Spring Hill’s Prize-Winning Communicators Share Advice

 Spring Hill
 Barton L. Goering, superintendent in Spring Hill, Kan., and
 Christine Splichal, director of communications in the same
 district, received an award at the AASA 2013 national 
 conference for their outstanding communication work at the
 school district level.
by Keren Yi

Communication is too often an undervalued aspect of strategic planning.

In the AASA conference session, Strategic Planning with a Communications Priority Builds Relationships and Financial Support, co-presenters Barton L. Goering, superintendent in Spring Hill, Kan., and Christine Splichal, director of communications in the same district, described the necessity of effective communication.

The pair is receiving an award from AASA at the 2013 national conference for their outstanding communication work at the school district level.

Among the most valuable and accessible resources for communication today is social media. “Social media is essential for connecting with young users and [with] moms,” Splichal said.

She strongly encourages superintendents to create school district Facebook pages so that districts can better reach students and parents. “If you’re not out there [on Facebook], someone out there is making a presence for you,” she said. “And it’s [always better] to be able to manage your own image.”

Moreover, it’s important to ensure school districts make themselves accessible and showcase that accessibility. “If [your website is] not friendly and it’s not graphically appealing, [viewers are] not going to stay,” Splichal said. “That is something we did a lot of work on.”

Efforts to include parents and students in district planning tend to build a positive relationship between the district and the community, in the form of increased support for new initiatives, increased financial support and less apathy toward district voting.

The Spring Hill School District regularly reaches out to the community. The leadership recently managed the successful passage of a school bond by the largest margin in district history.

“We staged a very aggressive three-tiered voter campaign,” Splichal explained. The 2011 bond campaign was meant to address classroom capacity, technological upgrades and maintenance issues in schools. “We spent only $10,000 for campaign materials, including a [market research] survey,” she said. The bond passed by a record 10 percent margin.

But beyond social media and market research surveys, school districts can implement communication in their strategic planning in other ways.

Staff communication is crucial to managing effective strategic planning. The district employed staff meetings and teacher surveys on what needs to be improved. It found that better staff communication can drastically improve internal strategic planning as it fosters effective communication on the strengths and needs of individual schools and school districts, and elicits new ideas and solutions to long-standing problems.

But although social media, e-mails and online surveys can be used for miscellaneous contact, it is important to recognize that real human contact is indispensable for communication.

“As we grow [as a district], we still want to maintain face-to-face communication,” Goering said.

(Keren Yi, a junior at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, is an intern on AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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