Telling Our Story of Our Culture
By MARTIN J. SEMMEL/School Administrator, September 2017

HOW IS THE story of your school district being told? It’s likely that parents and community members get most of their information through word of mouth — at sporting events, concerts and social gatherings. As the superintendent in a rural town of 12,000 residents and 1,500 students in central Connecticut, I have made it my responsibility to tell our story consciously and to shape the culture and what I see as the values of our district — trust, feedback and high expectations.

My central-office administrative team and my building principals are critical to successful communications as we tell our stories through social media, local and regional print media, district and school websites and our e-mail communications. Certainly nothing shocking or too outside of the box in terms of strategy, but when you synthesize the use of these different platforms and harness the power of a collaborative approach, you set yourself up for a compounding effect.

» Our district and school websites are the hub of our communication plan.
These sites serve as an ideal repository for important and engaging information. However, we have found that busy parents do not visit school and district websites unless they are looking for school calendars, lunch menus or what time school starts when there is a delay. Finding a way to drive parents to our website became a high priority.

» We use our e-mail system to drive traffic and to show who we are.
Each week, my four principals send an electronic communication to parents. Once a month, after our school board meeting, I do the same. We make these messages consumable by being concise and providing additional information through embedded links connected to relevant pages on our website. My tech team provides monthly traffic reports through Google Analytics, showing the most-visited links.

» Social media is a great tool for sharing our story.
I worked with my technology director to create a district Facebook page that he helps keep up to date. My administrative team and I average about five posts per week. The photos and videos we post provide examples of how we use hard-earned tax dollars to ensure students receive a quality education. The Facebook page is another vehicle to post meeting dates and embed links to our web-site for those who want to dig deeper into our story.

» Print media still plays a key role.
We take a two-part approach. First, we provide our overworked local newspaper reporters with great content through press releases that help tell our story to an audience outside our town. We also created a column, the Superintendent’s Corner, in our town’s monthly circular. As with Facebook, once you commit to a monthly column, you must follow through. I work with my central-office team in the summer to identify our topics for the ensuing 12 months. I write or co-author most of the articles, and they are all reviewed by staff members who reside in town to ensure they address what our target audience would want to know.

My Essential Duty
As superintendent, I shoulder the responsibility to tell our story. Being the author of our story is an important component of my work and it has paid significant dividends on multiple levels.

Parents are well-informed and feel free to ask questions about their schools. The larger community has an opportunity to see us in action through images, videos and print coverage. Our plan is neither complete nor perfect and our execution is rarely flawless, but waiting for perfection means someone else is telling our story.
MARTIN SEMMEL is superintendent in Plymouth, Conn. E-mail: Twitter: @Martin_Semmel