In this episode, host Joel Gagne speaks with two guests from the Mineral Point Unified School District in Wisconsin: Luke Francois, the district’s Superintendent, and Joelle Doye, Communications Director. They discuss the importance of school communication expert, and how it is rare for a rural district to have a communications expert on staff.

Luke says he first realized the need for improved communications and transparency when, going into his first year, he had asked the board how the district could be improved. In response to their request for improved communications, he implemented a quarterly newsletter, updated the website and created a Facebook page.

After those changes, a new board member still cited communication as a shortcoming.

“After giving it my very best effort in my first year, I didn’t move the needle all that much,” Luke says. “So I knew that I needed to change the strategy.”

The district looked at what suburban and urban counterparts were doing and realized a full-time school communication expert would be necessary. Joelle was the perfect fit, having started her career as a teaching professional before serving as an editor of the local newspaper. Right away, she sought to establish consistent messaging and a uniform look in communications, from letterheads to business cards and the website.

“We’ve really become our own news source, that has been huge,” Joelle says. “We’ve really trained people to come to us as the news source for our district.”

The results have been outstanding. A recent survey showed over 80% of Mineral Point constituents are “extremely satisfied” with communications from the district. Joelle says families are actually open-enrolling to Mineral Point for better communication than in their old district. For a declining-enrollment district, having that spike in backfills is vital.

Luke says having a full-time dedicated school communication expert has redefined the role of superintendent.

When he used to handle communications, messages would be duplicated by the individual schools and the district as a whole. Or each assumed the other was handling something and it just fell through the cracks.

“So this gives us one point of contact, a conduit where all of our communications flow in and out of our district to make sure nothing is overlapped and nothing is left undone,” Luke says.

Though communications have been improved and streamlined at the district level, Joelle says she’s sought to empower teachers.

“I don’t want it to be just my voice telling the story of #PointerNation,” she says. “I think that that can come across a little intimidating or self-serving. That has worked well for us.”

It’s a simple process to have everyone contribute. Joelle says teachers and administrators can take photos on their cell phones and send them to her to post on the proper communication channels. She says professional development was helpful because people have varying levels of familiarity with social media and technology.

“I realized that all our staff is definitely not on the same page as far as technology use,” she says. “In addition to that, this year I started sending weekly PR tips.”

Asked about the district’s preferred communication tool, Joelle says it’s Facebook but notes that it is critical to meet stakeholders wherever they are.

Discussing changes in public education, Joelle says she wishes the national sentiment would change—that public schools aren’t failing. Luke says budgets are always a concern, and also that public education must keep pace with technology.

To close out the podcast, Joelle recommends the book The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Luke says listeners should check out the classic Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, as well as Schools Cannot do it Alone by Jamie Vollmer.

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