Building and Maintaining Relationships in Your Community

Strong, positive relationships play an important role in being an effective school board member, and creating those relationships can be one of the most fulfilling aspects of your position.

Without good working relationships, even the best plans cannot come to fruition. To maintain the support needed for a successful school district, school boards must build these relationships internally – with each other, the superintendent and the staff – and externally – with parents, the community, other local government, state and federal officials.

A successful board devotes a significant amount of time and attention nurturing its relationships and encouraging two-way communication with the various publics it serves.

A Planned Public Relations System Promotes a Healthy District

If you’ve just weathered a crisis or failed a tax election, you may be painfully aware of the need for an organized system of communicating with the staff and community. If not, you may be lulled into thinking you don’t need to spend money on “PR” because everything is going okay. Don’t be fooled.

An effective school district public relations program creates an environment in which the district can achieve its goals. It also demonstrates a school district’s accountability to the taxpayers – or shareholders – of the school district.

School districts that have the support of their staff and community pass needed tax elections. Boards and administrators that employ systems to discover and manage issues often can spot a crisis before it happens. School leaders who work to keep employees informed and involved generally have happier employees who enjoy their jobs and work hard to do their part in educating students.

Just as regular exercise promotes a healthy body, an ongoing program of public relations promotes a healthy school district.

Many school boards and administrators fear spending taxpayer money on public relations. This fear can be quickly dispelled if they realize what a good public relations program is . . . and is not.

It is wrong to spend taxpayer dollars on efforts to cover up bad decisions or to “spin” the school district’s story into a false positive light. But that is not what school public relations is all about.

An effective public relations program supports the district’s mission. It creates a positive environment for student achievement by helping the school district align its goals with the expectations the community has for its schools. Thus, school public relations requires a planned system of two-way communication – a system that listens to the district’s publics and is accountable to those publics.

A School Board’s Role

A school board’s role in governing the school district is both corporate and familial. This means that a board makes decisions as a corporate body, but also has a role in maintaining positive relationships between the school district and its many publics.

Begin with Board Policy

A school board’s role in governing the school district is both corporate and familial. This means that a board makes decisions as a corporate body, but also has a role in maintaining positive relationships between the school district and its many publics.

As a corporate body, a board adopts policies that govern the school district, including those that direct the staff’s public relations or school district accountability efforts. These policies should address the familial role of the school board. For example, a board should have policies that consider how it will communicate with the public as well as listen to the public.

A board should also have policies or operating norms that address members’ relationships and communication with each other, with the superintendent and with district staff. A board that models honest, straightforward communication will go a long way toward promoting positive relations between the district and the community.

A school board policy that requires two-way communication with internal and external publics will reinforce the importance of strong relationships with the community and set the tone for school district accountability. Many other school board policies are essential to good community relations, including those that address:

  • Communication within the school district
  • How the public may obtain information from the school district
  • Procedures used when the public wishes to speak at a school board meeting
  • How the district will interact with the news media and others
  • A commitment to engaging the community

Strategic Planning

Many school districts have a strategic plan that guides district actions. This strategic plan should address the role of public relations in meeting school district goals. Many strategic plans contain specific strategies and action steps for building positive relationships with the staff and community. Your school district’s community relations program should be included in the district’s strategic plan and targeted at achieving the overall goals of the school district. In addition, staff, parents and other community members are great partners for a board in the process to develop or refine a strategic plan.