake, but it just put into perspective how fragile and scary of a state of our world is in right now.” Having a family member who is at risk seems to be a common theme, Spurlin’s grandmother is wheelchair bound and has a compromised immune system. This has made spending time with her uniquely difficult, but they’ve managed to continue their family dinner traditions.

“I try not to look at it as a bad thing because I know everyone is going through the same thing, but online learning can be tough because of technological issues and staring at a computer for most of the day is unhealthy,” “The way we’ve handled social distancing with my Nana is we do zoom calls for dinners and my Nana will make food like she always does, and me and my parents will come pick it up and take it to my Uncle Paul and Aunt Hallie’s,” Spurlin said. “Then we call her on my Uncle Paul’s computer and talk like we usually would.” While Fournier’s soccer season was cut short, football is still set to continue, but the college recruitment process is looking a little different this year as safety is a top priority. According to him, most schools are limiting visits or not allowing them at all, making recruitment difficult.

the riskier in-person classes or the complicated online classes. “I try not to look at it as a bad thing because I know everyone is going through the same thing, but online learning can be tough because of technological issues and staring at a computer for most of the day is unhealthy,” said LeBoeuf. According to Fournier, soccer has started up workouts again and he’s happy to be back at practice for football and prepping for the upcoming season, despite all the setbacks sports programs have seen so far this year. “The virus has affected everyone and although there are a lot of things I wish would have happened I’m just trying to look forward to what we are able to do right now and that’s play football,” Fournier said. “The situation is improving and if we continue to do our part then hopefully, we’ll be able to make up for some of those things that maybe didn’t go as planned last year.” Similarly to Fournier, Ingram has a positive outlook on the outcome of the devastating past six months. It seems to be a common theme in Texas’ high school seniors to make the best of the time they have left in high school, despite how much has changed. “You grow up hearing your parents and siblings talk about how high school and senior year was the best year of their lives, so it can be a bummer to dwell on the fact that the classes of 2020 and our class, 2021, have had some setbacks,” Ingram said. “I hope when all of us grow up, we can look back on what were such unpredictable and unprecedented times and see how it shaped us to face challenges head on and with confidence in the future.”

“There have been a lot of direct messages and emails and right now everyone is just trying to make sure that we are still able to play football this fall, so most of the recruiting is being done over the phone,” Fournier said. “Honestly we are blessed to have a season right now and I know our team is appreciating every second that we have this season because none of it is guaranteed. With that being said, it’s been way too long since we’ve been on the field and we’re fired up and ready to go out and compete. Fournier is focused on the sports side of school struggles, but grades are also being affected by the new online learning. This virtual learning format has proved difficult from its beginning stages back in March, leaving students stuck deciding between

Leah Ingram, Amelie Spurlin

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Important Dates OCTOBER 15 21 22 27 29

TSPRA Sponsored Learning: Forecast5 Analytics TSPRA Virtual Job-Alike Session: One-Person Offices Deadline to submit proposals to present at #TSPRA21 Star Awards FAQ with Janet TSPRA Virtual Job-Alike Session: Community Partnerships


2 Deadline for Star Award entries 2 Nomination application for TSPRA Professional Awards available 2 TSPRA Virtual Learning: Marketing Your District/School 3 General Election Day 5 Online Ballots available for 2021-2022 Executive Committee election 5 #TSPRA21 Conference Planning Committee meets 10 TSPRA Virtual Lunch & Learn: Choosing APR, CPC, Graduate Degree? What to Expect? 17 Dealing with the Virtual and Very Real Challenges of Storytelling During a Pandemic 20 Final day to submit applications for #TSPRA21 conference scholarships 25-27 TSPRA Offices Closed


2 TSPRA Virtual Lunch & Learn: IPhone Photography 4 Last day submit ballot for 2021-2022 Executive Committee elections 8 TSPRA Virtual New Member Orientation 9 #TSPRA21 Conference Scholarship recipients announced 9 TSPRA 2021-2022 officers-elect announced 15 Cut-off date for special rates at Marriott Champions Circle Hotel for #TSPRA21 16 Final day to submit nominations for TSPRA Professional Awards 21-31 TSPRA offices closed


TSPRA offices closed Late fees added to #TSPRA21 registration

54 Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org

ONLINE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES All sessions will be held on Zoom for the first 100 people. They are each scheduled to begin at 12:00 p.m. Registration deadline is 48 hours prior to session date. Sessions are free except for the In-Depth Content sessions, which are $45 per participant and are non-refundable. NEW MEMBER ORIENTATION (members of TSPRA for 18 months or less) 30 minutes, Free TSPRA Past Presidents: Monica Faulkenbery, APR (2019-2020) & Kristin Zastoupil (2018-2019) Dec. 8 https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAkf-yvqjIrH9FNK2MhaxOeEHqXte5psc61 LUNCH & LEARN 60 minutes, Free Oct. 27 Star Awards FAQ Janet Crock https://zoom.us/j/99234670856 Nov. 10 Choosing APR, CPC, Graduate Degree? What to Expect Melissa Martinez, APR, CPC, MA, El Paso ISD; Sheleah D. Reed, MS, APR, Aldine ISD; Susan Ard, CPC, Cleveland ISD; Emily Conklin, CPC, MA https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0oc-iqqT8tHNGIoJQlyOqdM50ZGFnDQu43 Dec. 2 iPhone Photography Roger Campos, Southwest ISD https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUucOuopz4rGt25O9oj3XBXv5tGlOL9oOSd ROUNDTABLES 40 minutes, Free Nov. 18 Dealing with the Virtual and Very Real Challenges of Storytelling During a Pandemic Scott JuVette, Fort Worth ISD https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAqduyprjojGNTp-XdDczllhXLFIibYNue5 JOB ALIKE 30-60 minutes, Free Oct. 21 One Person Offices Kristyn Cathey, Port Arthur ISD and Christina Courson, Lockhart ISD https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYpcO6qpj0vHtdHLVtS4ENJwwUFt5ltv0t4 Oct. 29 Community Partnerships and Education Foundations Pam Pena, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD; Phillip Beckmam, Birdville ISD https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwscemqpjwrGtDv6fDBDzIS7IJmarPk8N2a IN-DEPTH CONTENT 60 minutes, FEE: $45 NON-REFUNDABLE Once you register and pay, you will receive a Zoom link and password for the session. Nov. 2 Exciting Emerging Marketing Trends to Engage Your Audience Jason Wheeler, CPC https://tspra.member365.com/public/event/details/d6b1f75d4bca10ac4ba69b483da06f4e68cb2025/1

Each year, TSPRA offers scholarships to three conference attendees. Two are given to first-time attendees and one is given to someone with a need-based obstacle. These scholarships help those who may not be able to come to conference the ability to join TSPRA for a powerful time of learning, networking and connecting. Here, the 2020 recipients share their experiences at conference last year.

My position as director of human resources and public relations is new to our district this school year. Since it is a new position, money was not budgeted for me to attend this conference. I was extremely grateful to have been one of the scholarship winners. This is the reason that I was able to attend the TSPRA conference. My experience at the conference was great. I was able to attend sessions that will directly benefit my position. I had the opportunity to network with others in similar positons. I left the conference with new ideas that I am ready to implement! I appreciate everything I received for being a scholarship winner – pre-conference session, Star Awards banquet ticket, etc. I look forward to attending the conference again next year! Jenny Davenport Director of Human Resources and Public Relations Santa Fe ISD

The scholarship was a tremendous blessing for me both personally and professionally. Castleberry is a small district and communications duties are distributed across many different staff roles. TSPRA has been one of the few places where I can connect and get current communication centered information and best practices to not only improve my skills, but also increase what I can contribute to my district. Also, the professional connections I’ve made through TSPRA have been invaluable. None of that would have been possible without attending the conference. For a small district like Castleberry sending staff to conferences isn’t always an option. Thanks to the scholarship, I was able to attend and continue to stay plugged into the amazing community that is TSPRA. The perks that come with the scholarship were pretty awesome too. TSPRA definitely takes care of their scholarship recipients. Matthew Jones Web Administrator Castleberry ISD

Being a 2020 TSPRA Conference scholarship recipient was a huge deal for me in many different ways. Not only am I the first communications role that my district has ever had, but I was also entirely new to school PR in general. Being given the opportunity to attend the conference at no cost to my small district was truly a blessing and I was able to experience it in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t have. I walked away from the conference with numerous new professional connections, as well as friendships. The amount of creative inspiration that I gained from the conference sessions has been invaluable within my role for Godley ISD. I am already looking forward to the next conference! From my very first TSPRA meeting, I knew that the organization was like one big family, and I have felt that way ever since. The support that is shown between members is unparalleled and I am so thankful to be a part of it! Peyton Trawick Director of Communications Godley ISD

2021 ANNUAL CONFERENCE SCHOLARSHIPS 2021 TSPRA Conference Scholarships Include: Three-day conference registration, which also includes preconference registration and Star Awards Banquet ticket ($675 value)

Four-night hotel stay in upgraded corner suite at Denton Embassy Suites ($800 value)

Reimbursement of travel expenses not to exceed $500 and based on receipts submitted by March 12, 2021

TOTAL VALUE: $1975 per scholarship

Make Note: Three scholarships awarded: two to first time attendees, one based on financial need. Recipients must be TSPRA members in good standing. Recipients agree to serve on TSPRA committee in 2021-2022. Applicant must submit application. Applications submitted by others will not be accepted. Previous recipients not eligible. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

APPLY Oct. 1 - Nov. 20, 2020 www.TSPRA.org

Chair: Courtney Sanguinetti, Lindale ISD Committee: Jenny Davenport, Santa Fe ISD; Montreal Williams, DeSoto ISD


Fall 2020 | www.TSPRA.org


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