Host Joel Gagne speaks with Dr. Ray Lechner of Wilmette Public Schools (District 39) about how effective communication strategies are one of the factors that make Wilmette one of the best school districts in Illinois.

Dr. Ray is the superintendent of Wilmette Public Schools and stresses the importance of effective communication strategies among the other pieces of the puzzle that make Wilmette so successful.

He started as a school psychologist, and people pointed out that he had a talent for program development, which began his steps toward becoming a school administrator and eventually superintendent. He says to be effective in school leadership, you need to listen.

“You need to be an awesome listener,” Dr. Ray says. “It’s not just about hearing the words that somebody says, but actually putting yourself in their shoes.”

He says that once you truly have the understanding of someone’s perspective, it can help you create effective programs for students.

Wilmette Public Schools is consistently top ranked due to several factors.

First, they focus on every child.

Dr. Ray says that by focusing on every child, they’ve developed programs to support children with severe social and emotional problems, and this has helped drive success.

Second, they have effective communication strategies to share the school and the students’ successes to help get the community’s support.

Dr. Ray says that effective communication strategies are a challenge for every school throughout the country.

“We are regularly celebrating our successes with our community and sharing with them the work that we do for each child,” says Dr. Ray. “When parents see how we are touching children at the very core of their being, it’s pretty amazing.”

Joel asks how they effectively communicate with non-parents within the community.

Dr. Ray says a big part of their communication strategy includes reaching out to the local community. They work closely with the park district, library, rotary club and more to coordinate and facilitate programs together.

He also mentions that effective communication strategies internally help keep the staff engaged and energized.

He says a weekly email that features what he calls a tidbit helps keep staff excited.

“I look for something in the world that ties to education that’s inspiring and supporting,” Dr. Ray says. “This week it’s going to be the Handicap This! video.”

He also features what he calls a Friday Minute in every weekly email.

“I go out and find something unique or interesting in the school and I interview students about that,” Dr. says. This week’s Friday Minute will feature an interview with Mike and Tim from Handicap This!

He also holds Cookies and Conversations and Donuts and Discussion to encourage staff to ask question or voice concerns twice a year. He uses these sessions to help guide his strategic planning for the year.

Joel asks what Dr. Ray sees as the challenges public education will face in the next five years.

“The number one thing that all educators need to do is focus on the messages that we’re sending out to our communities,” Dr. Ray says.

He says that best way to combat the bad press that public education gets is by sharing all the positive news that comes out of every public school. Effective communication strategies for schools can help tell the complete story of each public school.

When asked what his one wish would be for public education, Dr. Ray says that equal opportunity for every single child would be his dream.

“Every child needs to have an opportunity to reach out and be educated and have the support across the nation,” Dr. Ray says.

When asked about what he thinks the biggest misconception about public schools is, he says it’s that too many people believe that educators are wasting tax dollars, which is wildly false.

Joel says that a lot of schools struggle with sharing just how efficient public schools are with tax dollars.

“We have a dashboard on our website where you can take a look at our fiscal responsibility,” Dr. Ray says. “We can track and monitor it, and it’s updated annually.”

When parents are looking for the best school, Dr. Ray recommends looking at state report cards as well as setting up an interview with the principal at the school.

Joel asks what book Dr. Ray would recommend to our listeners, education or otherwise.

Dr. Ray recommends “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work.” He says that facing challenges with a positive perspective completely shifts how the mind works.

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