Communication Essentials

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   Communication Essentials
   What Superintendents Need to Know and Want to Share About Communicating
                                                                                                  December 2005

   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
                                                         Lions Club
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.”
                             Harold Titus
         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
       community connections.
      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            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
       Administrator, 8.
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
       Administrator, 6.
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,
       Kalamazoo, MI.
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