Escovedo: Leadership changes are PR challengeJune 16, 2014
Pay attention to the leadership transition taking place in Fort Worth Independent School District. It's easy for some in the community to sit back and ignore the entrance/exit of a school district superintendent. This is especially true if they do not have students in the schools or have children who are grown and gone. But make no mistake, school district superintendent transitions are a big deal.
As CEOs of school districts, superintendents play a crucial role in a community. School districts tend to be among the largest employers in the area (Fort Worth ISD is the sixth largest with 10,000 employees). In general terms, school boards are hiring for instructional leadership; administration, supervision, and communication skills; curriculum and instruction management; performance evaluation; organization; and fiscal management in order to educate our future workforce. Yes, school districts are responsible for helping take care of the things we hold dear: our children and our tax dollars. (Fort Worth ISD has more than 83,000 students and an operating budget of more than $640 million).
The recent departure of Walter Dansby as superintendent took people by surprise. (Full disclosure: I am a parent in the Fort Worth ISD and serve as the Director of Communications for a nearby school district.)
In 13 years of working in school public relations, first at a local private school and now in a suburban school district, I've been a part of three senior leadership transitions. In each, there was a strategic communication process in place to reach, explain to and engage stakeholders.
Trustees are following the normal procedures. They have completed Dansby’s retirement agreement and have named the interim superintendent.
As of this writing, they have yet to share information on their next steps. Hopefully, the school board with soon reveal their goals as well as make their process known. I have seen firsthand how transparency by elected officials can make a positive difference.
A willingness to listen to constituencies, take feedback and incorporate thoughts on leadership characteristics can propel the process forward and help with community buy-in. This can be accomplished through public relations.
Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. I believe the Fort Worth ISD school board would be well-served by leaning on the in-house public relations consulting available to them in the school district’s communication team. I would encourage the board president to reach out to and work with the district’s senior communication officials for strategic guidance. In my opinion, this school board could use some PR counsel to help avoid missteps that could threaten the leadership transition and confidence in the decisions yet to be made.
The transition is one residents, parents and the business community should watch closely. And participate in, if given the opportunity.
Richie Escovedo serves as the 2014 President of the Greater Fort Worth Chapter of PRSA and is the Director of Media and Communications in the Mansfield Independent School District.