by Valita S. Quattlebaum, APR
Chief Communications Officer
Effective communication is critical to the success of New Hanover County Schools. In today’s economic climate, it has never been more important for us to tell the story of public education. NHCS is in a unique position. I believe that we are on the verge of going from being a good school district to becoming a great school district, and effective communication is going to help us get there. We are fortunate to have leadership that values and has high expectations for communication. As a result, the district has implemented successful communications policies.
Today’s schools are high-profile organizations under constant public scrutiny. We are unfairly portrayed in documentaries such as Waiting for Superman and movies like Won’t Back Down that spotlight the worst-case scenarios in public education. Public education is under attack, and unfair or not, public perception is important. Therefore, we have to tell the story about how we make a positive difference in the lives of our students every day and how our schools are succeeding overall in spite of dwindling resources. Otherwise, people will form their opinions from limited news coverage, biased films, gossip and rumors.
We have to tell that our graduation rate is up, that we are making gains in closing the achievement gap and that we have some of the most highly-qualified educators in the state working in this district. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have our share of challenges in these and other areas, but it does mean that we are making progress. We must make our voices heard.
It is important for us to communicate with and engage all of our stakeholders including students, parents, legislators and the community-at-large. We face increasing competition from charter schools, private schools, virtual schools and home schooling. Over the past several years, we have faced declining resources and had our budgets slashed about as much as they can stand.
Good leaders understand the importance of effective communication. I don’t think it is a coincidence that some of our most successful schools have the best communications plans. They have appointed a public relations coordinator who works closely with my office to send in the latest news from the field. These principals and directors recognize the importance of effective communication and they use it to help their teams excel. Simply, they make it a priority and a part of their plan for success.
What do I mean by effective communication? In NHCS, effective communication does the following:
- Keeps parents, the media and the public informed about the latest initiatives and activities.
- Helps bolster and promote student and staff achievement.
- Helps foster collaboration among city, county and school officials which is critical to success – especially in tight budget times.
- Helps build community support, business partnerships and volunteerism in our schools.
- Provides accurate and reliable information daily – especially during emergencies and crises.
- Maintains continual engagement with our key stakeholders through community and employee events such as the NHCS Community Job Fair, Vendor Fair and Convocation.
- Maintains substantive social media messages in today’s 24/7 news cycle to ensure transparency and efficient message dissemination.
- Recognizes the value of listening well to build positive relationships.
We realize that not all of our students’ homes have computers, so we reach out in a variety of ways so that no one misses out on vital information if they are interested in obtaining it. Face-to-face communication is still the best way. Our public feedback indicates that parents appreciate the district’s comprehensive website, NHCS TV, blogs, online surveys, AlertNow, subscription-based html newsletters, email, and social networking including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In addition to all of that, we still do it the old-fashioned way – sending home flyers in the book bags. In other words, if someone is interested in what is going on in NHCS, we make it easy.
Every day I am encouraged by the teachers, teacher assistants, principals, school staffs, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and central office employees who give 100 percent because we care for the children we serve. The examples are endless. Employees do things that go unrecognized and that are not required, such as going into their own pockets for school supplies, bringing in food for hungry students who sometimes miss breakfast and advocating for students every day. We have custodians who use their breaks to tutor students and school nurses who do all they can to take care of our students and have literally – in emergency situations – saved their lives. NHCS principals, teachers and other professionals are increasingly obtaining more advanced degrees and certifications in their areas of expertise.
Educational leadership is challenging, complex work, and it is most important. To quote a colleague from the National School Public Relations Association, “There is nothing trivial about what we do!” In my opinion, education is one of the things that makes this nation great. Effective communication gives leaders the opportunity to tell the story of public education and most importantly, it helps keep NHCS moving in the right direction.