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Takeaways from AASA’s 2023 National Conference on Education
Josh Sauer

Wellness, personal growth, the power of connections, and the joy of discovering new actionable post-COVID strategies were central to this year’s AASA’s 2023 National Conference on Education in San Antonio, Texas. 

For the Finalsite team, attending the conference broadened our perspective on the latest trends, innovations, and research in driving school district websites and digital communications tools in K-12 public education. Here are some of our observations and key takeaways that made the biggest impression on our team members who attended the conference.


Following #NCE2023 on Twitter before the official conference kickoff created a lot of envy. Several people joined for pre-conference sessions for longer, focused training. Dr. Jermall Wright, Little Rock Public Schools superintendent, emphasizes the value of networking and representation during an NCE pre-session.

First-day exhibition

The National Conference on Education exhibition space was a bustling hub of activity, with various interactive and engaging features catering to the needs and interests of exhibitors and attendees. One popular feature was the Social Media Lounge, providing a comfortable and welcoming environment for attendees to recharge and connect with peers on social media platforms.

This dedicated area also provided a safe space to discuss social media strategies and share learning from others on effectively leveraging social media to connect directly with their communities. District leadership panelists covered topics including maintaining a healthy balance, what not to do on social media, and empowering your community through social media.

Risa Engel, CMO Finalsite and Brandon Frame, Senior Director, The Urban Assembly

Risa Engel, Chief Marketing Officer, Finalsite, learning with other industry leaders, including Brandon Frame, Senior Director, The Urban Assembly, at the AASA NCE Social Media Lounge. 

The interactive booths at the exhibition space offer an immersive experience ranging from product demos to simulations and games. 

Bob Noyed, Vice President of CESO Communications, and Joshua Sauer, Finalsite

Bob Noyed, Vice President of CESO Communications, and Joshua Sauer, Director of District Communications Strategy, Finalsite, in the “Driving Your District Brand” booth prop.

We handed out dozens of copies of The Branding Playbooks for District Leaders. In this ebook, we share over 20 pages of best practices, actionable tips, and new ways to work with your Communications and PR Teams to strengthen connections and engagement with your community. 

And for fun, many administrators entered to win a $500 Virgin Experience gift card. One fortunate winner will get to drive a Ferrari around a NASCAR racetrack very soon (or better yet, a gift to a deserving member of their staff!)

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Inspiring messages

During heightened scrutiny, superintendents look to lead differently by trusting and empowering others to refine their practices to meet the needs of the changing world. “We need to lead differently from command and control to trust & inspire,” offered author Stephen M.R. Covey, during his general session, "The Future of Leadership in Education." Whether you attended his session live or not, you certainly felt the impact of the tweets and posts via social media from the superintendent community Friday morning.

Confidence in the success of public education

Our conversations with administrators had a powerful impact on our collective belief in the ongoing success of public education. Attendees we spoke with feel more inspired after sharing ideas, experiences, and best practices they can bring back to their communities. Ultimately, this collective work helps create an effective public education system that benefits all students.

Our goal at Finalsite is to do our part in this work — to transform how communities engage with their schools. School websites fully integrated with mobile applications and digital communication tools can help create an effective public education system that benefits all students by increasing accessibility, enhancing collaboration, improving communication, supporting personalized learning, and increasing engagement.

Wide-ranging needs

While administrators have a strong affinity and network, they are heterogeneous. Their challenges and successes vary as much as the geographic areas they serve. Whether their district serves 400 students or 400,000, is urban or rural, wealthy or poor — their priorities and pain points depend on many factors.

This conference gave Finalsite the unique opportunity to speak with many district leaders — not one with the exact needs or story. They're a beautiful kaleidoscope of people and personalities, all doing great work to impact the lives of the children they serve.

Embracing artificial intelligence (AI)

One of the themes that kept emerging in our one-on-one discussions with administrators was the preparation for the emergence of artificial intelligence. There’s a general belief that AI could revolutionize public education, potentially transforming the learning experience for kids (think more opportunity, less a threat. ) However, most agree there are potential risks and challenges associated with using AI in public education, such as data privacy and ensuring the technology is used ethically and equitably. 

AI continues to evolve rapidly, which will also be imperative to Finalsite as we better understand the impact of AI on district communications and how we better support our clients through best practices and expertise and the products we serve. 

Keep Reading: 6 Examples of How School Marketers Can Use ChatGPT

Building cultures, relationships, and retaining (and recruiting) quality staff

Another focus of the conference was the need to build and maintain the culture of schools. School district leaders are paramount in maintaining student-focused and outcomes-driven cultures.

A few of the ways schools can improve their culture are to set a clear vision, prioritize student success, build a strong team, communicate effectively, and stay focused on the mission. By doing so, administrators can create a school culture that focuses on student learning and growth, supporting all students' success.

Finalsite contributed to this arena by hosting a session titled: "Reducing Turnover: Communications Secrets to Retaining Your Staff (and Your Budget)." Veteran school communicators Joshua Sauer, APR of Finalsite, and Lesley Bruinton, APR of Nichols Strategies, collaborated to share real-life district examples and tangible, low-cost best practices to actively recruit and retain top talent within a school district. It was an interactive, high-energy discussion and well-received.

Most importantly, the engagement validated the belief that Finalsite effectively supports communities with their marketing and communication goals and objectives by providing thought leadership and best-in-class school websites, mobile apps, and digital communication tools.

Lesley shared great examples of bringing life and meaningful emotions to district staff directories by including interactive past and present photos of each staff member with their current professional headshots.

Administration younger class photos on rollover

Parkland School District’s administrator page engages prospective educators while fostering a sense of belonging within the existing staff community through sharing memorable experiences like childhood photos. 

If you missed our session or want to pick up a tip or two as a district leader looking to make more profound and meaningful connections with your staff, download our full presentation.

Key takeaway

Attending AASA's 2023 National Conference on Education was a valuable experience for the Finalsite team. The conference allowed us to learn about the latest trends, innovations, and research in public schools. As school leaders, the thought-provoking discussions and inspirational talks from education professionals around the country will assist us in better serving district leadership and their communities nationwide.

We look forward to implementing the actionable strategies we learned and continuing our growth and learning to help public schools!

Branding Playbook for district leaders


Joshua Sauer, APR, is the Director for District Communications Strategy with Finalsite. Before joining Finalsite, he spent six years working as a #SchoolPR professional for a large public school district in Oklahoma and one year as a freelance webmaster. Joshua is heavily involved at the national level in school PR and is the former president of the Oklahoma School Public Relations Association (OKSPRA).  Joshua is an Accredited Public Relations (APR) practitioner with more than 11 years of marketing and PR work experience. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Central Oklahoma.

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