Communication Matters

Page 1

August 2023


Preparing for a mass casualty event can be daunting, but school officials in Birdville ISD worked cooperatively with local law enforcement agencies to conduct an active shooter training in July that included volunteers posing as students as part of a reunification drill.

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Welcome Back!

The start of another school year is both exciting and challenging with beginning-of-the-year events, meet the teachers and first day coverage planning, on top of daily tasks, projects and deadlines that require your attention. This time of year, school PR professionals transition into full-time planning and coordination for the next school year.

This includes our ongoing efforts in public education toward safety and security planning. That is why we chose to focus this issue on crisis communications. Inside you’ll find information, articles and resources to help you plan, stay prepared, and be ready to respond when a crisis takes place. Even with all this information, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that for me, the greatest resource in the most trying times remains my TSPRA family. TSPRAns are always willing to help each other in any way we can, whether it’s advice or assistance or just a sympathetic ear. Know that your TSPRA friends are always just a call or a text away.

The last few months have been a busy time for our organization! First, I am excited to welcome our new executive director, Patti Pawlik-Perales, who brings a wealth of experience, including serving as a past TSPRA president, and a fresh perspective on leadership to our organization. I have no doubt that she will help us continue to grow and strengthen our organization as we move forward. Second, committee appointments are complete and everyone who wanted to serve has been plugged into a committee. Thank you to those serving on a committee this year. TSPRA wouldn’t be the organization it is without your time, energy and dedication.

Thank you for your continued support and participation in TSPRA. I hope you enjoy this issue of Communication Matters and find the information valuable. A big thank you to our magazine committee and to all our members who contributed their insight and expertise to this important topic.

I wish you all the best as you launch the 2023-2024 school year.


August 2023 | 1
connect with @TSPRA TSPRA

2023-2024 OFFICERS


Megan Overman, APR, CPC

Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD


Arianna Vazquez-Hernandez, APR, CPC

ESC Region One


Rebecca Villarreal, APR, Fellow PRSA

New Braunfels ISD


Justin Elbert

Klein ISD


Patti Pawlik-Perales



Helen Escobar

Roma ISD


Kristyn Cathey, APR

Alief ISD


Jennifer Hines, CPC

Tyler ISD


Rachel Frost

ESC Region 10


Wendy Sledd

Waco ISD


Claudia McWhorter

Eanes ISD


Erin Gregg, APR Lubbock ISD


Daniel Escobar

Socorro ISD

Texas School Public Relations Association

406 East 11th Street, Suites 101-105 Austin, Texas 78701 Phone: 512-474-9107

For questions, submission and advertising, contact TSPRA:

Copyright 2023

Texas School Public Relations Association

All rights reserved


Kim Cathey

Judson ISD


Marco Alvarado

Lake Travis ISD


Stephanie De Los Santos



Dr. Jordan Ziemer

Abilene ISD

2 August 2023 |

Texas School Public Relations Association

TSPRA is a professional organization whose members are dedicated to improving public education in Texas by:


Effective public relations practices


Professional development for its members


Communication between Texans and their public schools



Professional Multifaceted

Dynamic Accomplished

August 2023


Justin Dearing

CESO Communications


Cara Zacny

CESO Communications


Zach Perkins, New Braunfels ISD

Erin Gregg, APR, Lubbock ISD

Nydia Natividad, Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD

Matthew LeBlanc, Eagle Mt.-Saginaw ISD


Zach Perkins, New Braunfels ISD


Erin Gregg, APR, Lubbock ISD

Nydia Natividad, Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD

Matthew LeBlanc, Eagle Mt.-Saginaw ISD



Patti Pawlik-Perales


Janet Crock


Rebecca Villarreal, APR, Mike Adkins, Angela Duitch, APR, Christina Courson, Jennifer Hines, CPC, Lisa Losasso Jackson, Dianne Foletto

Copyright 2023. Texas School Public Relations Association. All rights reserved.

August 2023 | 3

The Modern Platform for Family

4 August 2023 | The Complete District Communications Playbook | Part 4: Preparing for Crisis Communications The Complete District Communications Playbook Part 4: Preparing for Crisis Communications
“The plat form is so user friendly and has been well received by both ParentSquare's functionalit y takes you beyond a traditional mass notification system to an online communit y where our stakeholders can access ever y thing in one place. Our can communicate with ever y parent now with a few clicks and the administrators can easily see how the tool is being used across the distric t with the robust dashboard.” Rebecca M. Villarreal Executive Direc tor of Communications New Braunfels ISD Download our guide with steps for preparing for crisis communications Brennen Pinchback Central/South Texas 936 697.3908 brennen.pinchback@parentsquare com Mike Schwab Central/South Texas 612-242-2515. mike.schwab@parentsquare com Kristin McCann <4,000 enrollment 469 789.6524








(ESC Regions 1, 2 & 3)

Vice President Gulf Coast

Helen Escobar

Coordinator of Public Relations

Roma ISD


(ESC Regions 4 & 5)

Vice President Houston/Beaumont

Kristyn Hunt Cathey, APR

Chief of Communications & PR

Alief ISD


(ESC Regions 6, 7 & 8)

Vice President East Texas Area

Jennifer Hines, CPC

Chief Communications Officer

Tyler ISD


(ESC Regions 9, 10 & 11)

Vice President North Central Area

Rachel Frost

Chief Communications Officer

ESC Region 10


(ESC Regions 12, 14 & 15)

Vice President West Central Area

Wendy Sledd

Communications Coordinator

Waco ISD


(ESC Region 13)

Vice President Central Area

Claudia McWhorter

Chief Communications Officer

Eanes ISD


(ESC Regions 16 & 17)

Vice President Northwest Texas Area

Erin Gregg, APR

Executive Director of Communications & Community Relations

Lubbock ISD


(ESC Regions 18 & 19)

Vice President Far West Area

Daniel Escobar

Chief Communications Officer

Socorro ISD


(ESC Region 20)

Vice President San Antonio Area

Kim Cathey

Community Relations Supervisor

Judson ISD

6 August 2023 | C O M M U NICAT O N MATT ER S
1 2 3 6 7 8 10 11 14 12 13 17 16 20 15 18 19 9 4 5


HCDE makes a BIG impact on Harris County communities through specialized schools; Head Start early childhood education; afterschool programs; school-based therapy services; and adult education.



What three words would you use to describe TSPRA?

Dynamic. Trusted. Professional.

How has school PR changed since your career began?

It moves much, much faster.

Who is someone that influenced you significantly in your career in school PR? There are so many who have guided me, supported me, listened, lifted, counseled, consoled, inspired, challenged and cheered. I am grateful for every moment with each and every one.

Where is one place in the world you want to visit and why?

My parent’s house. It’s where we share, laugh, cry, dream, celebrate, and love our family and friends.

What are some of the initial goals you have as a new executive director?

What is your favorite TSPRA Conference memory?

TSPRA conferences just get better and better every year. Probably some of my favorite memories are sitting at the banquet table with my TSPRA colleagues and friends, laughing along with Riney Jordan and Tim Carroll and their creative stories, antics and activities!

What’s the best book you read that shaped you as a leader?

Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. Brene shares that to truly be effective leaders we must be vulnerable, live our values and brave trust. She walks us through our modern workplace culture, helping us dispel the myths that might define us, and strengthens us to find our collective values as a team, so that we may support each other in work and in life.

I want to meet the members in their home regions, visit with them, learn about their needs, and what inspires them.

What inspires you about TSPRA’s future?

Our members. We have the most talented, creative, strategic, smart, dedicated, kind professionals in the business of school communications.

If you could change one thing about public education in Texas, what would it be?

I would want our teachers to be recognized as the professionals they are.

What music stays in rotation at all times?

I am a button-pusher, constantly changing stations. My channel lineup includes 80’s tunes. And, when I’m rolling down a country road, a bit of country music sets the scene.

8 August 2023 |

What advice would you give a new school PR professional just getting started in their career?

Join TSPRA. You will make lifelong friends and hold the resources you need in the palm of your hands.


A 1984 graduate of A.C. Jones High School, Patti attended Texas Tech University, earning a Bachelor of Arts. She went from college classroom to public education at KBSD, the educational access television in Brownsville ISD, where she served as a Scriptwriter and Station Manager, writing, hosting, and producing numerous television programs; including, talk shows, live, homework assistance, call-in shows for students, live parades, athletic events, special events and graduation coverage. From Brownsville, she moved to San Benito CISD and had the opportunity to build a new educational access station for the district, working collaboratively with her talented team to launch KSBG TV. Partnering with San Benito High School and the Career and Technology Program, the team developed and launched the media technology program for students, earning numerous accolades for the student-centered program and television station.

She relocated to the San Antonio area, where she worked for New Braunfels ISD’s instructional television station and served as a Communications Specialist, supporting the Communications Department. Soon after, she was hired at Alamo Heights ISD where she served as Communications Specialist and then as Communications Coordinator for 14 years.

Dr. Dana Bashara, Superintendent for Alamo Heights ISD, shared of Pawlik-Perales, “I had the privilege of hiring Patti 14 years ago and have been so grateful for the incredible positive impact she’s

If you could only have one snack food for a year, what are you picking and why?

Easy…and cheesy! Queso! Goes great with chips, tortillas and TSPRA colleagues and friends. Truly a Texas thing.

made on our district from her very first day. She has been a passionate Mules fan and a supporter of all things Alamo Heights. She ushered AHISD into the age of social media and video production, which both became venues for her superhuman efforts to spread great news about all aspects of our district. Beeville ISD is certainly fortunate to be gaining Patti’s passion and talent!”

Patti joined the Beeville ISD team, sharing her excitement to be a part of their dedicated team of educators and leaders. “It is truly an honor to be able to return home to share the inspiring work of our students, teachers and staff, celebrating the schools and community that raised me. In my short year here, I have met so many amazing and talented people. I am excited to have served this district and supported the philanthropic work of the Beeville Education Foundation.”

A short, busy year later, Patti has been named the Executive Director for our Texas School Public Relations Association. A career-long member of TSPRA, she is humbled and honored by the opportunity and the work of serving the membership. She looks forward to continuing the work of the strong leaders who came before her, providing professional development, strategic learning, networking and connectivity for the organization’s members, calling upon their unique talents and skills to grow and strengthen TSPRA.

August 2023 | 9



Planning a mass casualty training exercise in coordination with local and/or county law enforcement and first responders is a massive undertaking for any school district. It’s important to include Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation into any drill or large-scale exercise to ensure its overall success.

Although Texas law requires that school districts conduct school safety drills annually, there is nothing that indicates a district must turn a drill into a multi-agency, large-scale training exercise.

Under current law, districts are required to conduct the following drills annually:

1. Secure drill --One per school year.

2. Lockdown drill --Two per school year (once per semester).

3. Evacuation drill --One per school year.

4. Shelter-in-place for hazmat drill --One per school year.

5. Shelter for severe weather drill --One per school year.

6. Fire evacuation drill-- Consult with your local fire marshal and comply with the local fire marshal’s requirements and recommendations. If a district does not have a local fire marshal, it shall conduct four per school year (two per semester).

Drills are the minimum requirement and all districts should comply. Large-scale training exercises can help create a greater culture of preparedness and identify weaknesses in communication protocols BEFORE an incident occurs. When developing plans for the active threat exercise, however, input from parents or guardians and students must be included. Texas Education Code 37.1141 requires access to mental health supports before, during, and after the exercise for all participants. It is vital that the planning team creates an exercise that is age and developmentally appropriate to the participants. For these reasons, many districts conduct such exercises in coordination with local first responders during the summer months when students are not present.

In addition, Texas Education Code 37.1141 requires a school district to give notice to parents and guardians in their native language, to the best of the district’s ability, before such an exercise is held. The notice must be posted to multiple distribution networks, including the district’s social media platforms, the district’s website, and more.

According to school safety experts, a drill is typically operations-based, and narrower in scope than an exercise. A drill is designed to help school employees practice specific tasks or protocols related to their role or function in the district. Texas law is clear that drills do not include persons role playing as active aggressors or other simulated threats.

Exercises, on the other hand, are broader in scope. These typically present a hypothetical emergency scenario (hurricane, earthquake, largescale terrorist attack, biochemical emergency, etc.) designed to encourage employees to problem solve, work together, and apply lessons they have learned from participation in mandatory drills.

According to planning materials provided by the Texas School Safety Center, exercises for emergency planning can be segmented into four specific types:

Operations-based exercise – A drill designed to validate procedures, clarify roles and identify operational process gaps.

Tabletop exercise – A roundtable type of session administered by a facilitator where team members meet to discuss their roles and share observations regarding a simulated emergency scenario. It’s designed to test each team’s ability to refer and react to its section’s role in the emergency plan as well as team members’ readiness to communicate with other teams as needed. These usually run a few hours in duration.

Functional exercise – An exercise whereby employees perform their duties in a simulated emergency environment, broken down into hundreds of individual “message inserts,” which simulate realistic problems that need to be

addressed, and are observed in order to validate readiness. Functional exercises typically focus on specific team members and/or procedures, and are often used to identify process gaps associated with multi-agency coordination, command and control.

Full-scale exercise – Similar in execution to a functional exercise, this is as close to the real thing as possible and could include employees from multiple functions, community first responders, local businesses, and regulatory agencies. This type of exercise should utilize, to the extent possible, the actual systems and equipment that would be dispatched during a real event. From a duration standpoint, full-scale exercises often take place over the course of an entire business day.

(Source: Iverson 2002)

The time, resources and personnel to implement such a large-scale event successfully are often the biggest hurdles. School officials in Birdville Independent School District recently took part in coordinating an active shooter drill that included more than 300 community volunteers. Long-time TSPRA member Mark Thomas and his communications team helped Superintendent Dr. Gayle Stinson lead the communications effort. The event combined a simulated school shooting involving multiple victims at Richland High School with the district’s reunification process.

Members of the BISD Leadership Team created a command center and responded by implementing standard safety protocols and communications through a social media simulator. Although buses didn’t actually transport real students from RHS to BISD’s chosen reunification site, the large-scale training exercise and the debriefing with multiple agencies afterward helped Thomas and his team better plan and prepare should the unthinkable happen in their community.

In order to ensure a mass-casualty training exercise is successful, you might want to consider the following: 5 TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE CRISIS EXERCISE PLANNING

1. Establish clear and measurable objectives: Before you sit down with other agencies to plan for a mass casualty drill, first take the time to review your own Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) to ensure you have identified the specific goals and measurable objectives you want to achieve. Examples include testing staff response times, evaluating your communication protocols,

assessing coordination between agencies, and identifying areas for improvement. Clearly defining measurable objectives before you take steps to host a training will help guide the planning process and ensure maximum impact for those involved.

2. Involve all relevant stakeholders:

Engage representatives from all agencies involved in the drill, including law enforcement, emergency management, school administration, teachers, and staff. Collaboratively develop a comprehensive plan that addresses the specific needs and concerns of each agency. Regular communication and coordination among stakeholders are crucial for a successful drill.

3. Conduct a thorough risk assessment:

Prior to the drill, conduct a detailed risk assessment of the school district. Identify potential vulnerabilities, such as entry points, evacuation routes, and areas of potential congestion. This assessment will help determine the specific scenarios to be simulated during the drill and ensure that the training addresses the most critical areas.

4. Develop a realistic scenario: Design a scenario that closely resembles a real-life situation. Consider factors such as the number of participants, location, time of day, and available resources. The scenario should challenge participants and test their ability to respond effectively. However, it is important to strike a balance between realism and ensuring the safety of all participants. If you find that you are not quite prepared for a full-blown training drill, you can start with tabletop exercises or planning sessions to identify the roles and responsibilities of each representative and agency under each scenario.

5. Evaluate and debrief:

One of the most important pieces of training after the actual exercise, involves a hotwash where participants conduct a thorough evaluation and debriefing session with all participating agencies. This time of evaluation is used to assess the strengths and weaknesses observed during the drill and identify areas for improvement. Encourage open and honest feedback from all participants to gain valuable insights. Use this information to update emergency response plans, refine training protocols, and enhance coordination between agencies.


It started with one of those phone calls you never want to receive.

On Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, the Andrews High School football team was scheduled to play Springtown in the second round of playoffs. All campuses were let out early so fans could travel to Sweetwater to cheer on the Mustangs.

Around 4:30 p.m. that day, I started to receive phone call after phone call. I didn’t recognize the numbers, so I sent them all to voicemail. The phone numbers were Midland/Odessa TV reporters trying to get answers about an accident involving an Andrews ISD bus.

Three bus loads of band students were on their way to cheer on the Mustangs. Bus no. 1 and no. 2 were struck head-on on I-20 in Big Spring, Texas, just one hour east of Andrews. Several students were airlifted to the University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas, while others were transported to the local hospital in Big Spring. Unfortunately, we lost long-time bus driver and former school employee Marc Boswell and Band Director Darin Johns in the accident.

My phone continued to blow up with phone calls from the media trying to ask questions. I had NO IDEA what they were talking about. I told them I would call them back as soon as I could get some answers. I tried to get in touch with my superintendent. He didn’t answer. I tried calling our deputy superintendent. He didn’t answer.

Little did I know, our superintendent and deputy superintendent had been just a few minutes behind the band buses and arrived on scene before any law enforcement. They began pulling students out of the buses and moving them to safety.

When I was finally able to talk to our deputy superintendent, we discussed how to handle all communication. I knew I needed to get pertinent information out to the band families and that Superintendent Dr. Bobby Azam and law enforcement would handle the majority of the media at the crash site.

The first ParentSquare messages we sent out were to inform the parents of the accident and where reunification would take place. Thankfully, Big Spring ISD opened its doors to us and housed our students and staff until parents arrived. The community even brought waters and other small supplies for the students.

All AHS sporting events were canceled the rest of the weekend and the playoff game was rescheduled for the following Monday. Students and staff were supposed to return to school on that following Monday, but the district administration decided to cancel the remaining school days leading up to Thanksgiving break.

On Saturday after the accident, the AISD counseling staff met at the high school for any students who wanted or needed to talk to

12 August 2023 |

someone. Our Student Services staff brought in a therapy dogs group and they saw a huge response from our students.

I received an outpouring of support from fellow TSPRA members across the state offering help and guidance through this difficult time. We also received amazing support from school districts and even the Texas Tech Goin’ Band From Raiderland honored our band and band director during the halftime performance the following week.

Memorials were held in honor of both men that following week. AISD hosted Johns’ memorial inside the concert hall while Boswell’s service was held at his local church.

One of the local car dealerships wanted to raise money for the band, so they planned a pork chop drive-thru dinner. We also had a lot of people across the state asking how and where they could donate to the band students. Our technology director set up a link for people who wanted to donate to the band, but didn’t know where or how to send the money. They could then choose where they wanted their donation to be delegated.

Every year, Andrews hosts a Christmas light parade in early December. That year, we had thousands of high school band students bussed in from all over West Texas and beyond to play alongside our Mighty Mustang Marching Band. They walked the short parade route and played Christmas carols for the community. It was one of the most touching things to witness.

Through ParentSquare, we were able to communicate with the students and families on how to pick up their belongings that were left on both buses. Andrews ISD had all letterman jackets left on the bus professionally cleaned before they were returned to the students.

I never went to Big Spring that night. I was able to handle everything from my phone or laptop that we needed to communicate. I don’t think we could have handled this horrific situation any better than we did and our community was very gracious throughout.

Andrews ISD saw how powerful therapy dogs could be with students, so our assistant superintendent of student services began researching and building our own Therapy Dog program. We now have fullycertified therapy dogs and handlers at three of the five campuses as well as one at the administration building. We also have a couple more dogs and handlers that are going through the training and certification process right now.

When November rolled around in 2022, I began thinking about the one-year anniversary coming up. I didn’t know how our community would act or react to a memorial posting on social media. The night before, the football team, cheer squads and band traveled down the same highways to get to Clyde, Texas, for another playoff game. I know emotions were pretty high; I felt it myself.

I am a little thankful the one-year anniversary was on a Saturday. I think it may have been harder on our students and staff if they were in school on the anniversary. I decided not to do anything on social media. I didn’t want to cause a reaction or trigger anyone.

As a public relations professional, you always want to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios. I don’t think anyone or anything could have prepared me for what happened that day. I am just thankful to have a supportive community like TSPRA that I could lean on when tragedy strikes.

August 2023 | 13
JESSIKA MCKERNAN Jessika McKernan was previously the Public Relations Coordinator for Andrews ISD. She spent seven years in college athletics media relations before switching to school PR in 2019.


School leaders are thrust into action when incidents of school violence garner intense public scrutiny and media coverage. They must be prepared to offer parents assurances their child’s school is safe, and that measures are in place to respond to similar events.

School emergencies evoke thoughts of high-profile incidents - Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland and Uvalde. While mass casualty incidents involving schools are rare, they lead to breaking news banners on local and national media.

School shootings are horrific and heartbreaking, but they remain statistically rare. Schools are more likely to experience threat hoaxes, untimely accidental deaths or other non-lethal incidents. Collectively, these incidents are broad in severity and impact on students, staff, families and the community. Each incident creates disruption or chaos and triggers emotional and psychological responses with correspondingly short- and longterm consequences.

If the priority in a crisis is public safety, then the objective of crisis communication should be to prevent harm to stakeholders. In the throes of a crisis is not the time to let students, families and staff know what to do and how to react.

Communication is the foundation of any crisis planning, implementation, management and recovery effort.

School leaders should be prepared to offer parents assurances their child’s school is safe, and that measures are in place to respond to any incident or emergency. Communication with parents and caregivers is critical to developing an understanding of what happens in school when an incident occurs: What is a lockdown? Where will students go if they need to evacuate? How do I know my child is safe?

When schools build rapport and understanding with parents and caregivers, they build credibility and enhance their reputation. Families have a special connection to their schools and district, keenly interested in how any incident will impact them.

It doesn’t necessarily have to rise to the level of an emergency before the “what happened” and “where” is communicated – and more importantly how the school is responding to and managing the incident.

Not communicating by keeping families in the dark is a recipe for disaster when a crisis strikes. Keeping information from parents and key partners out of fear of “looking bad” or being sued is not a strategy. It is an exercise in organizational failure.


It stands to reason, then, that we must always be first with communication, when possible, and credible … always. Achieving this requires a robust strategy and plan that focuses on traditional communication practices and social media.

The key is balance, knowing that school and community partners receive information from a variety of sources. No school system is best served by relying on any one communication channel. Emergency preparedness plans must account for multiple communication approaches and vehicles. The more schools engage in the use of traditional and social media from the onset of a crisis, the better positioned they are to anticipate, communicate and regain trust in order to help manage and recover from a crisis.

Crises often create an information void. The absence of communication or undue delays has consequences. Stakeholders are motivated to reduce uncertainty, which leads to increased information seeking. That information may come from ill-informed, misinformed, or persons with less than-desirable motivations.

Additionally, residents expect schools to adhere to the accountability principle by providing a thorough explanation of events, responses and assurances the causes do not contribute to a repeat. Like many public organizations, school districts have a greater obligation to provide information, and demonstrate the greatest transparency. Any other strategy risks long-term impacts and may delay the recovery or return to normalcy in the wake of a tragic incident.

As strong of a conviction as there is for timely communication, managing any crisis successfully is less about saying the right things and more about

doing the right things. People remember how a crisis was handled longer than the details of the incident.

Truth is, schools and campuses are better prepared to prevent school violence and respond to school emergencies. Here’s the reality. Bad stuff happens. There is no guarantee that schools will be violencefree. And, while there are no easy solutions, there are intelligent alternatives to reduce the risks to life and property.

The one constant must be a commitment to improve and strengthen all aspects of crisis prevention, preparedness, response and recovery plans.

Rick is the executive director of community relations and emergency management for Bloomington (MN) Public Schools. He is a nationally respected author, consultant and trainer on crisis management and communication. He served as the Crisis Response Team lead for the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999, and continues to work with school districts across the country to manage and recover from school violence incidents, including Broward County Public Schools and Uvalde Public Schools.

August 2023 | 15

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If you haven’t been there yet, it’s coming: your school PR response to an emergency event. It can range from a water outage that may last a week, a weather event that damages one or more buildings, a bus accident or by far the worst, an active shooter on a campus where lives are lost. District communication staff have the unique position in a school district where they must know about the events of every campus and the mission and direction of every department as they can be asked at any moment to provide information about any and every aspect of what is going on (and why) at a school or district.

Responding to media requests is an everyday occurrence. Responding to an emergency means school district communication staff must be prepared with clear, concise information about the situation and what the district does to prevent, mitigate, prepare for and recover from an event during heightened stress levels of staff, leaders, students, parents and community members. Can you, today, answer how your district or school is keeping students and staff safe? Do you know what the response plan is for any hazardous event and what measures your district has in place for recovery? Knowing the information in your district’s multi-hazard emergency operations plan can help you keep calm while doing the job of responding to a hazardous event.

First things first, school safety is multidisciplinary and multi-hazard in nature. This means that it is not one person’s job to ensure your schools are safe. It is a shared responsibility. School safety involves not just educators and schools, but parents, students, first responders, mental health professionals, policymakers, and community leaders understanding the various hazards your schools can face. No one panacea ensures a safe and healthy school environment. All stakeholders must be engaged in how to prevent, mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recover from any type of incident that could arise. Your district is legally required to have plans in place and a multidisciplinary committee to ensure these plans are followed, communicated and trained on to ensure that all involved (including students) are prepared for and know how to respond to emergencies.

18 August 2023 |
Dr. Celina Bley presented at #TSPRA23 during the third general session. This session featured an update from the capitol on safety and a safety and security forum featuring leaders from around the state. DR. CELINA BLEY


As a communications staff member, you need to be aware of the following top five school safety mandates and understand how they work in your district so you can better respond to any event. If you know of misalignment in your district’s plans, it is your responsibility to bring the issue to the attention of your district leaders so that the best plan is developed, trained, and drilled on to ensure students and staff are safe and secure.

1. School Safety and Security Committee: Your district must have a school safety and security committee that has multiple stakeholders listed in law (Texas Education Code 37.109). The committee is responsible for updating the multi-hazard emergency operations plan and reviewing district and campus audit findings. Do you sit on this committee? If not, it is a best practice that someone in the communications department serves on this committee. The committee is required to meet, at a minimum, three times a year. This is the team that works to ensure all five phases in your district’s emergency posture are addressed: prevention, mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery.

2. Multi-hazard Emergency Operations Plan: Your district has a multi-hazard emergency operations plan (EOP) which includes a hazard analysis specific to your district as well as a chain of command in communication and how, and on what, your district will train and drill (Texas Education Code 37.108). Do you know what this plan includes? Do you know where your role falls in the plan? This plan is reviewed by the Texas School Safety Center to ensure it meets all the criteria, but it is the responsibility of your district’s School Safety and Security Committee to ensure the plan is communicated, trained, drilled and updated each year and after events through after-action reviews.

3. School Safety Audits: Audits are learning tools to assist districts on where they stand regarding their school safety posture. Every instructional and noninstructional facility is required by law (Texas Education Code 37.108) to be audited at least once every three years. What were the findings of your last audit? What was done or is being done to address the findings? New

this school year the Texas School Safety Center also conducted Intruder Detection Audits as keeping all external doors locked became a requirement during the 22-23 school year. What were the findings, if any, of your Intruder Detection Audit(s) and what has your district done to improve its safety posture?

4. Drills:

There are annual mandatory school drills (such as lockdown, evacuation and fire drills) and rules designating the number of rules and procedures for evacuating schools during an emergency (Texas Education Code 37.114). How are your schools performing during these drills? Are after-action reviews being done to change or tweak response actions by students and staff? Do you share with your community what drills and how often students will take part in them? These are all best practices. Having a designated reunification site is currently not mandated in law, but it is considered a best practice. A reunification site takes a lot of time to plan and prepare for, and school communication staff play a key role in this planning. If you don’t know if your district has one, now is the time to ask and inform yourself of the plan and your role.

5. School Behavioral Threat Assessment: School Behavioral Threat Assessment is a preventative system meant to intervene with individuals posing a risk of harm to self or others and get them off the pathway to violence. It is based on research on U.S. school shootings that shows that most school shooters had seriously concerned others in their lives prior to the attack. Every campus in your district must be served by a school behavioral threat assessment team and the team makeup is legally required (Texas Education Code 37.115). When a student is found to be on the pathway, the team proposes interventions based on your school and district’s community resources. Key to this system is students and staff knowing to say something when they see or hear something which requires your district to train both students and staff what to report, to whom and how. It is common for school district communication professionals to have to respond to threats made public by students or other people and knowing what your district has in place to support and respond to these threats is crucial to your communications response.

August 2023 | 19

Following these five school safety mandates, along with many other measures specific to each district, is how districts are keeping students and staff safe every day. Each district is unique in their safety posture as each district has different programs, staff and resources dedicated to this area, and it is key to know and understand what your district does in its entirety to protect schools, including school safety personnel. Your role as a communications staff member is essential to your district’s school safety posture. Most importantly, if you think or know that a plan may or may not work for any reason, it is imperative that you speak with your district leaders. Ensuring your district and schools have a strong safety posture takes everyone knowing the emergency operations plan, preparing by drilling and training on the plan, and identifying and addressing weaknesses in the plan. At some point, you will be asked to respond to an emergency situation and having knowledge of both the plan and your role in the plan is crucial to ensuring a smooth communications plan and response.

The Texas School Safety Center provides training and resources on these five and many other safety topics, including school-based law enforcement and mental health support in schools. The Texas School Safety Center serves as the central clearinghouse for school safety in Texas, and the training, guidance, and resources we provide are informed by the latest best practices. Best of all, our trainings and resources are free for Texas school personnel. Please check out our website at for all our trainings, toolkits and other resources including our new safety podcast where these safety topics and best practices are discussed with school district administrators.

Dr. Celina Bley was the 2002 TSPRA Rookie of the Year and worked in School PR and Operations for 18 years in districts in the Central Texas region. She worked her way up from Public Information Officer to Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations for a large 6A district, where she oversaw school safety. She began working with the Texas School Safety Center in 2019 as the Associate Director of Training and Education for the state and this article is a synopsis of her keynote on school safety given at the 2023 TSPRA Conference. TSPRA members are always welcome and encouraged to contact Celina for any questions, comments or inquiries regarding school safety and communication at

20 August 2023 |


The Standard Response Protocol (SRP) is based on the response to any given situation not on individual scenarios. Like the Incident Command System (ICS), SRP demands a specific vocabulary but also allows for great flexibility. The premise is simple - these five specific actions that can be performed during an incident. When communicating these, the action is labeled with a “Term of Art” and is then followed by a “Directive.” Execution of the action is performed by active participants.

HOLD is followed by the Directive: “In Your Room or Area” and is the protocol used when hallways need to be kept clear of occupants.

SECURE is followed by the Directive: “Get Inside. Lock Outside Doors” and is the protocol used to safeguard people within the building.

LOCKDOWN is followed by “Locks, Lights, Out of Sight” and is the protocol used to secure individual rooms and keep occupants quiet and in place.

EVACUATE and may be followed by a location, and is used to move people from one location to a different location in or out of the building.

SHELTER State the Hazard and Safety Strategy for group and self protection.


No significant changes have been made to the Standard Response Protocol, but it has been updated to provide additional guidance and detail. The Standard Response Protocol 2023 includes additional guidance and detail around conducting drills, messaging to parents and guardians, sequencing of the actions, and environmental factors that may impact decisions.

The supporting materials (handouts, posters, etc.) will remain unchanged. The Classroom Instructor Guide will be updated, but the existing 2021 Classroom Instructor Guide will remain valid.

August 2023 | 21 I LOVE YOU GUYS


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Who were the members of your team who worked on the We Grow Giants campaign that won?

• Kendall David

Executive Director of Community Engagement

• Kristyn Cathey Director of Communications

• Brittney Culpepper Coordinator of Marketing

• Gemina Trujillo

Multimedia Design Specialist

• Carrie Pryor-Newman

Multimedia Production Specialist

• Angela Sanders

Administrative Assistant

How long of a process was it to produce?

The Here, We Grow Giants brand and marketing campaign started in 2017 and has evolved. Each year we create a marketing campaign to reenergize the brand and have a specific focus to meet the needs of our community.

How did you come up with the concept?

We have a Here, We Grow Giants Action Team that reviews the previous year marketing campaign objectives and makes changes. This team consists of teachers, administrators, support staff, and community members. The campaign is launched with a video at the beginning of each school year.

What does it mean for you all to win this award?

We have entered pieces of Here, We Grow Giants for over three years. This brand has been the anchor of our department for years-being recognized for this work is incredibly important to us. Building a district brand is difficult and we have worked really hard to create unity in our district and community through Here, We Grow Giants. It is a way to honor our amazing students and staff and highlight the opportunities our district provides.

24 August 2023 |
Goose Creek CISD took the Platinum Star Award at the annual 2023 TSPRA Conference at the Omni Downtown, Fort Worth. Kendall David, the district’s Executive Director of Community Engagement, gave us a little insight into putting together a winning combination.

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In my role as a communications professional, I follow the RPIE process for tasks both big and small. Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation will guide you through any crisis as well. This article takes you through the first three steps in this process. Evaluation is an essential part of this process and should not be skipped. Measuring the success of a program and reanalyzing for the future is something we all should be doing every opportunity we have.

When you are entering a crisis or presented with a crisis, you can do your research quickly but don’t overlook this step. The first step is to find out the facts surrounding the situation and then confirm with more than one source. When I get a call from my supervisor about the situation, I confer with at least two more sources to corroborate the information. This might mean a student, law enforcement, your safety director, or an employee. I will talk to no less than three people to make sure I have all the information correct. When I craft the message, I want to make sure it is accurate and don’t speculate or assume at any point in the process. Being timely is also important, but accuracy is key. During this period, take a moment to dig into your document vault, exploring any correspondence from past events that might serve as inspiration. Should the need arise, consider dedicating time to connect with a reliable colleague within the industry, seeking their valuable opinions or insights. Most recently, my school district had an incident that had occurred a few weeks previous in another district. I called my counterpart, and she gave me advice and shared her letters. These were invaluable when the time came to send our message.

Once you’ve done your research and factgathering, you will go into your planning step to decide what information can be shared as well as the audience(s). This means that you will have to take the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) into consideration as well as confidential or medical information. If you are dealing with

a personnel issue that is ongoing or just getting started, be sure to consult directly with the Human Resources department to verify what information can be released and when. If you are dealing with a student issue, this will involve parental consent if any information is sensitive or medically-related, such as suicide, hospitalization, death, etc. If law enforcement is involved, then you will need to ensure you are not releasing any information that would impede their investigation or preempt what they want out in the public.

For instance, if a student is detained at school after making a terroristic threat, then confirm that your notification is in sync with their timeline. If they detain a juvenile, the student’s identity is protected. If the student is an adult, their name may appear in a police report that is available to the public and the media. I do not recommend putting identifiable information in the announcement. Instead, put vague details to keep you from also violating FERPA regardless of the age of the student. (i.e., A male student who attends Anytown Middle School was detained by the Anytown Police Department and charged with making a Terroristic Threat.)

Now that you have facts and some inspiration, you must quickly think through your audience(s). I live in a smaller, tight-knit community. If something happens at our high school that is credible, we will share the message district-wide. For instance, a lockdown with a reported threat will affect campus and district operations on a larger scale outside the sole campus. If the incident was contained and no threat was found, we may opt to keep it at the campus level with the notification. Our notifications are based on priority, and we will always start with employees, then parents, then media, and community members. Having your internal audience, your employees primarily, with the correct and factual information is key. They can dispel rumors and will help calm parents when they make contact with them. Your staff members are a trusted source of information.

August 2023 | 27

Now it’s time to draft your message - the implementation step. There are some key components I recommend including:

• Opening Statement with the 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why) that includes your voice and the appropriate tone

• Show Sympathy when necessary

• Own it and apologize, if necessary

• Provide Resources

• Give details that are allowable

• Show gratitude when appropriate

• Reinforce your commitment/Share your plans

• Close with contact information

Now that you have a draft version of the message, you can copy and edit it for any other audience you plan to send it to. Be sure to get someone to look at it before you send it, not only to proofread and edit but give you honest feedback. Ask them, does this make sense to you? Should I add anything? Am I leaving anything out? When writing for another subgroup like employees, you may have additional information to share with them that is not meant for parents or the general public. Just know that whatever you send to the parents will get copied and posted online or shared with the media. This is not always a bad thing, but you don’t want to get caught sending different messages. Also, different information is important to different audiences. If you are telling parents you are having an unplanned early dismissal, it will impact each student differently. Be sure to include messaging to address each scenario (i.e., transportation, afterschool programs, athletics, tutoring).

Once you have your messaging ready for each audience, test it for length and translate it. Most mass notification systems and social media channels have a character limit. You will have to shorten your message for text, phone calls, and social media. The best thing is to copy and paste it to see what will fit and then trim it down as needed. In texts and social media posts to make it shorter, you can use an ampersand (&) instead of and, shorten dates (Jan. 31), use common school acronyms (Carl Schurz Elementary with CSE) or use punctuation to separate details (colon, dash, vertical bar).

Now that your messaging is ready to go out, send it out on all platforms that are available and appropriate. If it is a student safety issue, consider programming a phone call to go out to parents and a text message. They will want to know right away that they need to pick up their kid early or if there is a change to the school operations. All other notifications can just go as an email if not urgent or merely informative.

You will also need to consider the timing of the notification. If the event took place that day, you would want to get it out that same day (i.e., a kid brought a fake weapon to school, an ambulance called for a student). If the incident is no longer active, you might also consider sending it out after school releases (i.e., a dead bat found, expired food served). A lot of the time, parents will call the school immediately to say they missed a message/ call rather than check their voicemail or email. If you send it during the school day, make sure those answering the phone have a copy of the notice to reference and speaking points. This will give them prepared responses on what they can share and give some peace of mind to the parents that call in. The last thing they want to hear is “I don’t know?” when they call.

Also, be prepared to communicate frequently with updates if the situation warrants follow-up. This could mean sharing funeral details, rescheduling event details, counseling services, success stories/ good news, or closure to an ongoing incident. Just know that any personal information should be cleared by the student’s parents or the employee’s family before sharing it with your stakeholders.

Finally, if the notification is sensitive, remove the parents or the employee from the distribution list, so they don’t get copied on the details related to their loved one. This is also important to make sure you have a way to remove them from the system immediately if they are deceased. The last thing you want is to send the parent a notice that their child is absent or has an overdue balance in the cafeteria. These little details are important and can make a big difference to the family you want to support during this time.

28 August 2023 |


Opening statement:

It is with a heavy heart that I am sharing news regarding one of our Anytown Elementary teachers. This is a huge loss for the Anytown school family and for Anytown ISD.

Show sympathy and personalize, when necessary:

Mr. Smith was an amazing teacher, father, husband, co-worker, and human being. His kindness, humor, and positive attitude will be forever missed, but his legacy continues in those he has made an impression on in life and into the future.

Own it and apologize if necessary:

I am writing to inform you about a mistake that was made today by our staff when serving the afternoon snack to the Pre-K students in Mrs. Smith’s and Ms. Jones’ class at Anytown Elementary. We are committed to providing a quality food service program and apologize for this oversight.

Provide resources:

If you have questions regarding the medical impact of lead, the best source of information is your family health care provider. The District has been working closely with the County Public Health, and they are ready to answer any medical questions. The CPH Information Line is 000-000-0000.

We realize you may have many questions. Please see the following information from the CDC and let me or the school nurse know if there are any additional questions you may have.

Show gratitude when appropriate:

We greatly appreciate the assistance of the Anytown Police Department in handling this situation and helping Anytown ISD ensure a safe and secure environment for our students.

Reinforce your commitment/share your plans:

Your student’s safety is our highest priority, and we are doing everything in our power to address this situation in a quick and thorough manner. We will continue to keep you and your family informed throughout this process.

In the meantime, our custodial staff remains diligent in cleaning all possibly-affected classrooms, including removing and washing all cloth items and stuffed animals. The health and safety of our students, staff, and visitors are extremely important to us, so we are proceeding with due diligence to mitigate the situation.

I am currently working on plans for after Spring Break in regard to coverage for the classroom and providing consistency for the remainder of the year. I will share further information with the parents of his current students before we return on March 23rd.

Close with contact information:

I know you join me in extending our heartfelt sympathy to his family. Please do not hesitate to contact the school at 000-000-0000 if you have any concerns or questions.

Thank you for your understanding and support during this difficult situation.


Rebecca is the Bond Operations Specialist for New Braunfels ISD and the Immediate Past President of the Texas School Public Relations Association. She has more than 20 years of experience as a communications professional and is Accredited in Public Relations. She frequently presents at the state and national levels on crisis communication, media relations, and community engagement.

August 2023 | 29
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Communications Specialist

Floresville Independent School District

What did you do before this job?

I was the Digital Producer for Telemundo 60 San Antonio before joining Floresville ISD as the Communications Specialist. My duties included managing the station’s website and social media platforms, as well as creating content for the newscasts.

What is something TSPRA colleagues need to know about you?

I am fully bilingual! I would love the opportunity to translate for those who may need help or an extra pair of eyes to proofread any communication in Spanish.

What is something TSPRA colleagues would not expect to know about you?

I love white sharks! I find them to be incredibly interesting creatures and would love to see them up close one day.

What is something you like to do to unplug/unwind after a stressful day?

Baking! The whole process helps me get my mind off any stressor and the smell of freshly baked cookies or brownies is very soothing to me.


Communications/Media Officer

Caldwell Independent School District

What did you do before this job?

I have been in the classroom for the last 12 years, teaching Graphic Design, Yearbook, and Art/ Advanced Art.

What is something TSPRA colleagues need to know about you?

I love any and all types of technology and social media. I truly enjoyed teaching at the high school level because, not only did I show them new things daily, they showed me even more! My favorite digital tool (for today) is CapCut! As much as I LOVED teaching, I’ve really enjoyed my transition into the Communications & Media Officer role for our district because it allows me the chance to see the amazing things happening at all campuses, with students of all ages!

What is something TSPRA colleagues would not expect to know about you?

I have been coaching our Varsity Cheer squad for the last 12 years!

What is something you like to do to unplug/unwind after a stressful day?

My favorite form of stress relief is online shopping! I also love traveling or doing anything outdoors with my precious family of 6!


Community Relations Director

Caddo Mills Independent School District

What did you do before this job?

I was a speech and debate teacher and then I was a principal. I am now the Community Relations Director for Caddo Mills ISD. It is a part-time position because I retired from education in May of 2022 after 28 years as a teacher/principal.

What is something TSPRA colleagues need to know about you?

I grew up showing Quarter Horses and rodeoing.

What is something TSPRA colleagues would not expect to know about you?

I want to move to Playa del Carmen.

What is something on your bucket list? Ride my horse.

32 August 2023 |

School Appreciation Days


Let's Celebrate!

N a t i o n a l A r t s i n E d u c a t i o n W e e k

N a t i o n a l H i s p a n i c H e r i t a g e M o n t h

N a t i o n a l T e a c h e r ' s A s s i s t a n t D a y

E d u c a t i o n T e c h n o l o g y D a y

N a t i o n a l P r i n c i p a l M o n t h

S c h o o l C u s t o d i a n A p p r e c i a t i o n D a y

W o r l d T e a c h e r s ' D a y

N a t i o n a l I n s t r u c t i o n a l C o a c h ' s D a y

N a t i o n a l S c h o o l L u n c h W e e k

N a t i o n a l S c h o o l B u s S a f e t y W e e k

N a t i o n a l B o s s ' s D a y

N a t i v e A m e r i c a n H e r i t a g e M o n t h

N a t i o n a l S T E M / S T E A M D a y

N a t i o n a l S c h o o l P s y c h o l o g y W e e k

V e t e r a n s D a y

E d u c a t i o n S u p p o r t P r o f e s s i o n a l s D a y

S u b s t i t u t e P r o f e s s i o n a l D a y

S c h o o l B o a r d A p p r e c i a t i o n M o n t h

L a w E n f o r c e m e n t A p p r e c i a t i o n D a y

C a r e e r & T e c h n i c a l E d u c a t i o n M o n t h

N a t i o n a l A f r i c a n A m e r i c a n H i s t o r y M o n t h

N a t i o n a l S c h o o l C o u n s e l i n g W e e k

S c h o o l R e s o u r c e O f f i c e r D a y

M a i n t e n a n c e W o r k e r A p p r e c i a t i o n D a y

R e a d A c r o s s A m e r i c a D a y

T e x a s I n d e p e n d e n c e D a y

N a t i o n a l S c h o o l S o c i a l W o r k W e e k

P a r a p r o f e s s i o n a l A p p r e c i a t i o n D a y

N a t i o n a l A s s i s t a n t P r i n c i p a l W e e k

S c h o o l L i b r a r i a n A p p r e c i a t i o n D a y

P u b l i c S c h o o l V o l u n t e e r W e e k

S c h o o l B u s D r i v e r A p p r e c i a t i o n D a y

N a t i o n a l A d m i n i s t r a t i v e P r o f e s s i o n a l ' s D a y

S c h o o l P r i n c i p a l ' s D a y

S c h o o l L u n c h H e r o D a y

T e a c h e r A p p r e c i a t i o n W e e k

S c h o o l N u r s e D a y

S c h o o l C o m m u n i c a t o r s D a y

S p e e c h P a t h o l o g i s t D a y

S e p t 1 0 - 1 6

S e p t 1 5 - O c t 1 5

S e p t 2 9

S e p t 2 3

O c t o b e r

O c t 2

O c t 5

O c t 6

O c t 9 - 1 3

O c t 1 6 - 2 0

O c t 1 7

N o v e m b e r

N o v 8

N o v 7 - 1 1

N o v 1 1

N o v 1 5

N o v 1 7

J a n u a r y

J a n 9

F e b r u a r y

F e b r u a r y

F e b 5 - 9

F e b 1 5

M a r c h 1

M a r c h 1

M a r c h 2

M a r c h 3 - 9

A p r i l 3

A p r i l 8 - 1 2

A p r i l 9

A p r i l 1 5 - 1 9

A p r i l 2 3

A p r i l 2 4

M a y 1

M a y 3

M a y 6 - 1 0

M a y 8

M a y 1 0

M a y 1 8

August 2023 | 33
C a l e n d a r 2 0 2 3 - 2 0 2 4
n c o l l a b o r a t i o n w i t h
A ' s R e s o u r c e s f o r P l a n n i n g t h e S c h o o l

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