• September 2014
  • Kathleen Taylor
  • This past summer I attended the National School Public Relations Association conference in Baltimore. The conference title was “Winning the Battle for Public Education.” The speakers and sessions made it clear that public education is a consumer issue with parents as the consumers. It is unusual to hear parents-schools-consumers in the same sentence. But, parents are consumers as they now have the ability to shop for what they consider to be the right school for their child. That ability is the result of an increasing number of charter schools, the option of vouchers, growing popularity of choice, and the alternative of private schools. With public schools living, breathing and providing effective educational programs almost in the parents’ backyards, when the schools aren’t picked, we feel undervalued and underappreciated. Collectively as a public school system, it may not be in what we are doing, it may be in what we convey about our schools to these discerning consumers.    This past summer I attended the National School Public Relations Association conference in Baltimore.  The title of the conference was “Winning the Battle for Public Education.”  The conference speakers and sessions made it clear that public education is a customer issue in which the parents are the customers.  Parents now have the ability to shop for what they consider to be the right school for their child. The reasons for this ability are due to the growing number of charter schools, the option of vouchers and the alternative of private schools. However, in this era in which public schools seem to be undervalued, it turns out not to be what we are doing with students, it’s in what we convey about our students (or should it be schools?) to these discerning customers.

    The significance of what is communicated to parents is addressed in one of this conference’s special sessions. This session provided an overview of a 2013 qualitative and quantitative study conducted in North Carolina to determine how that state could win this battle. That study was conducted by the Neimand Collaborative Artemis Strategy Group and was authorized by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

    The results revealed that the North Carolina voters are more concerned with the individual education outcomes for each child rather than the merit of societal outcomes from public education (Neimand Collaborative Group/Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation). Bottom line, parents want to be assured that the experiences their child is having in a public school are going to make him/her a successful adult in the community in which they live. With these results, this Group and Foundation are recommending that school districts take a “parent-centric” approach to messaging the value of their schools. That approach is providing documentation on how their child’s social, emotional and academic school experiences will lead him/her towards living a quality life upon graduation. By being this pointed with the parents, a public school builds the parents’ trust and confidence that they are making the correct educational placement for their child. To read the full research report, please visit http://bit.ly/1bD0LYw.

    Interesting is that school districts have long communicated how we spend tax dollars, how we hold ourselves accountable, and how we deliver a thorough and efficient educational program. We share with our parents and the community that our educational program is the best for the entire student body and explain how the students’ needs will be met within the parameters of our program. However, these North Carolina researchers and other conference presenters from across the United States and Canada echoed the theme that the “greater good” pitch regarding public education is not necessarily always winning us friends or influencing people.

    So the lesson learned is that public schools should refocus the message from how we advance the whole educational system to how we advance the education of each child. This is accomplished by crafting our communiqués to describe the different type of experiences a child will have in our schools. By listing for the parents, the benefits of the school for their child and how we are assisting the parents in preparing their child for life as an independent, productive and successful adult, we validate that our public schools are the best choice for that parent, child and the community.

    This conference’s action labs and skills sessions also provided marketing and communication methods 
    to reinforce this important viewpoint to the parents. One method is sharing expectations, testimonials, memories, stories,
    and aspirations via video clips
    and through the types of pictures posted on the school’s website.
    One school district,
    www.napls.us, selected the qualities from their mission statement that they
    wanted to emphasize in posted action shots o
    f their students. Other messaging ideas can be found in a resourceful tool
    from the National School Public Relations Association, which is the School Communications Benchmarking Project.
    For more information about this Project, please go to

    As we begin our new school year, communicating the school district’s know-how of delivering an educational program that ensures equal opportunity for all students and simultaneously provides valued experiences for each child is a good place to start in winning the battle for public education.