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Branding Lessons for District Leaders
Connor Gleason

If you’re a district leader, you’re living the seismic shift that’s happening within education at the moment.

Today, there is some form of open enrollment available in nearly every state in the U.S., and whether it's through charters, private schools, vouchers, or open enrollment, school choice has been expanding and evolving since the ‘90s.

The pandemic certainly accelerated the school choice movement, fostering a variety of new home and online learning options for families, and events like the recent Supreme Court ruling offers the use of public funds to broaden school choice even further. 

All this “choice” makes for a very competitive landscape for public school districts. Superintendents and district leaders focused on educating children are finding themselves competing for families to “choose” their local schools — a challenge once reserved for private and independent schools.

To add to those hurdles, more and more teachers are leaving the field of education just as public opinion of the U.S. school system is slipping. In one study, parents were asked, “If it was your decision and you could select any type of K-12 school, what type of school would you select in order to obtain the best education for your child?” Only 32 percent chose public schools...

The competition to recruit and retain students and employees has intensified, but the importance of a superintendent’s leadership in fostering a sense of belonging and trust for students, parents, and educators, has never been greater.

What does brand have to do with public education?

What do people say about your district when you’re not in the room? Whether you like it or not, that’s your school’s brand.

Furthermore, the perception that people have of you, your district, your teachers, and the quality of the education is made from every experience and every interaction your families and communities have with your school. That includes interactions with your teachers, staff, students, your school website, and most definitely, what families experience online.

From the culture of your schools to your ability to recruit prospective families and employees, strong branding can impact every aspect of your district.

For most people, the word “brand” is associated with marketing and advertising in business, not public schools. A color palette, fonts, design elements … all of these things certainly help to make up a brand — but they really aren’t even the most important. None of those are feelings.

Author, former business executive, and marketing guru Seth Godin said that “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer's decision to choose one product or service over another."

In other words, a brand is why families choose your district in the first place.

The superintendent’s role in branding

Change starts at the top. School district leaders must have a bird’s-eye view of how their district stays culturally relevant in today’s ever-changing educational landscape. Superintendents juggle many responsibilities, and branding your school district involves many moving parts.

Embracing branding can be a challenge, but it can also be what holds us together when times are tough. Ask yourself, do I have trust or confidence that my district is:

  • Providing quality education
  • Ensuring the kids' safety — physically, emotionally, and mentally
  • Keeping our students’ best interests in mind? Are they engaged and challenged?

Securing trust and confidence aligns with branding and that starts at the top. For branding to play its part in a school district, it needs to be supported from the very top of the organization by the superintendent and school board. When the district’s strategic plan and goals align with its brand strategy, the district will present a unified front.

The Branding Playbook for District Leaders

In the new Branding Playbook for District Leaders, Finalsite, in partnership with Rhodes Branding, breaks down why a district’s brand impacts schools, the superintendent’s role in branding, and how school leaders can respond to competition in district enrollment and employment.

More than twenty pages clarify why branding is necessary for your district as well as the steps and tools needed to build a good brand, including

  • Updates with the current trends in district leadership
  • Knowing the current barriers to enrollment and employment
  • Understanding how different generations experience a brand
  • Where to start a school district branding process, and
  • Launching and sustaining a school district brand

Key takeaway

Every email, every webpage, and every communication is an opportunity to form your brand — an emotional connection that conveys and promotes what your district represents. During this shift in the education landscape, strong branding is necessary and it’s up to the leaders to carry that movement forward.

Branding Playbook for district leaders

Connor Gleason Headshot


Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.

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