TSPRA Communications Matter Summer 2021

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Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Funding for schools is decreasing drastically nationwide. Most districts are facing possible cuts in personnel, programs and more. There is a way for your district to provide an added benefit to the families in your district while adding much needed revenue for new or existing programs.

School Revenue Partners provides school districts sponsorship revenue generated from local businesses who want to sponsor weekly e-newsletters, websites, mobile apps, and other communication channels utilized by the members of your community.

855-790-0001 www.schoolrevenuepartners.com 2

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org

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

CENTRAL AREA Marco Alvarado Lake Travis ISD

2021-2022 OFFICERS PRESIDENT Veronica V. Sopher Fort Bend ISD PRESIDENT-ELECT Rebecca Villarreal, APR New Braunfels ISD IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT Veronica Castillon, APR Laredo ISD EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Linsae Snider TSPRA


NORTHWEST TEXAS AREA Kenneth Dixon Lubbock ISD FAR WEST AREA Melissa Martinez, APR, CPC El Paso ISD SAN ANTONIO AREA Kim Cathey Floresville ISD AT-LARGE POSITION 1 Corey Ryan Leander ISD AT-LARGE POSITION 2 Stephanie De Los Santos HCDE

GULF COAST AREA Craig Verley Mission CISD

AT-LARGE POSITION 3 Sherese Nix-Lightfoot Garland ISD


PARLIAMENTARIAN Donald Williams Mansfield ISD

EAST TEXAS AREA Jamie Fails Willis ISD NORTH CENTRAL AREA Megan Overman, APR, CPC Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD WEST CENTRAL AREA Elizabeth Cox Belton 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 2021. Texas School Public Relations Association. All rights reserved. Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Summer 2021 | Volume II, No. 1

MANAGING EDITOR GRAPHIC DESIGN Tracie Seed tseed@tspra.org EDITOR Adam J. Holland La Porte ISD COMMITTEE Stephanie De Los Santos Harris County Department of Education

Veronica Castillon, APR Laredo ISD


Cissa Madero Pearland ISD TSPRA STAFF EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Linsae Snider lsnider@tspra.org PROGRAMS MANAGER Janet Crock janet@tspra.org COMMUNICATIONS & MARKETING MANAGER Tracie Seed tseed@tspra.org


CONTRIBUTORS Sally Andrews, Jim F. Chadwell, Art Del Barrio, Stephanie De Los Santos, Candice Georgiadis, Kim Hocott, Rebecca King, Cissa Madero, Matthew Prosser, Rachel Ross, Karen Rudolph, APR, Corey Ryan, Valonia Walker, APR, Craig Verley, Andy Welch


Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


MAKING AN EVERYDAY IMPACT Through specialized schools; Head Start early childhood education; afterschool programs; school-based therapy services; and a scholastic art and writing awards program, HCDE makes a BIG impact on Harris County communities.


you can convey the emotions in the work you do to launch the new year. The truth is that the start of the school year may not look that way, but we can help create the feeling with our words, images and materials we put out for our community. Many of us are storytellers at heart. It is up to us to harness the power of words and images to help our students and staff ease back into the school environment in a positive way. Challenge yourself and your teams to find ways to support these efforts. Now, more than ever, your district needs you to be at your best. Keep learning and expanding your skillset. Reading this magazine is a great way to do that.


atching colorful streamers race across the sky during the 2021 graduation ceremonies, I cheered for the excited graduates, smiled as parents high-fived each other and sighed with relief that we made it through this trying year. Many of you probably felt the same way – it is over. Now what? Now we reflect. Now we practice self-care and recharge. Now we plan. Part of that planning includes setting the vision for our teams, our departments, our district and our community. We hope to be in a post-pandemic world, where we are still recovering and mourning what was lost while rebuilding in a way that honors our back-to-school traditions and fanfare. It’s exciting to think of students of all ages enthusiastically arriving back on their campuses with school supplies in hand, or setting up their lockers, or taking part in before-school practices or rehearsals. Hold those images in your mind. Capture them and share them with your team so 6

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org

In this issue of Communication Matters, you will find accessible, effective tips and insights that will inspire you and help you and your team identify ways to sharpen your skills to help set the tone for your district’s success in 2021-22. Be sure to check out the important dates for the TSPRA Conference – Learning in the Wild – and be ready for a conference like no other! As TSPRA celebrates its 60th year, we have selected a location that boasts waterslides, an arcade, a bowling alley and several great restaurants. This is the year to bring your team for outstanding opportunities to learn, network and have fun. We look forward to another year of phenomenal support from our professional organization as we work to improve public education in Texas by promoting best practices, provide professional development for our members and improve communications between Texans and their public schools.

Veronica V. Sopher Chief Communications Officer Fort Bend ISD TSPRA President

Reveal the true state of customer service in your district with the first-ever K-12 secret shopping program. More than 70% of school districts do not have a way to track customer service. Unlock your district’s full potential with a secret shopping program designed specifically for school districts. The Ultimate K-12 Secret Shopping Toolkit will help you: Retain Families & Staff Avoid negative interactions that drive stakeholders to consider other options.

Mitigate Risks Limit unnecessary risk and build strong, trusting relationships.

Elevate Your Brand Realize your brand promise and stand out from other educational options.

Empower Staff Identify opportunities for training, support, and additional resources.

Download your FREE toolkit and other special TSPRA member resources:




Created in 2002, the H‑E‑B Excellence in Education Awards was designed to honor and thank outstanding public school professionals. Through this program, H‑E‑B awards over $700,000 annually to deserving educators who go the extra mile to serve their students and communities. Visit heb.com/education to nominate or apply for the 2022 Awards Program

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7 ©2021 HEB, 21-6633

FEATURES 22 Getting Ready for TSPRA Annual Conference Learn about how sessions are chosen, Star Awards and more.


In a Minute Industry facts, figures & fun

12 Member Moment Getting to know fellow TSPRAns 14

Q & A Meet Art Del Barrio, Pasadena ISD

16 Point of View Rachel Ross, Fort Bend ISD 18 EduLege Top news in school communications 56

5 in 5 What are you looking forward to in the new school year?


TSPRA Talk What’s happening in TSPRA



28 Six New Districts Join the Holdsworth Partnership Congratulations to these worthy districts! 30

The Five Things You Need to Succeed as a Senior Executive Q & A with TSPRA President Veronica Sopher


Effectively Integrating Communications and Marketing in School Districts Stephanie De Los Santos, HCDE, shares her expertise.


Bright Light Take a look at Vidor ISD’s mental health program.


New Schools on the Block A behind-thescenes look at opening a new school


The Craft of Communication A former journalist shares his advice for PR rookies.


Listening Matters Learn how Leander ISD went beyond the survey to engage stakeholders.


Say Goodbye to the Black Hole Discover how one school district changed the way they approach newsworthy communications.


Where are They Now? Catch up with four TSPRA past presidents.


Cover Photo Contest Thank you to all our photographers for sharing your talent.

46 COVER PHOTO WINNER! by Mimi Valdez, Laredo ISD 8

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org

Volunteers and community partners are needed now more than ever. Students need help recovering from the academic, social, and emotional disruptions they’ve experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. VOLY.org, powered by VolunteerNow, provides affordable, easy-to-use, web-based software to recruit, manage, and track the time and investments of volunteers and community partners.

www.volyinfo.org • schools@voly.org

Proposals to present accepted September 8-October 25, 2021 www.TSPRA.org

In a Minute

10 CHARACTERISTICS LEADERS NEED Executive leaders share some common traits: the ability to inspire and align others around shared objectives, an agile mindset and a robust understanding of the overall business, to name a few. While these core qualities have withstood the test of time, it is also true that different times call for additional skills. So, what does effective leadership look like in times of COVID-19? What new qualities should leadership embrace to navigate a world spinning off its axis? 1. Strong, inclusive and inspiring 2. A strategic vision 3. Flexible and able to manage change 4. Principles and able to lead by example 5. Resilient and capable of managing adversity 6. Innovative 7. Decision-maker 8. Efficient and results-oriented 9. Collaborative 10. Communicative and a good listener Read more: www.iese.edu/standout/c-suite-leadership-skills

by Tracie Seed

Tidbits & Trivia Glaciers and ice sheets hold about 69 percent of the world’s fresh water. A whale’s low frequency sounds can travel up to 10,000 miles Dentistry is one of the oldest professions in the world. The hottest chili pepper in the world, the Carolina Reaper, is 200 times hotter than a jalapeno. Sources: bestlifeonline.com, journeynorth.org, pepperhead.com

National Celebration Days July 18 Ice Cream Day July 20 Jump Day Aug. 1 Friendship Day 10

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org

Aug. 9 Book Lovers Day Aug. 16 Tell a Joke Day Sept. 1-30 Hispanic Heritage Month

Sept. 20 Queso Day Oct. 5 Teachers Day Oct. 6 Coaches Day

Crisis Talking Points In school PR, crisis happens. This section takes a look at sample talking points for various crisis scenarios.

SCHOOL LOCKDOWN • • • • • • •

An incident (name incident) has taken place near (school name). (School name) has been placed on lockdown. We are cooperating and working closely with law enforcement to provide our complete support in every way possible. Our first priority is for the safety and well-being of our students, their families and our staff. We have met with local law enforcement, and their initial assessment is that this incident, at this point, is of low risk to the school. Resources will be available to respond to students and parents as needed. Every (district) school has established a safety plan and lockdown procedures that contribute to maintaining a safe learning environment for our students. In the wake of this incident, school personnel will be reviewing those plans and continuing our ongoing relationship with law enforcement to ensure we do everything we can to maintain the safety and security of our students. Go to TSPRA Document Vault, accessible through your member portal, for more talking points & inspiration.

r a m m a Gr Ti me MEDAL, MEDDLE, METAL & METTLE Medal (noun) refers to a flat piece of metal stamped with an image or design, like a badge on a police officer’s uniform, a medallion on a New York City taxicab, or a service medal awarded to a member of the armed forces. Meddle (verb) means to interfere or to handle something without permission. People who meddle try to have an influence on activities that aren’t their responsibility. Metal (noun) refers to a substance, such as copper or tin, that is generally hard and often has a shiny surface. Mettle (noun) means courage, boldness, spirit or grit. Examples On the last day of class in fourth grade, Cindy received a perfect-attendance medal from the school principal. Wisely, the queen has refused to meddle in state affairs. The blacksmith hammered the metal flat. Gus began in a quiet, modest way, but soon demonstrated his mettle. Source: www.thoughtco.com

FREE RESOURCE LIBRARY One of TSPRA’s benefits of membership is a free online resource library of hundreds of sample documents from school communications professionals around the state. You can find anything from talking points and parent letters to procedures, graphic design inspirations and more. Connect to the Document Vault through your TSPRA member portal. Log in and click on the logo towards the bottom of the page. This link will take you to a Google Drive, which you will need a Gmail account to access and search files. In the search field at the top of the webpage, type in what you’re looking for (crisis, flyer, arrest, return, closure, middle school, etc.) and hit enter. You’ll be able to view and download any resource you need. If you’d like to share one of your documents, simply email it to Tracie at tseed@tspra.org. Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Getting to know your fellow TSPRAns

Stephanie Fretwell

Community Partnerships Coordinator Amarillo ISD

What did you do before this job? I was the marketing manager for Westgate Mall. What is something TSPRA colleagues need to know about you? I love a good checklist! It helps me so much to see the big picture but then to also see it broken down into smaller goals. What is something TSPRA colleagues would not expect to know about you? After graduating from college, I moved to Fort Lauderdale. The wild part about that story is that I moved in with my boyfriend’s parents (whom I had never met) while looking for a job and while my boyfriend was in Texas playing baseball. That boyfriend is now my husband of 18 years! What is something on your bucket list? I would love to visit Alaska someday.

Terri Behling, APR

District Director of Public Relations for Harmony Public Schools San Antonio District

What did you do before this job? Prior to Harmony, I was the vice president of workforce and community development for the Manatee Chamber of Commerce in Bradenton, Florida. What is something TSPRA colleagues need to know about you? I am passionate about connecting the business community with our students. I believe our students need to make connections within their community to learn about various career options, the importance of volunteering and how to be productive and responsible citizens. What is something TSPRA colleagues would not expect to know about you? I have lived in eight states and do not come from a military family! The hardest move was from Florida to Texas in May of 2020 during the pandemic. Our oldest daughter was graduating from high school and our youngest was completing her freshman year. It was a tough transition, but we love San Antonio and can’t wait to explore it! What is something on your bucket list? To visit Scotland. My dad’s side of the family is from Scotland, and it would be cool to trace my roots to that part of the world. 12

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org

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Keep a look out for an email with reservation information. TSPRA's hotel block opens on July 21, 2021. www.TSPRA.org Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Star Awards Platinum Winners Pasadena ISD by Art Del Barrio Director of Communication and Printing Pasadena ISD How did you come up with the concept for your piece and why did you produce it? Every year, Pasadena Independent School District hosts the McDonald's Texas Invitational Basketball Tournament, which is the largest and most prestigious one in the state. The tournament boasts the slogan, "The road to state starts here,"as many of the contenders end up in the state tournament at the end of the season. Our title sponsor for many, many years has been McDonald's, which always makes a very generous donation. McDonald's hired a new marketing agency, which wanted proof that they were getting their money's worth from the $25,000 title sponsor donation to the tournament. This was the first time we were asked for analytics. We set out to develop a plan to track all advertising and marketing analytics. Following the Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation (RPIE) method, we were already working on evaluation methods for our (the communication department's) role in the tournament and had already begun to track the data the year before. So, when McDonald's made their request, we felt like we were already ahead.


Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org

How long did the process take from A to Z? The good thing was that we had begun several improvements to a technology-challenged tournament in 2018. We introduced an app for tournament schedules, brackets, scores and maps to game locations. We introduced live streaming of about 160 of our 196 games. We began a social media challenge to harness engagement. For the first time in the tournament history, we monitored our analytics. We had the data to build on once McDonald's began to ask for data. We were able to attempt to surpass our numbers for 2018 and give McDonald's their analytics. There were many key factors that helped us implement our approach. We knew that the most important thing to McDonald's was their brand recognition. We also had the Texas Invitational brand that needed to be showcased. When we decided to stream 160 games, we ensured the McDonald's and invitational logos were always seen during each broadcast. That gave us a large sum of minutes with the logo displayed. Further, we inserted a 30-second McDonald's commercial during quarters and time-outs. All games were streamed with real-time, hands-on

experience for the students at each high school's TV production classes.

amount of growth in engagement we had achieved for the tournament.

The app also showcased the logos and was downloaded hundreds of times. With each download and each use of the app, the McDonald's logo was prominently visible.

What does it mean to you to have won the Platinum Award? To me, the Platinum Award is like winning the State Championship of School Public Relations. It validates that our team understands, applies and evaluates the concepts to run an exemplary public relations and marketing plan.

There was signage all over town. There were banners down busy streets that displayed the tournament logo. We pulled traffic data to reflect the amount of visibility each sign received and used that in our analytics package. Finally, we created a social media team and response team by utilizing the journalism classes from each high school. Their job was to take pictures and post realtime updates on Facebook and Twitter. To enhance our reach, we looked for the hashtags of all the school districts and schools that were participating in the tournament. Further, we also looked for the cities and chambers of commerce for those school districts as well. In addition, we searched for the Twitter handles of college and professional athletes that had played in the tournament during their high school years and tagged them when their high school was playing. The response team continued engagement with those who commented to keep the conversation going. As a bonus, we tagged all the TV stations in each region to spark engagement and reach. The results were off the charts. We ended up with over 1,000,000 Twitter impressions in 2019, shattering our 2018 numbers by almost 3 times.

What tips do you have for other districts that want to produce a similar piece? Be innovative, be creative, be unique, be a team. Our team has diverse skillsets, and we capitalized on each other's strengths. Everyone had input in the plan. This was not an individual plan; this was a Pasadena ISD communication team plan. We each understood the big picture, and everyone understood their role. When it was all said and done, we made some spectacular things happen. Is there anything else you would like for us to know about your piece or about entering the TSPRA Star Awards? The growth isn't over. We still have lots to do to continue to grow the exposure for the tournament and to modernize the experience. No idea is ever shunned – we consider everything and are not afraid to push the envelope. Our goal in November is to beat these numbers!

After we announced some of our analytics, we had two other large food franchises contact the tournament and inquire about sponsoring in the future. Who else was a part of your team? In addition to myself, there was Bruce Stone, Reesha Brown, Rob Smith, Kadey Hedrich, Lori Grande, Maria Mata, Eduardo Verastegui and Rebeca Lazo. In addition, we had the high school journalism students from five schools and the student-run video production teams from seven schools. Why did you decide to enter the platinum category? Every summer, we have a team meeting and try to separate our best work for the year and strategically place it. This year, we felt that our collaborative work on this project was a perfect example of a wellexecuted plan, especially because we had two years of measurable data and were able to see the incredible

Kadey Heidrich, Art Del Barrio, Lori Grande, Bruce Stone, Maria Mata, Rob Smith and Reesha Brown. Not pictured: Interns Rebeca Lazo and Eduardo Verastegui

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Civic Education: Conversations Ramping Up in Texas

by Rachel Ross Communications Department Coordinator Fort Bend ISD

The charge for schools and districts is to help students think critically and to build citizens who contribute to their local communities. Civics education is an integral part of this comprehensive education. Among his priorities for the 87th legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott listed increased civics education for students as a focus area, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle quickly filed bills for consideration. They all sought to establish professional development for teachers, provide students with simulations of democracy in actions and teach media literacy. Civic engagement is a combination of knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that connect citizens to their community and encompasses a variety of the social studies themes included in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), established by the State Board of Education. Student awareness brings the real world into the classroom With students now consuming more media, the events of the past year have made their way into the classroom. Teachers and school staff have had to grapple with not only the stress of the ongoing pandemic but also the current events, which have a personal impression on their students. Chassidy Olainu-Alade, the community and civic engagement coordinator for Fort Bend ISD, believes that in these instances, teachers serve best as facilitators to foster healthy discussion and expression. She was a teacher for several years before administration and says the classroom is where students first learn to be engaged citizens. "The classroom should be the setting for structured conversations and academic discourse, where the teacher is a facilitator whose purpose is to clarify misconceptions and offer counter perspectives free from


Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org

their own opinions and points of view," Olainu-Alade said. "Students must learn to formulate their points of view, state their perspectives and engage in debates respectfully while valuing the opinions of others." In Texas, civics education begins in elementary, with a focus on community and citizenship, culminating in the senior-year course on government. These are good starting points, but Olainu-Alade believes students should have more service-based learning, moving into their local communities to see the various civic processes in action. Another opportunity in civic education, to her, is teaching media literacy to students by building their critical thinking and reading skills to discern fact from opinions. Working to build more engaged citizens statewide Founded in 2000, the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas works to build civic mindedness in Texans of all ages through programming, in addition to researching statewide trends. Over the last 20 years, the institute has measured Texans' civic engagement and participation, and findings show a decline across several areas. Fewer state residents report discussing politics with friends, family and neighbors, and fewer volunteer and donate to charitable organizations. The only area to show an increase was the percentage of Texans who voted in the last midterm and presidential elections, compared to previous years. Heather Vaughn is the senior education outreach coordinator at the Strauss Institute and has extensive experience training teachers and developing a curriculum for K-12 students. She notes that Texas is one of only 26 states requiring students to complete a formal civics education course, fulfilled through the government course offered in high school. But overall, spending on students' civic education is down, compared to other areas of education investment. "When looking nationwide, spending on STEM education per student is about $50, while spending on civic education per student about $0.05. Fifty dollars versus five cents," Vaughn said. Modeling civic behavior for students While Texas is among the states with formalized civics education, more can be done to increase civic engagement and participation and is as simple as modeling behavior for

children and youth. As students form their own opinions and feel more comfortable expressing themselves, it is important that parents show students how to express their opinions in healthy ways, says Olainu-Alade. Parents can teach students the difference between types of civic speech and what speech is appropriate in specific circumstances. In addition, parents can engage with their children in conversations about American history, civic processes and current events. "Parents should not only discuss their political point of view but allow their students to explore a variety of viewpoints,” she says. "These are only lessons parents can teach." For Vaughn, parents are a child's best model for social connectedness, beginning with increased neighborliness, including talking to neighbors and exchanging favors like watering plants or walking someone's pet. She says parents help them build trust and find ways to contribute to their neighborhood and community. Another way is to find volunteer opportunities closely aligned to a child's interests, such as spending time in a community garden with a youth concerned about food insecurity and ending hunger. Both argue that one of the best ways to model civic engagement is to take children to the polls when parents vote. They not only see the process in action, but it demystifies the practice for them when they become eligible voters. "When they see the routine regularly, they will be less intimidated by the process and encouraged by you prioritizing the civic task," Vaughn says. Teaching civics helps to increase students' engagement as young adults, whether done formally or informally and with increased media usage, this educational component is more important. Learning to contribute to their local communities prepares students for success, not only in their chosen career or dream path but for life. It is the responsibility of all adults to equip students with the tools they need to participate in American civic life.

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


by Andy Welch

EduLege Extra Some of the timely issues that have been addressed in recent editions of EduLege Red meat is good for the political diet… The Texas Legislature has convened for a 30-day special session, and Governor Abbott — who will seek a third term in 2022 — has instructed legislators to tackle a “red meat” agenda that is designed to appeal to his conservative political base and infuriate Democrats. The 11 issues that the governor directed legislators to address include such conservative-pleasing measures as tighter election laws, border security, Critical Race Theory and abortion regulations. The governor also asked legislators to pass another hot-button issue from the regular session — banning transgender girls from competing in girls’ sports in Texas public schools. Republican supporters of the ban said it would ensure competitive fairness and promote safety, while opponents called it an unnecessary attack on a vulnerable population that deserves access to the benefits of sports like any other student. Abbott also asked legislators again to try on a measure he vetoed after the regular session adjourned — Senate Bill 1109, which required that Texas middle schools and high schools provide instruction on preventing child abuse, family violence and dating violence. The governor said he vetoed SB 1109 because parents did not have the ability to opt their children out of the instruction. Also on the governor’s agenda is adding a 13th check as a one-time payment for retired Texas teachers and other former school employees. According to the Texas Retired Teachers Association, there has not been a cost of living increase since 2013 when one was provided for members who retired before 2004. For everyone else, no COLA was granted, meaning members who have been retired for 17 years have yet to benefit from an adjustment. Most of Governor Abbott's special session agenda failed to pass during the regular session that ended on May 31 — some because of Democratic delaying tactics, and others because Republicans could not agree on a particular course. "We have unfinished business to ensure that Texas remains the most exceptional state in America," the governor said on the eve of the special session. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, accused Abbott of loading the special session with issues designed to shore up his Republican support, as he already faces two ultra-conservative challengers in the 2022 GOP Primary election. "This list isn't good government, but rather Texans being held hostage for the sake of Republican primary politics,"


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Representative Rodrigues said. "Where are the essential reforms to our power grid or Medicaid expansion?" The Texas governor is the only official with the power to call a special session and set its agenda. Governor Abbott’s long-awaited to-do list for legislators also includes: • Limit bail options for those who are accused of violent or sexual offenses. • Tackle complaints that social media companies are censoring conservatives. • Appropriate money for property-tax relief. • Address cybersecurity threats. • Attract private providers to the state’s overwhelmed fostercare system. • Limit the availability of abortion-inducing drugs to the first seven weeks of pregnancy, instead of 10 weeks as allowed under federal guidelines. • Provide money to "support law enforcement agencies, counties and other strategies as part of Texas’ comprehensive border security plan." • Restore funding for the Legislature and affiliated agencies that Abbott vetoed in retaliation for the Democrats blocking the passage of tougher voting requirements. This is the second special session that Governor Abbott has convened since taking office in 2015. Abbott has already promised to call another special session in the fall for legislators to deal with redistricting and the allocation of billions of federal dollars for local pandemic relief and recovery efforts. CRT is short for ‘buzzwords’… A conservative Austin think tank and lobby group recently released a list of words and phrases that is says are associated with Critical Race Theory, saying that it wanted to alert parents that CRT might be taught in their child’s classroom. In a tweet that was subsequently deleted, the Texas Public Policy Foundation warned of the things to look for if they are worried about disagreeable historical content in public school courses in Texas. The list of so-called buzzwords includes: “systemic racism,” “white privilege/supremacy,” “colonialism,” “social justice,” “Black Lives Matter,” “inequity,” “unconscious bias” and “microaggressions” among others. It should be noted these terms are not unique to what is considered CRT but are widely used in various contexts when discussing race and equity. A now-deleted tweet by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. CRT has become a major focus of social conservatives recently, much as the false attacks were a decade ago against the Common Core classroom curriculum. According to the Washington Post, CRT dates back to the 1970s and is aimed at addressing injustices in how the legal system has historically treated people of color. The Legislature, in regular session, passed House Bill 3979 — legislation that restricts the extent to which classroom teachers can engage students on current events, especially as they

pertain to race and social justice. But Governor Abbott says HB 3979 does not specifically ban Critical Race Theory from Texas classrooms, and he now wants legislators to do so in special session. Coming soon to a school board meeting near you… Chants of “No CRT!” rang out at a recent meeting of the Fort Worth School Board, only to be countered by others in the audience shouting, “Stop whitewashing history!” Parents, pastors, teachers and recent Fort Worth graduates packed a routine school board meeting that became one of the first major conflicts since Governor Abbott signed HB 3979 into law. Still, many in attendance decried CRT, although they had difficulty articulating exactly what it refers to. Others, however, implored trustees to push for honest conversations about America’s often painful past and present. “Keep steadfast on this racial equity work,” parent Martina Van Norden urged trustees. While one Fort Worth community member held a sign that reads “Erasing history is white supremacy,” another individual holds a poster that reads “Stop Critical Race Theory.” Some parents urged Fort Worth Trustees not to abandon the district’s current initiatives to achieve broader diversity and inclusion, anti-racism training or its multicultural curricula because of the bruhaha over Critical Race Theory. They threatened to leave the district if it abandons those programs. Team building 101… If Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan are not able to curtail the harsh words and soothe the bruised egos that erupted when the regular legislative session adjourned in May, then the special session could quickly dissolve into a political meltdown — among the state’s three top Republican leaders. Since House Democrats staged the walkout that killed the Republicans’ priority elections bill, the Governor and the presiding leaders of the State Senate and the Texas House have diverged notably about how they are planning for the special session. Notably, the three Republican leaders are displaying tensions over how to approach the elections bill that Governor Abbott wants to be passed in the special session. Leadership tensions exist among Lieutenant Governor Patrick, Governor Abbott, and Speaker Phelan. Abbott hopes that state legislators “understand the need for speed,” when it comes to enacting election controls. The governor says that he is “satisfied” with the election bill that died in the House when Democrats broke the chamber’s quorum. Patrick vowed that Senate Republicans are “not gonna soften the bill.”

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continued from Page 19 Speaker Phelan, however, says that he would prefer to break the comprehensive election law overhaul into smaller pieces. A more piecemeal approach, Speaker Phelan said, could help members “feel more comfortable about what’s in each piece of legislation and give everyone a better opportunity to vet the ideas.” Omnibus bills, he said, can sometimes “become just too weighty.” Whatever the election legislation looks like in the House during a special session, Patrick says Speaker Phelan needs to take a harder line against Democrats. But Speaker Phelan told the Texas Tribune recently that he is “not going to lock the doors and arrest people, even though I have that ability.” Democrats say Speaker Phelan should continue to recognize his role is unique from that of the governor and the lieutenant governor, both of whom are elected statewide. The House Speaker is elected by a majority of the 150-member House. “The most important thing Dade can do is to remember he’s not elected by Republican primary voters across the state,” said State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio, one of the Democrats who walked out. “He’s elected by House Democrats and Republicans.” Remote instruction equals lower student proficiency… Texas elementary school students — especially those who are economically disadvantaged and those who learned virtually rather than in the classroom — fell dramatically behind in Math during the COVID-19 pandemic, dipping to the worst proficiency levels in six years. While economically disadvantaged students fared worse than their peers, the largest decline was seen in Texas school districts with higher percentages of students who learned virtually. “This means probably 800,000 or more students fell below in Math than usual,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said. “It is important to remember that these are not numbers, these are children.” The number of students in grades 3 through 8 who did not meet state standards in Math increased from 21 percent in 2019 to 37 percent in 2021, results from the 2021 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness show. The STAAR tests were not administered in 2020 because of the pandemic. As national trends also suggest, there was little negative impact in English test scores of Texas students at all grade levels. Math proficiency was impacted the most among core subjects because, unlike literacy and language skills, students are less likely to learn math skills outside of the classroom. “Where there was (cq) very significant rates of remote instruction, we saw the most significant declines in student proficiency,” Commissioner Morath said. Districts with less than a quarter of students learning in person for most of the year sustained greater learning loss, according to


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an analysis by the Texas Education Agency. The results are not surprising, said Cathy Horn, chair of the University of Houston’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. “When we think about a really technical subject area like mathematics, the opportunities to interact and to ask questions are not as readily available in virtual learning,” Dr. Horn told the Houston Chronicle. Peer-to-peer learning interactions, which greatly help some students master math, also became more elusive during COVID-19, Dr. Horn said. More federal funding is on the way… With many Texas students struggling academically and emotionally because of the pandemic, more federal financial help will soon be on the way. Texas will receive another $4.1 billion in federal stimulus money to address the post-pandemic needs of public school students. The funding comes as the U.S. Department of Education announced that it has approved Texas’ plans for spending the $12.4 billion in student recovery funds that have already been allocated to the state. While some of the money will be spent on improving academics, the funding also aims to address student inequities that were worsened by the pandemic, as well as kids’ social and emotional needs. The Texas Education Agency estimates that students in the state lost an average of 5.7 months of learning last school year. Meeting student and staff mental health needs, expanded tutoring, providing high-quality instructional materials and jobembedded learning are included in the plan. “The approval of these plans enables states to receive vital, additional American Rescue Plan funds to quickly and safely reopen schools for full-time, in-person learning; meet students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs; and address disparities in access to educational opportunity that was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a news release. The DOE distributed $81 billion nationally earlier this year, which accounted for two-thirds of the American Rescue Plan’s emergency relief funding for K-12 schools. The remaining funding will be distributed to states as their plans are approved. Texas received $8.3 billion in late March. Virtually ignored… Despite pleas from dozens of Texas school districts, Governor Abbott has thus far shown no interest in adding to his special session agenda legislation that would allow them to operate — and receive state funding for — virtual learning programs. The bill that would have ensured that Texas school districts receive funding for each student who is enrolled in online-only classes died after House Democrats broke quorum to kill the controversial voter control bill. The virtual learning bill was expected to pass until the House was forced to adjourn for lack of a quorum.

The signatories of one letter to the governor — which includes the Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio school districts — note that virtually all Texas districts have been forced to scrap their plans for virtual learning this upcoming school year after the bill died. There is no statutory framework authorizing remote instruction without the legislation, according to the Texas Education Agency. Education Commissioner Mike Morath used disaster authority for the 2020-2021 school year to okay funding for remote instruction, but he says that authority cannot be used for the new school year. “There are thousands of students across the state of Texas who thrive in a virtual environment, and we have an obligation to ensure that they receive the best education possible by providing them with the choice to receive their learning virtually,” the letter reads. “We have an opportunity to expand public school choice for families, and meet our students where they are, instead of letting them fall through the cracks of a system that was not built for them.” ‘May I not see a passport, please…’ Governor Abbott has banned state agencies and other taxpayerfunded entities — and that includes school districts — from requiring so-called “vaccine passports,” joining a growing number of Republican leaders who have pushed back on the idea of showing proof of vaccination. "The government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives," Governor Abbott said in a video. “We will continue to vaccinate more Texans and protect public health, and we will do so without treading on Texans' personal freedom.” The Governor’s Executive Order does not affect private businesses that require a vaccine passport system for customers, although the proclamation applies to private entities that receive state funds “through any means,” including grants, contracts, loans, or other disbursements of taxpayer money. “No consumer may be denied entry to a facility financed in whole or in part by public funds for failure to provide documentation regarding the consumer's vaccination status,” the order reads. Vaccine passports or credentials have gained momentum among private companies as a way to ask for proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Other countries are working to create their passports for travel. But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says that there will not be any federal mandate to require every American to obtain a vaccine passport. The warning signs are there… Students who made plans to attack schools — but were thwarted before carrying out their plans — demonstrated the same types of troubled histories as those who carried them out. They were badly bullied, often suffered from depression with stress at home and exhibited behavior that worried others.

Those conclusions are contained in a study released by the U.S. Secret Service that examined 67 thwarted school plots nationwide. The study by the Secret Service's National Threat Assessment Center is a follow-up to an earlier report on school shootings. The center analyzed 100 students responsible for plotting 67 attacks nationwide from 2006-2018 in K-12 schools. "The findings demonstrate there are almost always intervention points available before a student resorts to violence," said Dr. Lina Alathari, the center's director. All of the plots that were studied were serious planned attacks, and the plotters took at least some initial steps toward carrying them out. The informants who brought the plots to the attention of authorities likely saved lives. Many of the contemplated school attacks were planned for April when the Columbine shootings occurred. Most of the schools targeted were public high schools, with 37 percent in suburban areas and 14 percent in cities. The plotters were overwhelmingly male; five were female. Most were motivated by grievances against them, usually peers and bullying. Many were suicidal or had depression. Eight expressed a desire for fame or notoriety. More than half had been impacted by adverse childhood experiences like substance abuse at home or parental mental health issues, and many had intended to kill themselves as part of the attack and used drugs and alcohol. In 75 percent of the attacks, the plotters had access to weapons, mostly from inside their own homes, and more than half had already acquired weapons. Some had assembled homemade explosives. More than half documented their plans through a to-do list or some kind of written justification for their actions. Nine plotters displayed an interest in Adolf Hitler, Nazism or white supremacy. But most importantly, the researchers said, about 94 percent talked about their attacks and what they intended to do in some way, whether orally or electronically, and 75 percent were detected because the plotters talked about them. About 36 percent were thwarted within two days of their intended attacks.

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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Process for Choosing Conference Sessions by Tracie Seed TSPRA Communications & Marketing Manager

Each year, TSPRA’s president appoints a 15-member Conference Planning Committee to help with conference planning and execution.

TSPRA standing rules identify the TSPRA Conference Committee as a standing committee and give the president guidance to appointing committee members along with creating the conference theme. Conference planning begins 10 months before the February conference. About half of this committee serves by virtue of the job. These include the president-elect, immediate past president and three at-large vice presidents. The co-chair is usually a member within proximity of the conference locale. The remaining appointments are intended to ensure that representation of TSPRA's diverse job responsibilities is included in the design and planning of the annual conference. One of the duties of the committee is to slate all the educational sessions. TSPRA state office staff serves to support the committee’s process, while the selection of sessions rests solely upon the committee. Here is an overview of the process: • The state office issues a call for sessions, typically beginning in September. On the submission form, submitters choose if they are open to change the type of session. For example, a member may submit a breakout session but be offered a roundtable session instead, or vice versa. • The sessions are organized in the order they are received and by type (breakout, roundtable, vendor). • The conference committee meets, typically in November, to slate the programming as well as alternatives. It is typical for the committee to have more than 80 proposals to consider for about 40 slots. • Fun fact! During this meeting, they also sample food options and select the break and meal menus. • Selected presenters are contacted in December and asked to confirm their acceptance and make any edits for the program. Once this process is complete, all those who submitted are contacted. This process is completed before winter break.

IMPORTANT DATES Submit proposals Sept. 8 – Oct. 25, 2021. The Conference Planning Committee meets Nov. 4, 2021. The process will be completed no later than Dec. 16, 2021. TSPRA Annual Conference held Feb. 21 – 24, 2022. Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Each year, TSPRA members eagerly submit their projects to the prestigious Star Awards. This year is no different! TSPRA’s annual Star Awards provide recognition for the outstanding education communications and projects of our members. Professional, independent, impartial judges evaluate each work and project based on set criteria. They provide commentary as they award Gold, Silver and Bronze Star Awards, as well as Best of Category, Crystal and Platinum Certificates of Merit, Crystal Commendations and the Platinum Award for an all-encompassing, year-long communications project. None of the entries are judged, commented on or awarded by TSPRA staff or members. This year, Star Award submissions open on September 20, 2021, at noon, and the due date is November 1, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. Each year, programs manager Janet Crock, receives a lot of questions. Here are some of the most frequently asked. If you have a question not answered here, contact Janet at janet@tspra.org.


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Where should I enter my COVID-19 materials? Star Award categories are not based on entries’ subject matter. Categories are based on the type of product that they are – flyers, ads, photos, videos, social media, campaigns, etc. Find the category that best fits the criteria for entry and enter your COVID-19 materials there. If you are looking to enter a whole body of COVID-19-related work, we do not have a single category for that. Your materials may fit Social Media Campaigns, Marketing Campaigns, Special Events like safe graduation ceremonies, food distributions, etc. What if I’m not sure what category to enter my piece? If you can’t decide on what category to enter your work, contact Janet Crock in the state office at janet@tspra.org. When she selects a category for your entry, she will notify the judge of this decision. Also, make a comment on your entry stating that you were told to enter your work in that category by Janet Crock. The judge will honor that decision and not move your entry to a different category. If you choose a category on your own and the judge thinks it fits a different category, the judge may move the entry to a different category. May I enter more than once in the same category? You may enter as many different pieces as you wish in the same category. Each entry will be assessed a separate entry fee. The only exceptions to this rule are newsletters and magazines where multiple issues may be entered together and judged as one entry. May I enter the same piece in several categories? If the entry meets the criteria for more than

one category, then yes, you may enter it in different categories. The exception to this rule is in the writing categories. You may not submit the same written article in more than one writing category. May I enter a piece that I entered last year? Normally no, unless you have made significant changes to the work. The rules state that the work must be produced and used by an educational institution (district, association, foundation, university, education service center, etc.) between July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. If you produced, used and entered it in the 2020 Star Awards, it would not qualify under this rule. But if the work could not be evaluated because it was not completed during that time frame, for example, a bond election, event, etc., then it was not eligible last year. You may enter it now after you have evaluated its success. Calendars are another exception since they are often created before they are used. Also, any work that earned a Best of Category the previous year may not be entered the following year. I have an entry that doesn’t fit any category. What should I do? If your work truly does not fit any category, then it cannot be entered this year. But please put in a request for TSPRA to consider a new category for next year’s Star Awards. Each year, Star Award Review Committees are formed and they will consider your request. Who are the judges? Star Award judges’ names are always kept secret. They are communication professionals with credentials and experience in many fields. Judges are told that if they have worked with a person or organization whose work they are asked to judge, they must recuse themselves and the entry will be reassigned to a different judge. continued on Page 26 Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


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What proof of copyright do I need? For now, you only need to check a box that says you followed the copyright laws. However, if a judge looks at your work and questions that statement, the state office will ask for more documentation. If you cannot provide it, the entry will be disqualified. Remember that most of these laws that allow use by schools stipulate that it is for classroom use. Once you enter it in Star Awards where it will be seen by others to earn awards, you are no longer covered by those protections.

I just started working for my district. May I enter work my predecessor did before I started? Technically the work that someone does for an organization while employed by them is owned by that organization. So, you should ask your supervisor/superintendent if they are comfortable with you entering work that you did not create. You should also consider if your predecessor is still a TSPRA member. They may not think it is ethical for you to take credit for their work.

What are my chances of winning an award? Since most people enter their best work, many entries win an award – Gold, Silver and Bronze Stars. But only one Best of Category is awarded in each category division. Since the number of entries per category and/or division varies each year, there is no way to predict your odds of winning a Best of Category award. As for the Crystal and Platinum Awards, only one is awarded per category. But the judges may award as many Certificates of Merit for other entries as they wish.

People who are not TSPRA members worked on my entry. Why can’t they be listed on the entry and awards? Star Awards is a way to recognize the work of TSPRA members and only member names may go on the award. However, if you work in a district/organization with three or more members, you may have the award listed as a department such as AISD Communications, DISD TV, GISD Print Shop, etc. Names of nonmembers will be removed if listed on an entry. After the awards are announced, you may purchase duplicate/custom award certificates that may have any names you want on them. These can be ordered for your printers and other nonmembers.

IMPORTANT CONFERENCE DATES • • • • • • • • • • • • • 26

Hotel reservations open: July 21, 2021 Conference scholarship applications available: Oct. 1, 2021 Conference registration opens: Oct. 4, 2021 Proposals to present: Sept. 8-Oct. 25, 2021 Star Awards entries open: Sept. 20, 2021, noon Deadline to submit entries for Star Awards: Nov. 1, 2021, 11:59 p.m. Nominations for TSPRA professional awards available: Nov. 1, 2021 Conference Planning Committee meeting: Nov. 4, 2021 Deadline to apply for conference scholarship: Nov. 19, 2021 Deadline to submit nominations for professional awards: Dec. 15, 2021 Late fees registration begins: Jan. 24, 2022 No registration refunds begins; substitutions allowed: Jan. 24, 2022 Last day to make hotel reservations at conference rate: Feb. 7, 2022

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2020 Annual Conference Scholarship Winner by Rebecca King Director of Communications & Digital Learning Rockdale ISD

The month before our district shut down in-person learning for the COVID-19 pandemic, I was appointed the additional role as the first communications director for Rockdale ISD. Besides managing the district's social media, website and notification system, I had no formal training in communications. Hitting the ground running, I was looking everywhere for resources when I came across TSPRA. I joined as soon as I could and put a reminder on my calendar to register for the 2021Conference, hearing I wouldn’t want to miss it. I never expected to be awarded the scholarship when I applied and was very surprised when I received the call. One of the perks the scholarship offers is a pre-conference workshop, which, for me, was the Rookie Boot Camp. Meeting other newbies and being assigned a mentor was a great way to start the conference. Each session I attended included very useful information for my new position and even though the conference was much smaller than normal this year, I was able to make valuable connections that have already proved beneficial. It was a relief finding other one-person offices to connect with at the conference and a dedicated session. From the quality of the sessions, the well-organized schedule, the food and the entertainment, this was one of the best educational conferences I have attended. This organization is everything I heard it would be because of the people. The amazing generosity of this community is never-ending. In addition to this incredible conference, being a recipient of this scholarship also allowed me to reallocate my original conference budget from my district to purchase supplies and camera equipment I learned about while at the conference and that otherwise could not have been purchased until future budget years. Thank you to TSPRA for taking great care of their scholarship recipients and hosting a great conference even during a pandemic; everything was top-notch.

Submit scholarship applications for 2022 Annual Conference Oct. 1 - Nov. 19, 2021 Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Six New Districts Join th students at close to 400 schools and employ 36,000 faculty and staff.


nspired by his mother, Charles Butt, chairman of H-E-B, has directed much of his personal and corporate giving toward education, developing initiatives such as the annual H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards, the H-E-B Read 3 early literacy program and Raise Your Hand Texas, an advocacy organization focused on public policies that support and improve our public schools. Founded in 2017 by Butt and named after his mother, a former schoolteacher and lifelong advocate for social justice, The Holdsworth Center focuses on strengthening the leaders who serve educators and students. In April 2021, The Holdsworth Partnership announced its third group of six districts to join them: Cedar Hill, Dallas and Garland ISDs in North Texas, Laredo ISD, Victoria ISD and East Central ISD in San Antonio. The partnership is a five-year strategic program that will help the districts grow their own bench of strong, skilled leaders who create conditions in which teachers thrive and scholars get the tools they need to succeed. All programming and support are covered at no cost through The Holdsworth Center. “Our ability as a state to recover from the impact of a global pandemic will depend on the skillful leadership of teachers, principals and district leaders serving Texas’ 5.5 million students,” said Dr. Lindsay Whorton, president of The Holdsworth Center. “We recognize the urgency of this moment and are honored to play a role.” Collectively, these districts serve nearly 265,000


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Demand for leadership development is strong The six districts were chosen from a pool of 43 applicants, a 130 percent increase from the last application period in 2019. The selection marks the latest expansion of The Holdsworth Partnership that is now serving 19 school districts in Texas. By 2028, the partnership is expected to reach more than 4,500 educators, including teacher leaders, assistant principals, principals and central office administrators. With the opening of Campus on Lake Austin this summer – a permanent home for the organization’s staff and programs – Holdsworth hopes to expand program offerings and host events that will reach even more educators across Texas. Investing deeply in people All programming and support, valued at $6 million per district over five years, is covered at no cost through the continued generosity of the founder, Butt, and other philanthropic supporters. The programming will include: • Embedding Holdsworth District Support Team staff in each district for five years to help central office leaders design, implement and sustain their own leadership development systems; • Delivering two-year District and Campus Leadership Programs for multiple groups of central office and campus leadership teams; and Providing districts with robust tools to measure district-wide culture and staff engagement and better understand students’ social-emotional learning.

he Holdsworth Partnership “We don’t believe there are any quick fixes in education,” Lindsay said. “Investing deeply in the skill and capacity of the people working in our schools is the only way we will see true transformation. This five-year partnership will help leaders expand their view of what’s possible for their district, create a vision for change and drive the innovations needed to deliver on the promise of excellence and equity for all students.” Why leadership? The choice to focus on leadership is strategic. Decades of research show that effective principals can significantly impact student outcomes by adding around three more months of learning in math and reading during a single school year. Because principals influence the working conditions and skill level of every teacher in the building, their impact is outsized.

and school level. Around 96 percent of leaders say they developed new beneficial behaviors and mindsets as a result of Holdsworth; 97 percent agree that Holdsworth has been influential in increasing their focus on achieving excellent and equitable outcomes for students. “COVID has tested every structure in public education and fundamentally, our culture,” said Dr. Marcelo Cavazos, superintendent of Arlington ISD, one of the first districts accepted into the partnership in 2017. “What we learned through Holdsworth about how to communicate with transparency, to take input from staff and to value people in our district – it has paid dividends.”

Over the five-year partnership, districts work towards ensuring every school is served by an excellent principal with a goal of building a strong bench of candidates for each principal vacancy. Spotting and growing outstanding leaders from the classroom to the superintendent’s office is complex work that requires: • Communicating a shared vision of what great leadership should look like; • Creating a positive, caring learning environment for students and staff; and • Building new systems and structures to ensure aspiring leaders are being identified early and given opportunities to truly prepare for the next step in their career. Investing in people pays off Holdsworth leaders have shown incredible growth as individuals and achieved big gains at the system

Laredo ISD Superintendent Dr. Sylvia G. Rios announcing the district’s award. Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Women of the C-suite: Veronica V. Sopher of the Texas Schools Public Relations Association on

s g n i h T e v i F The e S a s a d e e c c Su by Candice Georgiadis Originally published on April 25, 2021, in Authority Magazine


hank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this career path?

In high school, I tapped into my natural skill as a storyteller and thought law school would be my path. When I got to college, I found my tribe in the journalism department, and before I knew it, I was accepting internships in the public relations space. I felt like I had found my purpose. While I did enjoy journalism and had a passion for the legal system, public relations kept calling me and I knew that I could use my skills as a storyteller to craft messages. Once I graduated I did a stint in hospitality, finance and public health care. I learned and grew from each experience and landed in the education space. As a firm believer that education is the great equalizer, I found great joy and fulfillment in working in this space. I have loved every minute of the last 18 years in education. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? As a government public servant, so much of our work is public record and transparency is key to maintaining trust with stakeholders. One of the most interesting things that happened in my career was the discovery of 95 unmarked graves at the construction site of one of our schools. It was determined that the graves held the remains of 95 Black victims of the state-sanctioned convict leasing system, which was in effect following the abolishment of slavery. The discovery became known as the Sugar Land 95 and has proven to be one of the most profound projects I have ever been a part of. Because of the discovery, we know more about the harsh conditions in which these prisoners lived and how they died. Our team helped update laws in our state that made convict leasing a part of the state’s revised curriculum. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that? One of the funniest mistakes I’ve made, although it wasn’t funny at the time, was when I had a public notice placed in the local newspaper that indicated the proposed tax rate was going to be increased significantly more than


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o t d e e N u o Y s e v i t u c e x E r o i en intended. One decimal place makes a huge difference when it comes to property taxes. After many tears and apologies, I reran the public notice with the corrected proposed tax rate, and I learned to always triple-check an uploaded file.

When I update a file, I rename it with the time and date, so I know which one was the latest. While I know that learning comes from failures, that is one I hope to never repeat. None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Zoom or walking into a board room. Other times, I can step outside and walk around my office building and enjoy the sunshine and swaying trees. Focusing my attention on nature helps me to reconnect to my rhythm and be ready to take on any conversation. It also helps to keep the creative juices flowing. You can see more clearly when you have removed any blocks, whether consciously or unconsciously. As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

I am most grateful to my first superintendent who took a chance in hiring me to lead a very large organization’s communications department at the young age of 28. I was experienced and I knew I was skilled as a spokesperson, but I had not led such a large team. He saw a leader in me, and he guided me and challenged me to step up as a leader and not stop learning no matter what. Because of his support, I continued to thrive in my field and experienced many high-profile crises that firmed up my media relations skills. I am forever grateful for his confidence he had in me and remind myself to extend the same confidence in my younger staff. In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high-stakes meeting, talk or decision? Can you share a story or some examples? I have learned the art of getting grounded. I wasn’t sure what it meant for a long time, but after several high-stress crises and years of balancing work and motherhood, I knew I needed a tool to help me. Sometimes getting grounded means breathing exercises before hopping on a Continued on Page 32 Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Continued from Page 31 As a member of the executive team, I must offer insight that helps the CEO, or in my space, the superintendent, and that each of us steps up. We share our personal experiences, feedback from our teams, insight from all internal and external stakeholders, and we do all of this through our filters. We each have one and it can be one of the most important aspects that makes an effective executive team. Being a Latina and a woman gives me a perspective that is different from some of my colleagues, and theirs from mine. This rich diversity makes our team stronger and more agile as we pivot through the challenges we face. As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each. Be inviting — When I am looking to recruit new members for my team, I often extend invitations to skilled experts who may not be looking for a new opportunity, because I know they have a perspective that might be missing from my team. I have been pleased with this approach because my team has grown stronger and more diverse and highly recommend you don’t leave it to job seekers to fill your pool of applicants.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to understand how your team members feel and how the culture is impacted by change.

Celebrate diversity — One of the initiatives I enjoy the most in the organizations I’ve been in is celebrating the rich cultures, sounds and tastes of those from other countries. Food and music are often the great uniters as we learn from each other. Our team loves to host potlucks and bring homemade meals that celebrate who we are and the culture we come from. If you aren’t doing this, I highly recommend you start. Ask for feedback — You must have data and know how people are feeling in your organization. As a leader, it is your responsibility to understand how your team members feel and how the culture is impacted by change. Don’t be afraid to gauge how people feel; it can show you the path to find a way out. I welcome survey responses because it’s a great way to determine how different groups of people feel. Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a 32

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CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders? Trust. That is the thing that we have to do most often and do well. We must trust our staff, the talents of our teams, the processes we have established and the managers we have hired to make sure the organization is operating efficiently and effectively. As an executive, we also must trust ourselves that we have led well and won’t have to take over a project. What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean? One myth I think some people may have about being an executive is that there is a sense of “having made it.” While, yes, there is a sense of pride when you do get an opportunity to serve on the executive team, there is also a sense of needing to continue to grow. We all must learn and grow no matter what our titles are or where our offices are. Being a lifelong learner is key to developing leadership skills and it is never done. Thankfully. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? I think balancing motherhood and the C-suite is more challenging when you have a newborn. The toll that pregnancy can have on your body, mental health and overall stamina is different for every woman, but I venture to say that it isn’t as challenging for your fathers. Yes, they get up in the middle of the night and share in many of the physical responsibilities, but when a baby is still nursing, there are some things a father just can’t do the same way. I think those were the most challenging times in my career, balancing newborns and the high-stress responsibilities of the C-suite. What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be? My actual job is much more rewarding than I thought it would be. I find great pride when I can collaborate with my fellow C-suite colleagues, and we make an impact on the lives of those we serve. Being able to see the organization grow and support our students to be the best versions of themselves, is exceptionally rewarding. Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean? Being able to own your mistakes and take responsibility for

something you have done or not done is key to your success as an executive. We’ve all heard the saying, “the buck stops here,” and as an executive, it does. You must be open to feedback, open to criticism and open to having crucial conversations. If this is something you are not comfortable with, then being an executive may not be the easiest job for you. What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive? My advice is to always do your team members the favor of being honest. Give them honest feedback, suggestions for improvements and guidance. Do not let opportunities for their growth pass you by. As a leader, they rely on you to help them grow in their skill and talents. Be kind but be straight and direct. They will appreciate your leadership. How have you used your success to make the world a better place? I believe passionately about several causes, such as mental health awareness, leadership for young girls and education. I always offer to share my skills as a media relations expert to help with the publicity of a charity, non-profit or event that supports these causes. I hope that any interviews I secured to spread the message of the organization make the world a better place. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.) Don’t be afraid to fail — For so many years I was afraid to fail, and it caused way more stress than necessary. Now, I know that failures are where the biggest growth happens. Instead of avoiding crucial conversations, I now welcome them. This truly is where the magic happens. Time will go by fast — When cranking out work, I would often forget to stop and be in the moment to appreciate what was going on. I would go, go and go and sometimes weeks would go by without my realizing it. Now, I make it a point to journal and be reflective of my experiences. Slowing down has helped me be a stronger leader.

You are a person of great It is not about the money — Well, it is not always about the money. It is okay to take a position that pays less if it is going influence. to help you grow in your field and give you more experience that will enrich your prospects in the future. Take care of yourself — Do not let this one slip you by. Being able to manage your self-care is something you can

learn and get support with if it does not come naturally to you. The only way to give your best is to be at your best. Self-care was something I had to learn, and with the help of some friends, coaches and experts, I have developed a plan and accountability protocols that help me stick to it. Tomorrow is a new day — It sounds obvious, but when I was a young executive and I made a mistake or was upset about something not going the way I wanted to, I truly had moments when the blame, frustration and shame were unbearable. I wish someone would have told me to remember that tomorrow is a new day, and I would look back at the situation with an appreciation for what I needed to learn. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. Mental health support for our youth is in dire need of funding, expertise and awareness from every single member of our community. Our youth are growing up in a way that is unimaginable to so many of us and their brains are not developed enough to always process the information, the emotions and the sensory overload that consumes them. I would love to see more resources available for families and young people struggling to get help. If I can help anyone in creating more awareness, my door is always open. Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? “Jump and find your wings on your way down.” This has been the most impactful quote I’ve heard. It spoke to me and helped me to see that I was worth taking risks on. I was worth going for it, worth fighting for, worth speaking up for. When I am at a crossroads in my life, this quote often pops back into my mind, and it helps guide me in making my decisions. We are very blessed that some very prominent names in business, VC funding, sports and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the U.S. with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch and why? I would love to meet Kendra Scott, the founder of Kendra Scott. Her amazing story of launching her business is a true inspiration to me, and I appreciate the amazing commitment her company has made to the communities they are in. Every time I wear a Kendra Scott piece, I appreciate their company’s values and want to learn more from Kendra Scott herself on how to grow an enterprise.

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Effectively Integrating Communications and Marketing in School Districts by Stephanie De Los Santos Director of Client Engagement Harris County Department of Education TSPRA Vice President At-large Position 2 Originally printed in TASA’s INSIGHT magazine


one are the days for school district communications departments to focus solely on communications. Today, more and more communications personnel are being asked to integrate marketing into standard communication plans/operations. The challenge with this is that many leaders are unaware of a significant difference between the functions of marketing versus the role of communications.

Research and years of experience in the industry indicate that there is a clear distinction between the two areas of expertise. Although both areas have many similarities in how they operate, it’s important to understand that they each contribute in a different yet profitable way, resulting in success for school districts. A brief explanation of both marketing and communications, as they relate to the education field, will provide clarity in understanding the individual roles of each. Communications vs. Marketing Communications revolve around relationships with an emphasis on public relations and crisis communications. Communications team members not only handle all media crisis situations within the district, but they also engage the community by sharing important information and telling positive stories about what is happening districtwide. Marketing, on the other hand, primarily focuses on a call to action with an emphasis on establishing strategies to promote the school district through branding and identity. The diagram in Figure 1 demonstrates an overview of how internal and external communications can integrate with marketing in order to effectively meet the designated target audience(s) of a school district. Also listed in the diagram are tactics that can be used to foster the call to action (CTA), which produces an outcome, as well as promotes relationships, which establishes engagement within the community and with the media. Although some tactics, such as storytelling and press releases, are geared more toward communications, others such as e-blasts and advertising are integral to marketing. However, one important thing to remember is that tactics are interchangeable between both communications and marketing as they are essential in achieving specific goals. Specific goals are established through a sevenstep process that either result in relationships (communications) or outcomes (marketing).

Fig. 1

As noted in Figure 2, the process in establishing specific goals for communications and marketing are almost identical. Both areas begin with a focus on gathering information and research. However, marketing goes one step further by analyzing the information gathered to determine whether or not it will be useful information for the desired outcome. Steps 2 and 3 differ in that the role of communications is to tell a story with a purpose in mind while the marketing 34

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Fig. 2

focus is to develop a CTA to establish the desired outcome. Telling a story captivates the audience by tugging at the heartstrings. Every school district has a story to tell, and people love to hear those stories. The purpose behind sharing stories is to establish relationships with the community (parents, students, business partners, school staff, local legislators, etc.) According to an online article by Templar Advisors, “Why Storytelling is Essential to Effective Communication,” the best communicators are the ones who can relate to their target audience(s) on a personal level through storytelling. “Master this skill, and you will be well on your way to becoming an effective communicator,” the article states. Rather than focusing on telling a story, a greater emphasis is placed on the CTA when it comes to marketing. This is done in an effort to persuade target audiences to act on the information being conveyed to them. For example, the desired action may be to get people to register for an event, sign up for or buy something. The goal is to always increase the number of people who are reached as well as the number of people who respond. The following are other examples of CTAs used in advertisements and/or e-blasts that are devised to produce the desired outcome: • become a vendor; • join our reading club; • apply for credentials online and • make a difference and donate. Even with the differences between Steps 2 and 3, the integration of marketing and communications is essential in identifying targeted audiences and establishing key messages (Steps 4 and 5). It is important for a school district to know its target audiences, which typically consist of the various members of the community as mentioned above. The key messages are crucial in the success of communications and marketing as they either use a narrative or action words to boost community engagement.

The final two steps focus on the implementation of tactics and evaluation. Tactics, which include various ways (like social media, website, newsletters, etc.) to convey key messages, are designed to either engage and converse or to cause action and create an outcome. In both communications and marketing, tactics are the strategic tools that are used to help in achieving the goals and objectives for the district. Evaluation is the final step in effectively integrating communications and marketing to cultivate success. Evaluation through communications is evident through behavioral change. When the community is adequately engaged through effective and positive communication, the morale is uplifted. This behavioral change conveys success and indicates that the district fulfilled its purpose in reaching the community through effective communication. On the other hand, evaluation in marketing is dependent on analytics to demonstrate the success of a school district engaging with its target audiences. Analytics is simply the aggregated data indicating progress in specific key areas of marketing such as: • traffic on the website; • the number of followers, likes/dislikes and shares on social media and • the open and click-through rates of all digital marketing. The data collected not only shows the validity of marketing efforts, but it is also valuable information that supports the efficacy of communication efforts producing behavioral change within the community. The most important thing to remember in effectively integrating communications and marketing in school districts is to first have a complete understanding of the difference between the two. Once that clarity is achieved, the integration of communications and marketing organically materializes. The only thing left to do is to combine and implement the seven-step process to ensure a successful outcome and establish a strong relationship within the school district’s community. www.bit.ly/INSIGHTarticle

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Vidor ISD’s mental health programming reaches children in a new way.


Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org

by Sally Andrews Director of Community Relations Vidor ISD


ullying. Divorce. Mental or physical abuse. Death. Sexual trauma. Gender identity. Cutting. Poverty. Substance abuse. Social issues. Excessive truancy. Low self-esteem. Incarcerated parents. Obsessive/compulsive disorder. Anxiety. Depression. Suicidal ideation. It’s a wonder that students come to school and can learn anything at all. Their backpacks are full of much more than books … they also carry the pain of broken lives and shattered hearts. How do we encourage a child to dream when his life consists mostly of nightmares? How can a child grow to be a caring adult when the primary adults in his life may seem to care so little about them? How can a child see the possibility of a future filled with success when living in the grip of extreme poverty? And perhaps the greatest question of all: What can we, as educators … as school districts … do about any of it? In 2017, Vidor Independent School District lost two of its seven campuses to the intense flooding of Hurricane Harvey. In addition, about seventyfive percent of Vidor’s residents had stormdamaged homes, with most having no flood insurance. They watched in terror and despair as floodwaters rose a foot, 2 feet, 3 feet and sometimes as high as 7 or 8 feet.

Many of those children, who already carried grief and trauma in spades, suddenly had even more to deal with. Their homes were lost, they were living at Granny’s house with sixteen others, their clothing, toys and school supplies had all been washed away. Dad’s job site closed due to flood damage. Mom’s car was ruined. The burdens they carried grew exponentially, and like stacking building blocks, the tower of pain was ready to topple at any moment. Vidor ISD recognized the mental and emotional needs of these students and began a behavioral health program that is now in its fourth year. It was a fortuitous move. The town suffered Hurricane Imelda two years later, in which many flooded once again. Of course, there was COVID-19, then a severe ice storm. It seems, indeed, like too much. And it is. For a host of students, the breaking point has come much too early in their young lives. But some resources were not in place in the preHarvey days now are availabe, and that is, indeed, a very bright light at the end of the tunnel. There are

Picture for a moment a family living on the cusp of poverty, barely able to pay the bills, keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Aug. 17, 2017, brought nightmares in the form of unrelenting rain, airboat rescues and loss of possessions. The family on the brink of a disaster had, indeed, just met disaster head-on. Students began their school year three weeks late, and many were in situations with 40 students to a classroom communally utilized by two teachers. It was close to Thanksgiving before the two flooded campuses had portable facilities that could be called their own spaces. Continued on Page 38 Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Continued from Page 37

five adults who meet regularly to engage in art therapy, play therapy and talk therapy with nearly 500 Vidor ISD children and teens who need just that. Students meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis as needed, with someone always available when a crisis occurs. Now, you may ask, “What, exactly, is art therapy and how does it work?” Good question, because every single one of our five behavioral specialists utilizes it in one way or another, so there must be something to this art therapy thing! It’s interesting to find that the child who will not open up and talk face-to-face will pour his heart out when working with clay, creating a figure with pipe cleaners or drawing. It’s eyeopening to see what emerges from the psyches of those ‘littles’ as they draw or sculpt, often providing some pretty interesting insight into their situations or the anger they carry.

How do we encourage a child to dream when his life consists mostly of nightmares?

“With the projects chosen,” said art therapist Stacie Jannise, “students are guided and inspired to open up in a relaxing atmosphere.” Opening day exercise is making volcanoes using baking soda, food coloring and vinegar, with a focus on what happens when we keep things inside that need to be shared with someone we trust. As the volcanoes explode, children see the unpredictability and volatility of the project’s result and begin to talk about how their own classroom outbursts mirror these eruptions, how those reactions are unhealthy, how they can appropriately channel their excess energy and how the release of negativity can keep them safe and in a good place for learning. With sand tray therapy, students intuitively arrange little people, vehicles, animals, homes and other

by Cissa Madero Communications Specialist 38

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objects, giving the trained therapists some insight into their lives and what’s bothering them. Behavioral specialist Amanda Chism, M.Ed., NCC, LPC Associate said, “Children, even older ones, process their emotions and thoughts through play. Sand tray therapy creates a safe and fun environment where our students can express their emotions and even their subconscious thoughts. It saves time and energy as root issues are often exposed within one to two sessions. But more importantly? They feel seen and heard, even when they do not have the words to express themselves.” The weekly sessions and in-depth discussions with students find the behavioral team able to offer tools that encourage positive outcomes for children and youth suffering from mental or emotional health issues and support behavior modifications. That student squeezing the stress ball in class? That’s his reminder to control his outbursts. The child blowing through a straw while doing her work? She’s been taught to defray tension and anxiety through breathing exercises, and the straw is her physical tool to help make that happen. The teen who spends her lunch break writing in a journal? She knows that putting her thoughts on paper can give her feelings an outlet that she truly needs.

(equine and hippotherapy) and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. UTMB offers telepsychiatry. Parents can save a trip and the psychiatric cost, visiting, along with their child via computer or cell phone with a doctor who can diagnose, prescribe appropriate medicine if needed and suggest a path of healing through counseling Each of these community partners contributes to Vidor ISD’s behavioral health program when the need arises. In addition to working with these entities, the behavioral specialists are constantly seeking training that will enable them to deal with trauma, abuse and grief.

Older students, in many cases, can just sit and talk, and that’s valuable progress as well. The students build trust in the therapist, sharing how they suffer verbal abuse at home, how their autism creates challenges with classmates who don’t understand them or how they have always been labeled a ‘bad kid’ and are having a tough time dispelling that image. Sadly, suicide assessments are performed nearly weekly. So, Vidor ISD has partnered with Utah’s Hope Squad, a suicide prevention program through a grant from a local mental health partner, The Spindletop Center. Hope Squad in Vidor ISD sees 6th–12th graders anonymously voting for the friends and classmates they would be most likely to confide in. Those students receiving the most nominations are asked to accept positions on the Hope Squad and begin training, including how to befriend every single student on campus, what to say when a friend expresses suicidal thoughts and when to call in help from a school counselor or behavioral specialist. The student mentors are encouraged to spend their lunch breaks without phones, creating and fostering relationships instead. Local community partnerships are also vital to create, maintain and grow a well-rounded program. VISD works with Pregnancy Related Services, Stable-Spirit

As well as providing a listening ear for students, the behavioral specialists have done a yeoman’s job of hosting events promoting mental health awareness and acceptance. These events have included not only the partners discussed above but multiple others. One past mental health week included morning yoga, meditation exercises, a Zen room for calming and a wall plastered with sticky notes offering positive reinforcement and saying, “If you need one … take one.” Students held a door decorating contest, and through this simple exercise, were able to learn about mental health issues, the importance of dealing with them and the value of being patient and caring with those who have them. Even staff members got into the game, stopping to note their self-care tactics on a poster in the teacher’s lounge. Parent nights have been held to address topics such as bullying, affordable family health care, depression and suicide in teens, handling stress in families and healing through the arts. Plans are in the works for a family mental health night. It is slated to include information from local entities who can address mental health needs, family exercises to build relationships and encourage talk and physical exercise to support better overall health. After all, awareness of emotional and mental health issues is critical. If a student doesn’t have his emotions under control, it’s tough for him to learn. And that, of course, is what educators are all about.

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by Valonia Walker, APR Aldine ISD Communications Specialist


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lanning to open a new school is a daunting task. However, communicating a new school option is an even bigger challenge. From choosing the location and selecting the leader, to selecting the school colors, mascots and drumming up excitement for both new and existing families is an ongoing communication project.

This year, under the five-year strategic plan, A New Way Forward, Aldine ISD is opening two new campuses to provide more choices and opportunities for Aldine ISD students. The Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA), in partnership with the nonprofit organization Young Women’s Preparatory Network, is opening its doors to sixth- and seventh-grade girls in its first year. The all-girls school will focus on college-preparatory coursework, STEM exploration, responsible leadership development, health and wellness, and sisterhood. Our newcomer school, La Promesa (“the promise”), will provide high school students new to the country with global and cultural competencies for today’s interconnected world, giving them the promise of more choices and opportunities after graduation. While the leadership team is developing the ins and outs of the campus offerings, hiring staff and creating a unique campus culture, the communications staff is working to communicate the five Ws of the new school. The who, the what, the when, the where, the why and you can’t forget the how. THE WHO Define your target audience. Having an effective school communication plan is about knowing your audience, their needs and the best ways to deliver your message. When promoting two very different school options, it was imperative that the new principals were able to get in front of their respective target audiences to promote their campuses. The communications office worked side-by-side with the new principals to create a narrative that spoke directly to those families. By creating school branding and communication materials to market in-person and virtual meetings, enrollment dates, swag, special programming and PowerPoint presentations, the new schools can set the expectations of the campus community. THE WHAT Characterize what makes the new school different from others. Choices and opportunities are what we are about in Aldine ISD. We know that traditional high school options might not be for every student. Aldine ISD offers several Choice School options in addition to traditional high schools. Promoting specialized programming should grab the attention of students and families. What are your school offerings, what makes your campus special and what will students take away from those programs? These are the questions that will help families decide if a new option is good for their students. Both new Aldine campuses are uniquely positioned to open more doors for students and, more importantly, we are meeting students and families where they are to cater to their needs and provide new options for all students’ educational development. THE WHEN To echo my sentiments, opening a new school is an ongoing communication project. Once you have identified your target audience and introduced the campus, you will want to fuel the anticipation of a new school year. The fall 2021 opening date has become the biggest day of the school year for both students and staff of each new campus. Work with the campus principal and leadership team to determine unique ways to celebrate the upcoming school year and campus opening. To celebrate the young ladies who got into YWLA, the principal created special certificates to announce the first members of their new sisterhood. Each newly admitted student posted themselves celebrating getting into the new school. The excitement built both in-person and online will continue leading up to the first day of school. Continued on Page 42 Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Continued from Page 41

Another opportunity to recognize the opening of the new school year is to partner with local media to reach broader audiences. Communications team members should set up local television interviews to introduce the new campus beyond the community and create a buzz around the first day of school and the upcoming school year. These opportunities will assist in reminding your school community about the new campus, deadlines and the first day of school.

THE WHY A very simple yet cliche reason for the why is that communication is key. Schools are competing with indistrict specialized campuses, neighboring school districts and various charter schools in the area. You want to make sure your campus stands out. You want your students to feel special and most importantly you want them to be proud of the newest school on the block.

Additionally, enrollment matters. Our job as communicators is to communicate that enrollment is available to those who meet the eligibility requirements. This includes communicating about any applications and informational meetings held about the campus to ensure students and families understand the programs offered.

THE HOW Communications planning for a new school isn’t rocket science, but it is a tango. The partnership communications staff builds with the campus leadership is important. You are helping to build trust in the school, the promises of beneficial educational programming and the support that all students and families need.

Building a strong foundation of school support from the beginning is a must.

THE WHERE Location is important, but remember that in this digital age, where you are located online matters. Create space for your new school to grow digitally. A campus website that holds up-to-date information is important. In the beginning, before the doors of the campus open, you want to make sure that families know how to find good information about the campus and direct traffic back to that website. You essentially want to train your new campus community on how to stay connected to your campus, whether it is your campus website or social media channels. Equip the new school leadership staff with the tools and training they need to thrive in a digital space. Once campus names were decided, we created a new Twitter account for each campus. The Twitter account is managed by the campus principal and daily they are responsible for curating tweets to reach students, families, community and business partners. Facebook ads can also be beneficial for showing up in newsfeeds of people who do not follow your district or school pages. External communications could potentially help meet your enrollment goals and introduce you to some emerging community partners.


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Campus support and pride start at the beginning before the doors of the school are approved to be opened to the public. Building a strong foundation of school support from the beginning is a must. That swag bag with bumper stickers, pencils, pens and T-shirts are important.






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quarterly COMMUNICATION MATTERS MAGAZINE issues full of timely topics, professional guidance & inspiration, plus a chance to have YOUR WORK PUBLISHED

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The Craft of Communication Former journalist shares advice for PR rookies

by Matthew Prosser Communications Director Longview ISD


oming from the world of journalism into the "dark side" of public school communications/marketing, I had a few built-in assumptions about what the work would entail. But it took walking in the well-worn shoes of a PR professional to understand how best to serve my district and my community.

Recently, I had lunch with a former colleague who was "switching teams," so to speak, and he was interested in any advice I might have. The first thing I told him was that the most important lessons would have to come on the job. There's no better teacher than experience. But with that said, I offered my top five tips for newbies that I will share here. It's business, not personal Most of the time, the difficulties you face are not rooted in personal animosity but are a direct consequence of a breakdown in communication on some level. The angry parent who peppers you with questions on Facebook isn't angry at you; they're angry about a situation. Address their problem, not their emotions. If you find a way to work out the former, the latter will take care of itself. You're never "off the clock" Most of you probably have that little phrase in your contracts: "other duties as assigned," and I quickly learned that it meant that I would receive random phone calls, texts and emails from staff and local stakeholders at all hours of the day. Weekends. Holidays. On more than one occasion I've had to step aside from a family function to take a phone call from an overzealous reporter looking to break a story. So, I've learned to set clear boundaries for my availability and understand which information requests truly are urgent. Stay ahead of the trends Years ago, I was the first reporter at my newspaper to have a Twitter account. Today it's considered compulsory. When I first began working in marketing and public relations, I would occasionally check out what other schools were doing, but these days I read multiple trade publications and network with others in my field. I may not


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be the most talented or dynamic professional in our industry, but I can apply myself to being an early adapter. I want to understand how people communicate and engage, so I can best position my organization to reach them. Understand the art of the pitch Imagine you're a reporter and some PR person just asks you to come to take pictures of a group of grade-schoolers about a fundraiser. Yawn. Instead, begin with a news hook: "To help local families afflicted by the recent storms, a group of Anywhere Elementary students saved up their lunch money to donate to charity." Now that is a story with traction. When pitching your organization to the media, always lead with an angle. It can be hard news or fluffy human interest, but it's got to be content they can use. Think of your school's news as a product that you've got to help package to reach a broader audience. There's always more to learn I can think of no better illustration of this fact than our regular TSPRA conferences. They only last a few quick days, but I come away with such a deeper understanding of so many varied facets of this job. It's a sentiment I've heard from colleagues who have been doing this job since I was in grade school. No one of us has all the answers, but by working in collaboration and communication, we can all share from our varied experiences and benefit from our diverse areas of expertise. Every time I speak with a TSPRA peer, I learn something new. My only regret is that, due to how busy I often am on the job, I don't take enough time to do so. As I look back on the few short years I've spent in public school communications, I realize that it is a craft. You are limited only by your ambition and humility. Ambition will drive you to succeed, yes, but humility will give you the grace to ask for help. Both are needed in this field.

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org



hen I left my last reporting position to be the writer/videographer for the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District, I transferred my content creation skills from journalism to an organization’s brand and vision. I produced articles, newsletters, social media posts, videos and live shows on our cable access channel. We wanted to tell our story, showcase our students and place our teachers and staff on full display for the awesome, life-changing power public schools possess. But, I only had half of the equation. Focusing exclusively or disproportionately on content leaves you measuring success by clicks, reach, views and other one-way metrics. I love posting a video and watching how many views it gets. The sensation of your content being watched triggers a dopamine rush. But what do you learn when you get 100,000 views on the video you post of your superintendent leading a choreography lesson of Cotton Eye Joe to 40 district administrators? Do you support your organization by trying to increase your post frequency on Facebook from five times per week to 10? Does measuring content views and production tell you what your stakeholders need or help inform decision-makers about how to act? If you based your public relations and strategic communications solely on content production, it’s easier to manage, track and view success, but you’re missing out on the conversation.

Sending a survey feels like an easy, measurable and obtainable way to collect stakeholder feedback, especially when you make questions multiple choice. Pie charts, anyone? But survey fatigue often leaves end users feeling unheard, underrepresented and overwhelmed. Everyone loves to host a good old-fashioned town hall, but does anyone ever walk away from a large, single speaker forum feeling heard?


In Leander ISD, we implemented a strategy called “listening sessions,” which acts as a focus group or interview to collect qualitative or street data. A lot of our learning came from the book “The Listening Leader: Creating the Conditions for Equitable School Transformation” by Shane Safir. Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org

LISTENING SESSIONS FOR TEACHERS AND STAFF AFTER SCHOOL REOPENING When we reopened school buildings for the 2020-2021 school year in September, we ran teachers into the ground. School staff would share their frustrations, anxiety and pain points through informal channels, but we didn’t have a great way to capture and act on this anecdotal data. We did a survey using a web application that allows you to collect open-ended question responses and their assigned ratings by your survey participants. We were able to identify seven areas of feedback, including concerns about human resource issues (compensation, leave, work from home), workload, teacher mental health, resources/support and health/safety. So, we had the “what” and we knew the “why” but we didn’t know the “how.” Rather than putting out a new survey, we decided to utilize what Safir describes in her book as a “Listening Campaign.” STEPS AND STRATEGIES Identify purpose We wanted action items to make immediate changes for our teachers and school staff. With limited resources and restrictions due to the pandemic, we didn’t have a lot of options for supporting strategies, so what we did needed to make an impact. We wanted our leaders to be visible, front-and-center, in listening to our teachers to show support and empathy. Identify the people We invited all staff and employees to our Listening Sessions, but we knew we needed to reach teachers and custodial staff due to the burden they were carrying early in the school year. We also wanted our Board of Trustees and our Superintendent’s Cabinet or senior executive leadership team to be the facilitators. Identify the conditions We could not meet in person because bringing hundreds of people together in one space was not allowable in the fall of 2020 due to the pandemic. We needed to host events when teachers were not at work, but we did not want to go into the evening when teachers were at home. So, we picked times right after dismissal. We started each meeting with a large group of 50100 attendees and our facilitators. Our superintendent addressed the group to explain our purpose and format. Then, we went into breakout rooms in Zoom for 30 minutes. We kept groups between three to 10 people, so attendees could all have a chance to speak. When we came back together as a whole group, it was the facilitator’s responsibility to share what he or she heard from their group.

When we had zero custodians show up to our four listening sessions, we knew we needed to get creative. We used Remind to send text messages in English and Spanish to our custodians. We asked them four standard questions, which we coded and analyzed, just like our other staff members. Identify the information collection system Our facilitators utilized Google Docs to take notes. We had four standard questions we asked during our sessions but let attendees guide the discussion. Facilitators wrote down direct quotes, themes and ideas to truly capture voice. We asked for general information about who was in the room (role, school) but did not capture specific names. I went through the notes and conducted a StrengthsWeaknesses-Opportunities-Threats analysis. You could also utilize an affinity analysis to identify connections and major themes. I wrote a report capturing all of the data. I used the S.W.O.T. analysis as a means for organizing thoughts. I drafted, and our leadership team approved recommendations in the report, connecting those recommendations back to the listening data we collected. We took the recommendations to the board to give them ownership in the final decision-making process, bringing our entire leadership team together to respond to staff needs. MEASURING IMPACT During our mid-year surveys to teachers, after the listening sessions, teachers reported 83 percent and 76 percent satisfaction rates for the district administration and Board of Trustees’ support, respectively. In our annual employee engagement survey, we grew agreement scores by six percent with 73 percent of respondents agreeing that our organization “encourages open and honest communication.” NEXT STEPS We used a variation of this Listening Session format to collect information on school attendance zones, the school year calendar, the development of our graduate profile and to address equity and racism in our organization. Starting in June, we are launching a bi-monthly “Listening Leaders” campaign, where we will host listening sessions across any topic then publish the results with the superintendent leading a presentation. We plan to use this data and strategy to meet federal grant requirements for community engagement, as well as meet the needs of our community.

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Sa yG oo db How one school district changed the way they approach newsworthy communications 48

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e y

B e h l t a c e l o k o H t e by Jim F. Chadwell Superintendent Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD


had the honor of becoming the superintendent of Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD in December 2010. Arriving in the middle of a school year gave me a great opportunity to conduct a listening tour by interviewing hundreds of people, gaining insight into the district and making preliminary plans for the next school year. As a longtime resident of the Fort Worth area, I knew about EMS ISD. I knew it was one of the fastest-growing school districts in the state. I knew it would grow by about 1,000 students per year and would more than double in size. On a superficial level, I knew about its successes and the myriad of opportunities for students. But like any place you haven’t lived, I really didn’t know EMS ISD. I only knew what I had heard, saw and read. The need for districtwide strategic planning quickly emerged. It was vital we assessed our needs and set strategic goals for improvement. I am a huge advocate for strategic planning but only when it is done right with the full involvement of the school community. Also, if you are going to create a plan, you should be committed to following it. In 2012, more than 100 stakeholders worked together to create the Aspire 2022 Strategic Plan, which set the foundation for the implementation of our newly adopted plan, Aspire 2025. As we began assessing the district for strategic planning, one stark reality became very clear – the great stories we had in our district were not getting any traction. We were in a media “black hole,” as one of our local news outlets literally described it to us. We would pitch great stories about public education in our district to the media outlets and virtually nothing would happen. Conversely, if something negative happened, you could look to the skies to see the news choppers or check the parking lots for media trucks. And then the request, “On camera interview, please?” Given the devolution of traditional journalism and the dependence on sensational news stories to drive readership and viewership, making a positive impact on our future leaders was apparently not newsworthy enough. Beyond the occasional sports story or human-interest column, our district, like many others in the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex, operated without consistent, well-rounded coverage. I can imagine what school PR professionals may be thinking as they read this. Is that all bad? In all reality, no, it’s not. I can still recollect the pre-Internet world of stopping by the convenience store early in the morning to read the paper and check for anything “above the fold.” Of course, those days have been replaced with a 24-hour news cycle and the endless barrage of social media posts. Now we Continued on Page 50 Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


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wake up every morning looking to see what “story” has been created overnight that will demand our immediate attention. Social media can be a powerful tool to support our work, or it can become a huge distraction. Unlike printed or broadcast news stories, however, social media is different in that we are often able to communicate to positively influence the dialogue. Also, negative views can be balanced by our “social ambassadors,” those community supporters who use their own social media presence to do good. While not getting media attention is not always a bad thing, it becomes problematic when your story doesn’t get told, or gets lost in the noise of all the other information. That is the most dangerous kind of communications black hole, because that is when those both inside and outside your community don’t hear your message and, as a result, can’t really know you as a district. With that in mind, we began looking at school communications differently. We started thinking first about building relationships and creating experiences that make a meaningful connection with our community. Communications is no longer about simply pushing out information and hoping something sticks. Communications today is a strategic, two-way, multi-platform process that amplifies the stories that iterate and reiterate our key messages of who we are and what we are about. To do so, however, requires that you first know yourself. We knew our mission and core beliefs, but to be truly effective, we needed to understand what various segments of our community thought of us to see if they aligned or if there were gaps that needed addressing. Through an in-depth brand awareness analysis, we assessed the community’s perception of who we are as a district and what values permeate our “brand.” Family culture, personalized opportunities and world-class teachers were the brand pillars defined by our community. From that point forward, we structured our messaging around these pillars under the umbrella brand message that we are a true Community. We even made it a hashtag: #EMScommUNITY. Rather than trying to


Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org

be all things to all people, we narrowed our scope to these vital values our own community shared with us. Fast forward to today and our strategic plans now infuse communications into every objective. Every strategy and action step has a communications plan to support it, and every piece of communication is studied through the lens of advancing our brand message. More communication is not seen necessarily as better. More strategic communication is seen as better. In a world of constant information, we must be extremely selective about what we share and how we share it, because we want our audiences to take notice when they receive it. As a result, we make our own news. We are not going to wait for the news to do a feature story, but rather we will create our own through a variety of programming. This includes On Location, a video series produced by our multimedia storyteller that highlights our staff, students and the school district. We have featured our counseling department, shown life behind the scenes with child nutrition and led oncamera tours of new schools under construction. The

EMS Proud magazine was originally created to fill the gap of the absence of a local printed news source. It is distributed online and in printed form throughout the district in places like doctors’ offices, oil change waiting rooms, and churches. It is produced in-house, and we partner with our district cities, county and Education Foundation to include their highlights, so it is a true community news resource. Additionally, our EMS ISD eNews and Campus Connection e-newsletters share news with our internal and external stakeholders with multi-dimensional elements for access to additional information. We monitor social media carefully every day, especially after key messages are sent to ensure that we can answer general questions, correct inaccurate postings and address concerns. Our communications department is incredibly careful about the timing of each product so as not to oversaturate recipients with information but still ensure meaningful social engagement. Other tools we use include regular surveys and an online customer service feature for stakeholders to submit questions, concerns and suggestions (we even get compliments sometimes!). We use a customer experience platform, which has transformed the way we respond to and manage communication with parents, students, employees and the community. Having a convenient way for our community to share their thoughts and provide insight directly to district and campus leaders has been a game-changer for us. This two-way strategy has allowed us to monitor and manage community concerns in a proactive manner and to have an additional understanding as we consider various decisions impacting our families. We also have increased engagement from the silent majority in the community. These are a few examples of how we have worked to transform the practice of communications in our district to support our culture and brand of #EMScommUNITY. The result of all this strategic work is that the positive messages of the great things happening in our schools are being seen and shared by our community, and that is translating to broader awareness, understanding and support. Gone is the day of living in the darkness of a black hole. We are

shining the light from the driver’s seat, and we have taken the wheel. We continue to pitch great news to our media outlets, and we welcome opportunities to coordinate with media for coverage of our good news. But if they don’t tell the story, we will. This is a practice I believe all public school districts can find success within their own communities. Each district’s strategy will have nuances specific to the beliefs, goals, perceptions and expectations of – and for – those they serve. Ultimately, through a proactive, strategic and systemic approach to communications, we can collectively amplify the narrative of our Texas public schools.

Jim F. Chadwell, Ed.D., is in his 28th year serving in Texas public schools and 11th year as superintendent of Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD. During his tenure, the district has grown from 23 schools and 16,600 students to 28 schools and a student enrollment of more than 21,200 and remains the fifth-fastest growing public school district across the North Texas region. Under Chadwell’s leadership, the district has worked to strategically plan for future growth while increasing programs and opportunities for students at all grade levels. Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org





by Tracie Seed TSPRA Communications & Marketing Manager

For 60 years, officially in 2022, TSPRA has had a bevy of highly qualified, effective people in leadership positions. These stewards include the executive committee presidents. Many past presidents continue to be TSPRA members. Here, we catch up with a few of them.

Steven Knagg

Director of Communications (retired) Garland ISD, Feb. 1977-June 2007 TSPRA President, 1985-1986

Before taking his first professional position at Garland ISD upon graduating college, retired Director of Communications Steven Knagg earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. “GISD communications was my first real job out of college. I had never heard the term ‘public relations’ at the time. I learned everything I know through TSPRA and NSPRA. Fortunately, I was adopted and mentored by two TSPRA-NSPRA legions: Larry Ascough of Dallas ISD and Bonnie Ellison of Northside ISD who were both NSPRA presidents,” he explains. Knagg says that over the years he has not only seen TSPRA flourish but also the profession of school communications grow significantly since attending the organization’s seminar in 1978, where there were 35 attendees. “Our profession made a quantum leap with the advent of the internet, social media and 52

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the 24-hour news cycle,” he remembers. “Picture achieving your PR goals without those tools today.” Upon retiring from GISD after 30 years, Knagg continued to make presentations to school districts and NSPRA chapters around the country. He was also elected to the GISD Board of Trustees. “It was quite an adventure to sit on the other side of the board table after all those years,” Knagg says. “I am now fully retired and living out in the deep woods of East Texas on 42 acres with Cheryl, my wife of 45 years, where we celebrate life with our children and grandchildren.” Advice for those new to school communications “I would encourage new school communicators to jump into TSPRA and NSPRA with both feet! You will create lifelong friendships that will be an immense help as you work in the world’s most important profession.” Advice for school communications veterans “Veterans, you need to keep your life balanced, go home earlier and use all of your vacation days. You have a never-ending job, and you’ll never be ‘caught up’ so stop trying. Just kick back and enjoy the ride!”

Patti Pawlik-Perales Communications Coordinator Alamo Heights ISD TSPRA President, 2013-2014

Pawlik-Perales says that during and since her time as TSPRA’s executive committee president in 2013-14, she has been proud of the steps the organization has taken and continues to take, to afford its members support and to recognize its members’ strengths. She explains, “We are a diverse group of talents working for a common goal – to share all that is good about our schools, students, staff and districts. I love how we support each other and how we are strengthened by our collaborative learning and teaching. I am grateful for the way we provide meaningful communication in times of crisis, how we lean on each other and how we lift each other up.” While she continues to volunteer and support TSPRA in any capacity that she is able, including presenting at the annual conference and writing for “Communication Matters” magazine, Pawlik-Perales says that apart from her career, she has been busy raising two “proud products of public schools … a son, who graduated from Texas State University with a degree in criminal justice, and who will soon be working in the crime lab for DPS and a daughter, who is a senior at Angelo State University, preparing to become a kindergarten teacher!”

A proud Raider from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, Patti Pawlik-Perales, communications coordinator for Alamo Heights ISD in San Antonio, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, with minors in broadcast journalism and theater arts. Her expertise initially led her to Brownsville ISD with the first step in her 32-year career being as a scriptwriter for the district’s educational access station. Since then, she also has worked in various capacities at San Benito CISD, New Braunfels ISD and now Alamo Heights ISD. Why has she remained in school communications for so long? “One day you can be covering a story about unique and engaging bird beak lessons in a fourthgrade classroom, the next you might be covering the first-ever wheelchair athlete who was headed for her first state track competition, and the next, cable casting a live parade, football game or graduation!” she explains. “Schools are these fun, creative, energized, hopeful, extraordinary places that make every day a new experience.”

Advice for those new to school communications “Reach out to your colleagues if you need anything! Talk to fellow TSPRAns when you are at regional meetings! Sit with TSPRAns you don't know at the annual conference and strike up a conversation! Call on someone across the state to gather knowledge about something you want to learn. We all love to help!” Advice for school communications veterans “Stay connected! It makes me so happy to be able to connect with veteran members who have been my mentors over the years! I need their experienced advice! As a veteran, I look to learn from our newest members, native to technology and the companion tactical strategies! (I have gone from talking on a phone in my office to carrying one in my back pocket! I used a typewriter as a rookie and now carry my computer in my purse ... and back pocket!)”

Ian Halperin

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Ian Halperin

Executive Director of Community Relations and Marketing Wylie ISD TSPRA President, 2016-2017

Ian Halperin, currently executive director of community relations and marketing for Wylie ISD, took the reins in 2016 as TSPRA president. Before stepping into school PR, Halperin earned a degree in mass communications from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and a master’s degree in human resources and business from Amberton University in Garland, Texas. After graduating, he began his career in journalism before meeting a fateful friend. “I was in the newspaper business covering lots of school news. I had the opportunity to meet and work with Scott Milder when he was in Mesquite ISD. We became, and still are, good friends,” Halperin explains. “When he left MISD, he encouraged me to apply. I did. It was 1996 and I’ve been hanging around ever since.” While Halperin has been in the school PR business for 25 years, he continues to be involved in TSPRA by serving on committees and presenting at the TSPRA Annual Conference. In addition, he has led the Rookie Bootcamp preconference session several times. 54

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In his current position at Wylie ISD, Halperin says that there are some changes on the horizon. “We are going through a little re-org to make our communications and community relations programs stronger and more focused,” he says. “I’m looking forward to some opportunities.” When asked what his favorite part was about being TSPRA president, Halperin’s top choice is “seeing how hard members work to make TSPRA successful and fun.” Advice for those new to school communications “Keep your work/life balance. It’s easy in today’s social media-driven world to not disconnect. But you have to find some time to enjoy the things that bring you happiness.” Advice for school communications veterans “Be open to new opportunities and learning new things. Even after 25 years.”

Melissa Tortorici

Director of Communications Texas City ISD TSPRA President, 2017-2018 During her tenure as TSPRA president in 201718, Tortorici was a part of the organization’s new branding, including the TSPRA logo we use today. Although she says that this was an exciting part of her office, she states, “[W]hen I think about my time spent on the executive committee, my favorite part was developing those strong relationships with communications professionals from across the state. I admire so many TSPRA members and it’s incredible to have go-to people to seek advice from or bounce ideas off of.” In the years since heading the executive committee, Tortortici has faced many challenges from working with two new superintendents (2017 and 2020), Hurricane Harvey, the loss of an elementary school principal murdered by her husband and, of course, the pandemic. “Everything else we managed seems easy in light of those major things, including continuous issues that still come up after TEA annexed a neighboring school district to us in 2016,” she says.

After graduating from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, with a B.A. in journalism with a public relations emphasis, Melissa Tortorici, director of communications for Texas City ISD, entered the newspaper world. One of her favorite topics to write about was the good things happening in the school district, La Marque ISD. Her next career move landed her in the marketing department at Moody Gardens in Galveston. Then, an opportunity to step into school PR presented itself. “After about four years [at Moody Gardens], I found out the public information officer position in La Marque ISD was open. I applied because it was my hometown district, and I truly enjoyed spreading the good news about the schools,” she explains. “I was hired in 1997 and I spent seven years in La Marque ISD, and I have been the director of communications in Texas City ISD for the past 17 years.”

Advice for those new to school communications “I think there are two major things. The first one is to connect with other ISD school communication pros. Reach out to your local ones and your TSPRA regional vice president. The second thing is to set boundaries. For example, I do not look at my email past 8 p.m. nor on weekends. Emergency emails don’t happen! If there is an emergency, someone will call my cell phone. Also, I don’t respond to Facebook Messenger after 8 p.m. I have a message that people receive after that time letting them know we will get back to them the next day. It is important to allow yourself to be off when you can.” Advice for school communications veterans “I am all about relationships, so I think that the veterans should seek out someone newer in this field to be in their circle. There would be a lot of power in that mentor/mentee relationship. The mentor could bring the wisdom of experience as ofideas 1/1/21 and the mentee could bring fresh and new perspectives.”

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Communication professionals share five things they are looking forward to in the 2021-22 school year. CISSA MADERO

Communications Specialist Pearland ISD

I look forward to going back to visit our schools every week. Due to challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to limit trips to our campuses, which is one of my favorite parts of my job. Being able to witness, firsthand, children learning and the staff so passionately teaching and engaging with the students is a magical experience, and, more than ever, I see it as a privilege. I can’t wait to take pictures of smiling faces! As the district photographer, I miss seeing the students’ and staff members’ smiles and facial expressions as they participate in transforming activities and events, in and out of the classroom. Yes, you can still see your subject smiling with their eyes when they grin behind a face mask. However, nothing compares to witnessing the excitement of a child when they realize what is happening in a science experiment or seeing a first-generation graduate beaming as they walk on stage to receive their diploma. I look forward to capturing that through my camera lens. I am eager to tout the incredible achievements of our students! We have just so many brilliant students doing brilliant things. I look forward to witnessing their 56

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pride, interviewing them about their achievements and having the privilege of writing their stories. I look forward to celebrating them all as a district, showing the students that their daily dedication pays off. I also can’t wait to do the same for our teachers and staff, who walk alongside our students, helping pave the way for their success. Applying all the new things we’ve learned through adapting because of the pandemic. With so many challenges… so much gain. We had the opportunity to learn a lot, revisit the way we do things and change our plans along the way. And that has taught us a lot about our work, our priorities and ourselves. I look forward to starting a new school year in which we can be intentional about our work and implement all our newly acquired skills and knowledge. I look forward to the excitement that the new school year brings to all. I can't wait for the feeling in the air that you can almost taste the minute you walk onto campus on the first day of school — new school supplies, everyone looking their best, feeling excited and optimistic about the possibilities of what is to come. All of that with the cherry on top that is starting a new school year in which things feel as close to “normal” as they’ve been in a while.


Director of Public Relations & Marketing Mission CISD

Learning from my new team members. I was lucky enough to add two new positions to our department earlier this year. Not only does that mean an expansion of what the department can do, but it is also an opportunity to brush up on a few things and learn from the skills and experiences that come with the new members of our department Finding our groove. As we set our sights for the next school year and get things going, I am already excited by the teamwork happening in our expanded department and that will only improve as we learn each other’s skills and weaknesses and step up to fill those voids. Getting out to work with students again. Even as the 2020-21 school year wraps up, our district still has about 75 percent of students at home and outside visitors to campus are still out of the norm. I really miss seeing kids in classrooms and involved in their activities on campus. Plus, we will be adding interns from our high schools to our program this next year. Their insights are always refreshing and a great reminder of why we do what we do. Seeing more smiles! I am hopeful that our mask requirements will ease as more students get vaccinated over time. While I have learned to read eyes and body language a whole lot over this past year, nothing beats seeing everyone’s pearly whites. The 2022 TSPRA Conference! Like many TSPRAns, missing the conference this year due to COVID-19 was a major bummer, to say the least! That environment of learning, sharing, networking and laughs is the best!


Executive Director of Communications Pearland ISD

Working alongside new leadership. With retirements and promotions in the spring, several people will assume new leadership roles this summer. As PR professionals, we have the unique opportunity to help new leaders in our districts navigate challenges and goals to implement best communication practices – both internally and externally. It is always rewarding to help new leaders put communication goals and strategies in place to effectively share information, data and what’s happening in their department or school. New school year equals new opportunities. I always love the start of a new school year! I have a feeling this upcoming year will be even more exciting. There’s nothing like a fresh start and reset, and the 2021-22 school year looks to give us just that. As we look forward to a post-pandemic world, it’s like looking at a shiny new pencil with excitement on the first day of school, and we each get to be the author of the next chapter. One of my favorite back-to-school events is our New Teacher Orientation where we welcome our new staff and prepare them for the journey they’re about to take in Pearland ISD. Meetings … Wait, what?! Whoever thought they’d say they look forward to meetings? With TEAMS and Zoom meetings dominating our lives for the past year and a half, I’m looking forward to resuming face-to-face meetings with other district leaders, principals, parents and the community. As this began to happen slowly over this past spring, the ability to personally interact with and foster relationships in person goes unmatched. At the same time, we will continue to implement video-conferencing tools continued on Page 58 Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


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we’ve used so frequently to embrace change and foster even more engagement between our schools and the community. Helping media tell the stories of our schools. Working with media during the pandemic has taught us – reporters included – to pivot to tell the stories of what’s happening in our schools. It’s exciting to see reporters beginning to return to in-person interviews and go to schools to witness firsthand the impact being made daily. First day of school. For several years now, the superintendent and I visit each of our 23 campuses on the first day of school. I love this day and look forward to it every year. This past school year, with COVID-19, the first day felt so much quieter with only half of our students learning on campus. I look forward to our students returning to campus in the fall and the excitement of the first day throughout the school with our students and staff.

KAREN RUDOLPH, APR Communications Specialist Belton ISD

Experiencing my first “normal” year in school communications. I started this role in February 2020 and have only heard about what’s “normal” without experiencing it. A new superintendent started right after I did. Then COVID-19 hit. Then a historic, statewide winter storm. Crisis communication and Zoom meetings dominated. With COVID-19 (and masks!) hopefully in our rearview mirror soon, I’m looking forward to a return to normalcy — even if it’s a new normal! Utilizing my Enneagram One strengths. I can’t wait to lean into my sweet spot — detailed planning. I’ve already begun mapping out content ideas and timelines for 2021-22. It feels good to streamline processes and batch work. I love how this can help stretch our team’s precious time and allows us


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to take advantage of day-of opportunities you can’t plan for. Welcoming more students and families to our district. Enrollment projections for Belton ISD show us growing by about 3,000 new students over the next five years. As the district’s communications specialist, I can play a major role in welcoming these families to the Big Red Community. I look forward to reviewing all our communication and marketing efforts through this lens and being attentive to their unique needs. Becoming the parent of a middle-schooler. Nobody warned me that the leap to middle school is worse than starting kindergarten. I’m a nervous wreck! But on the bright side, I hope having a middle school student in my district will help me uncover interesting stories. We often feel that our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students are true “middle” children, competing with their elementary and high school siblings for attention. Maybe having one under my roof will help me better shine the spotlight on them! Experimenting on Facebook. Our risk tolerance for engaging with families on Facebook increased this year, which allowed us to connect with our audience differently. We found success with our crisis communication (shoutout to Facebook Live!) and a campaign spotlighting district employees. As we reset for next year, I can’t wait to build on this traction and experiment with more ways to keep our community engaged with important district-level initiatives.

MATTHEW PROSSER Community Relations Longview ISD

Being able to plan ahead. It's hard to keep our stakeholders up to date on the latest developments when we're only finding out about things as they develop. While crisis communication is always a key component of what we do, I'm looking

forward to our crises being smaller in scale and more locally focused. It's one thing to marshal together information about a minor incident but responding to developments of a global pandemic in real-time is something else altogether. As so many of us have had to adjust to the changes on the fly this past year, I think we're all in a better place to build in some contingencies to our regular schedules in 2021-22. Having clear processes and protocols. Along similar lines to planning is being able to set clear parameters for my team in how we maneuver changes that come at us from federal, state and local authorities. While we all certainly were put to a rather severe test in 2020-21, I'm looking forward to seeing how much more efficient we're able to mobilize and communicate during (hopefully) a more conventional school year.

with the return of roaring crowds under the Friday night lights. Hoping for a "boring" school year. I am looking forward to crisis communications being "boring" again — the occasional school bus fenderbender or weather event. They seem so simple compared to a global pandemic. While it's never boring per se, I am hoping that we all see a return to a more mundane school year. If we are blessed with a more ordinary school year, I promise not to take it for granted.

Getting up-close and personal. I never thought I'd miss meetings, but I am officially "Zoomed" out. I look forward to being in the same room with folks again. I'm a big fan of in-person interaction and physical contact. I love handshakes, side-hugs and high-fives. The same with smiles and facial expressions. I'm eager to see more of my colleagues, students and friends in the community. Talking to people — sharing ideas and experiences — is one of my favorite parts of this job. While I'm grateful to have improved my skills in working remotely, there's no substitute for good oldfashioned face-to-face communication. Standing room only and Friday night lights. There's something so anticlimactic about a lastsecond game-winning score when there's no one in the stands. The student athletes and fans of Longview generate so much amazing energy and school spirit at our various sporting events. Attending games this past year was only a thin impersonation of the real thing. While I am grateful that we were able to have had extracurriculars at all (considering the circumstances), I'm looking forward to things getting a bit close to "normal" in the coming year, especially

Want to share your top five? Email Tracie at tseed@tspra.org.

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


ANNUAL Cover Photo Contest We asked our members to send us their best shot! We received 21 submissions. The winning photos were chosen by a group of photographers, artists and creatives, all of whom are impartial and aren't connected to Texas public schools. There are so many amazing choices, it was hard to narrow down the winner! Thank you to everyone who entered and shared your talent with us!


Ian Halperin, Wylie ISD 60

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Cindy Peavey, Bridgeport ISD

Toni Garrard Clay, Athens ISD

Rocio N. Landin, Sharyland ISD

Frankie Sauseda, Lamesa ISD

Ethan Dujay, Lyford CISD

Marlon Torres, Klein ISD

Santosh Vemula, Bryan ISD

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org

Mark Kania, Round Rock ISD



Savannah Pyron, Lewisville ISD

Perla Magallon, San Elizario ISD

Nancy Barboza Maldonado, Sharyland ISD

Maria Mata, Pasadena ISD

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org Lynsey Admire,


Laurin Moore, Angleton ISD

Jacob Walker, Tyler ISD

Danish Nelson, Fort Bend ISD

Jamie Fails, Willis ISD

Joshua McLain, Hempstead ISD

Cissa Madero, Pearland ISD

Abigail Ramirez, ISD Summer 2021 Waco | www.TSPRA.org


Important Dates JULY

1 1 2 4 5 15 11-15 16 21 21 23 30

2021-2022 TSPRA dues renewal notices sent 2021-2022 dues renewal contest begins TSPRA State Office closed July 4th Independence Day Holiday TSPRA State Office closed Communication Matters photo contest winners announced NSPRA annual conference in New Orleans TSPRA State Office closed TSPRA July newsletter publishes #TSPRA22 conference hotel link releases for hotel reservations TSPRA State Office closed TSPRA State Office closed

For more info, visit our webs it www.TSP e at RA.org.

AUGUST 2 2 2 4 6 11 13 16 16-27 18 18 20 27 30

2022-2023 TSPRA officer nomination applications available [Virtual] Lunch with Lawyer Eichelbaum REGISTER: www.bit.ly/RegisterTSPRA 2021-2022 regional meetings posted on TSPRA website 2021 Key Communicator announced TSPRA State Office closed #TSPRA22 exhibitor packets available TSPRA State Office closed Last day to call November bond elections TSPRA external financial review TSPRA August newsletter publishes [Virtual] Bond Preparation Seminar sponsored by O’Connell Robertson Architects REGISTER: www.bit.ly/RegisterTSPRA TSPRA State Office closed TSPRA State Office closed Fall online learning offerings release

SEPTEMBER 1 1 1 3 6 8 8 15 15 15 20 23 23 24-25

Deadline for nomination applications for 2022-2023 TSPRA officers (President-Elect, At-Large VPs, Place 2 and 3, Gulf Coast, HASPRA, SPRINT, Far West, SASPRA VPs) Deadline for appointments to 2021-2022 Nominating Committee Deadline for dues renewals contest TSPRA State Office closed Labor Day Holiday - TSPRA State office closed Portal opens for submitting #TSPRA22 conference proposals to present 2021 Member Review of Financial Records and Procedures Committee [member audit] meets TSPRA weekly newsletter resumes TSPRA leaders expected to have 2021-2022 membership dues renewed Dues renewal contest winners announced Portal opens for Star Awards entries 2021-2022 TSPRA Executive Committee meeting in Dallas 2021 TSPRA Nominating Committee meets TSPRA presents 2021 Key Communicator Award at TASA TASB Convention in Dallas

OCTOBER 1 4 6 11 25


Applications for #TSPRA22 Conference scholarships available #TSPRA22 Conference registration opens 2022-2023 Slate of Officers announced Columbus Day | Indigenous Peoples’ Day – TSPRA State Office closed Deadline to submit proposals to present at #TSPRA22 Conference

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Terri Behling, APR Harmony Public Schools

Josiah Perkins Priority Charter Schools

Holly Backer Pine Tree ISD

Ivory Phillips Scurry-Rosser ISD

GW Byers Lake Travis ISD

Lisa Proffit-Rau Harmony Public Schools

Eduardo Conde DeSoto ISD

Cindy Reed Wiedemann Scurry-Rosser ISD

Bernardo Frias Uplift Education

Nicole Romanos Harmony Public Schools Laredo

Georgette Betancourt Harmony Public Schools

James Sanders Scurry-Rosser ISD

Dominique Garcia HCDE

Emily Siemens Brownsboro ISD

Brian Grenier Randolph Field ISD

Jennifer Simpson HCDE

Kelsey Johnson Silsbee ISD

Thance Springer Pilot Point ISD

Mary Johnson Lumberton ISD

Jason Stanford Austin ISD

Viviana Killion Galena Park ISD

Haley Turner Region 8 ESC

Elizabeth Ludwig Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD

Casey Viera Alamo Heights ISD

Sara McCullough HCDE

Joshua Wilson HCDE

as of 7/721

Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org



Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


Renew & Pay by Sept. 1, 2021 for a Chance to Win a Prize


Renew your membership & pay by Sept. 1, 2021 for a chance to win one COMPLIMENTARY #TSPRA22 KALAHARI 3-NIGHT STAY IN THE AFRICAN QUEEN SUITE DURING CONFERENCE, FEB. 21-24, 2022.


The first 60 people to renew their membership & pay by Sept. 1, 2021 will have a chance to win one COMPLIMENTARY 2021-2022 TUITION FOR ACCESS TO ALL TSPRA ONLINE LEARNING COURSES VALUED AT $250


Be the first person to renew your membership & pay by Sept. 1, 2021 to win one $50 AMAZON GIFT CARD. www.tspra.org/membership/renew/ Summer 2021 | www.TSPRA.org


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