What Superintendents Need to Know and Want to Share About Communicating
This document was created based upon recent interviews with local and intermediate school
district superintendents. The focus of the interviews was on gathering information about the
groups with whom and in the manner in which superintendents communicate on a regular
basis. The ideas are shared here in hopes of benefiting others. [Note: this does not reference
communication with Boards of Education. For more information, see Administrators‟ “Tricks of the Trade,”
published by Michigan Association of School Administrators, referenced in bibliography.)
Communicating With the
Administrative Team Communicating With Staff
Building a positive relationship with the Next to the role of communicating with the
administrative team is crucial to a Board of Education, every superintendent
superintendent’s success. Several ideas identified the importance of maintaining
were shared that would help build positive relationships with the staff. Some
collaborative relationships: specifically mentioned the key role of the
central office staff in helping the
Respect the administrators’ time in superintendent carry out his/her duties.
meeting agendas, etc. Other ideas shared include:
Talk with building principals regularly. Get to know your staff – by attending
Stay out of their way and let them staff and departmental meetings, and
make decisions pertaining to their by keeping them informed of district
buildings. events and progress.
Involve administrators in the Be visible at building and district
budgetary process. events – including the first day of
Keep administrators informed of school.
important issues. Earn the staff’s trust and maintain it.
Use e-mail as effective form of Other specifics include:
communication. o Maintain e-mail communication
Seek feedback from administrators with all staff groups.
on district progress. o Conduct an entrance interview
Host an administrative retreat to with new employees to review
establish goals, share ideas and their background, the
voice concerns. employee contract, and
Remain open for phone calls at all discuss expectations.
times. o Be friendly, but not “friends”;
Meet every week with new principals maintain a professional
for mentoring and coaching. relationship.
Review daily bulletins and read o Praise and recognize people
building newsletters – offer who work hard to meet goals.
comments. o Don’t forget the support staff –
meet with groups on a regular
o Remember staff birthdays.
“Stay in touch with building happenings by reviewing daily bulletins and building newsletters and
offering positive comments about what you read.” Dr. Charles Smith, Croswell-Lexington Schools
Communicating With and Being
Involved in the Community
“I believe in the „bigger brain‟. When I
This is a very important role for which the facilitate a group, I ask, „Who else needs
superintendent is chiefly responsible. Some to be at the table?‟”
superintendents shared more traditional Mike Dewey
methods of communication, such as Bay-Arenac Intermediate School District
newsletters, annual reports, and press
releases, while others discussed the
importance of visibility at school events and Serving the Community
website communication (see section below).
The majority of superintendents also
Also emphasized was the need to focus on referenced the importance of involvement in
the positive aspects of the district’s and service to the community. Some
performance and success, i.e. “This is a districts cross the boundaries of more than
system you can be proud of because…” On one community. In these cases, the
the other hand, superintendents stressed superintendents identified ways in which
that it is essential to be honest and fair with they made conscious attempts to be
the public: admit if you are wrong, and call involved in each to some degree. Most
people on errors if they wrongly portray superintendents served on some type of
district affairs. community organization or board, including:
A Novel Idea – Key Communicators Chamber of Commerce
Community Athletic Teams
The most novel idea encountered was Community Foundations
shared by Harold Titus, Superintendent of Church Board
Carsonville – Port Sanilac Schools. Titus Downtown Development Authority
utilizes a group he calls Key Economic Development Commission
Communicators, 48 people in the community Hospital Board
who were identified by the Board of
Human Services Coordinating Body
Education as having a sphere of influence
within the community. The Key
Communicators were solicited to help get Rotary
the word out about district initiatives to United Way
families in the district. They receive Workforce Development Board
highlights from board meetings immediately
after they are held. Key Communicators, in “It is important for the community to
turn, share the information with others and feel like we are all in this together.”
are asked to contact the superintendent if Tim Lentz
they have questions about the school. Sandusky School District
The system has worked effectively and is
considered by the Titus to be “the only Involvement in meaningful work of the
authorized grapevine in town.” community goes a long way toward
establishing a superintendent’s credibility as
one who cares about children and families,
and who is willing to invest in pursuits that
Key Communicators – “The only make a positive difference.
authorized grapevine in town.”
Carsonville-Port Sanilac Schools
Communicate Via the District’s Website
“Hire good people in key roles, give
Nearly every superintendent interviewed them the tools and support
emphasized the increasing importance of necessary to be effective, and then
the district’s website as a communication get out of their way and let them do
tool. Some of the ways that websites are their job. If they look good, you will
being utilized to communicate with the public look good.”
include posting and hosting the following: Duane Lange
Marlette Community Schools
Classroom curriculum and homework
Demographic data and local The Final Word
District mission, vision and goals. When all is said and done, there are several
District newsletters, annual reports ideas that, no matter what your district
and superintendents’ messages. demographics – small or large, rural or
Feedback surveys to collect input on suburban – remain key to a superintendent’s
district initiatives. success as an effective communicator and
Parent access to student grading leader:
Parent involvement plans. Treat people as you would want to be
Photo galleries to celebrate student treated.
events and achievements. Be honest, straightforward and
Staff directories and e-mail portals. sincere.
Get back with people in a timely
Do not pretend to answer questions
for which you don’t know the answer.
Lead by example – which cannot be
done sitting in an office.
Jump in and help wherever and
whenever needed – in school and/or
Website pick – the community.
Peck Community Schools Choose a district administrator whose
style is similar to yours to represent
The website banner identifies Peck you in public (in your absence)
Community Schools as a Professional regarding issues or specific tasks.
Learning Community. Hire good people in key roles, give
them the tools and support necessary
The site includes user-friendly navigation to be effective, and then get out of
systems. It opens with a welcome and news their way and let them do their job. If
update from superintendent, Dave Bush. It they look good, you will look good.
also contains key communication tools,
including a district newsletter and Parent As we lead schools into the 21st Century, we
Involvement Plan. must explore new ways to forge learning
partnerships with school staff, parents and
Visit the site at www.peck.k12.mi.us community members. Our children and our
collective future are depending on us.
A Bibliography of Communication Resources for Superintendents
Administrators’ “tricks of the trade”. Michigan Association of School Administrators. Retrieved
Blank, M. J., Jehl, J., Neary, M. (2005, Summer). Engaging the community: Strategies that
work. Threshold, 7-9.
Blank, M. J., Hale, B., Harkavy, I. (2005, Summer). Engaging all leaders. Threshold, 16-17.
Caruso, N. D. (2005, April). Setting the right direction. The School Administrator, 6.
Caruso, N. D. (2005, June). The lone ranger on the board. The School Administrator, 8.
Eadie, D. (2005, February). Board committees as the governing engines. The School
Eadie, D. (2005, August ). Curing the ownership deficit syndrome. The School Administrator, 6.
Education matters: A CPA perspective for administrators. (2004, September). Saginaw, MI:
Yeo & Yeo, CPAs and Business Consultants.
Johnson, S. M. (1996). Leading to change: The challenge of the new superintendency. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Kimball, D. (2005, January). The cornerstone relationship between CEO and board president.
The School Administrator, 6.
Kleinsmith, S. L. (2005, March). What comprises an award-winning board? The School
Lustberg, A. (2005, June). The answer is the way you message. The School Administrator, 6.
McAdams, D. R. (2004, September). Management oversight but not management. The School
McLeod, S. (2005, Summer). Profiles in leadership: District distinction. Threshold, 18-21.
Pascopella, A. (2005, May). Selling your schools: Learn how good public relations can alleviate
community fears, help support long-term projects, and boost local property values.
District Administration, 30-34, 43-44.
Rossman-McKinney, K. (2005, January 27). Fear of fying: The ABCs of media relations. Paper
presented at Michigan Association of School Administrators 2005 Midwinter Conference,
Silverman, F. (2005, April). Best buddies: Superintendents and mayors are no longer
adversaries. District Administration, 48-53.
Prepared by: Joanne E. Hopper, Director of General Education Services, Sanilac Intermediate School District
Doctoral Candidate, Central Michigan University, Education and Community Leadership