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Do You Hear Yourself? Closing the District PR Perception Gap
Connor Gleason

Ever feel like the message about your school district isn't landing as you intended? You're not alone. Many school districts find a disconnect between how they view themselves and how the public sees them.

Satisfaction with K-12 education in the U.S. has been waning. A recent Gallup poll showed there was a 27-point gap between the parents’ satisfaction with the nation’s schools while the percentage of adults who are satisfied with the nation’s public schools had fallen to a 20-year low.

Some might think the schools aren't doing well or their kids aren't getting the best education possible. This difference between what your school district tries to share and what people think is happening is called the "perception gap."

Subjective for sure, but if perception is reality, is there really a difference? Knowing it's happening and why is the first step to improving your school district's rating.

Understanding the Perception Gap

If your school district shares all the great things happening in its schools — new programs, student achievements, and how teachers are going above and beyond — it doesn’t matter if people in the community say the opposite.
So, how does the perception gap happen?

Misinformation

Sometimes, wrong information spreads around. It's like when a game of telephone goes wrong, and the final message is nothing like the start. People might hear something that's not true and then share it with others, making the gap even bigger.

Lack of Communication

If the community doesn't know about the new programs or improvements, how can they possibly form a good opinion about them? If your schools don’t talk enough about what they're doing, families will fill in the blanks with their ideas. Your district needs to keep everyone updated regularly, so there's no room for guessing.

Different Views

Everyone looks at things their way. What your school district thinks is important might not seem important to parents, students, or other members of your target audience. For example, your school might be proud of its new computer lab, but parents might be more concerned about class sizes or sports programs.

Bias

There’s even a name for it — The Dunning-Kruger effect explains that we often overestimate our knowledge or ability because a lack of self-awareness prevents us from accurately assessing our skills.

Keep Reading: Tips for Creating a Successful School District PR Plan

Mass Communications Guide

Closing the Gap: Why PR is Important for School Districts

Once schools understand the gap, they can start to fix it. This doesn't mean just telling the community what they want to hear but rather sharing information in a way that makes sense to everyone, clearing up misunderstandings, and showing that your district cares about what's important to the community.

It's about making sure the story they're telling matches what students and staff are seeing and, more importantly, feeling.

Bridging the perception gap makes the whole community stronger, and to know what's going on, schools need to listen and pay attention to what everyone is saying. They can't just guess; they need to know.

This means looking at what people post online, asking for opinions, and having real conversations with the community because when people trust their schools and know the real story, they're more likely to support them and get involved.

Show Families the Proof

To make sure families understand the great things happening in your school, it's important to share real stories of success. This can help everyone see the positive impact of the school's work.

Success Stories and Awards

  • Student Success Stories: Share stories and positive news about students who have made significant achievements, whether in academics, sports, arts, or community service. These stories can inspire others and showcase the supportive environment at the school.
     
  • Teacher Awards: Celebrate teachers who receive awards or recognition for their hard work and dedication. Highlighting these accomplishments and all the good news can show the quality of education and care provided by the staff.

District Improvement Projects

Before and After Photos: If your school has recently upgraded facilities, share before and after photos. This visual proof can help the community see where resources are going and the tangible improvements made.
 

Adams 5 star news

Adams 12 Five Star Schools organizes success stories and updates from across the district in its newsroom. With subscriptions for families, forms to submit stories, and filterable categories, staying up to date is easy for parents and the extended community.

Make School Communications a Priority

Effective communication is about regularly and clearly communicating with the community. It's important that everyone understands what's happening at the school.

Regular Updates

  • Use All Your Communications Tools: Keep your website, social media, newsletters, and any other communication platforms updated. Regular updates ensure that the community stays informed about school events, achievements, and news.

Openness and Honesty

  • Transparency: Be open about the school's goals, challenges, and achievements. Honest communication builds trust and helps clear up any misunderstandings.

Keep Reading: How to Improve Your School District's Public Relations

Wayzata newsletter mobile phone mockup

Wayzata Public Schools archives its schools’ newsletters in a convenient communications hub on its website. It’s a great resource for families to refer back to over time.

CTA

Social Media Listening

  • Social media platforms are where many conversations about your district might be happening. Paying attention to these can provide valuable insights.

Real-Time Feedback

  • Monitoring: Keep an eye on all your social media accounts and what's being said about the school on social media. This can give you a good idea of people's perceptions and any issues that need addressing.
     
  • Interaction: When your school is mentioned or tagged on a social media post, engage! Answering questions or thanking someone for positive feedback shows that the school cares about community input.

Keep Reading: Social Listening for Schools

Ask Your Audience & Pay Attention to Questions

Directly asking your community what they think can help identify any gaps in understanding or areas of concern. The questions people ask can tell a school a lot about what they don't understand or are worried about. It's important to keep track of these questions and answer them clearly. This can help clear up any confusion.

Meetings and Surveys

  • Forums and Meetings: Hold forums or meetings where families can voice their opinions and ask questions. This direct interaction can provide deeper insights into community needs.
     
  • Surveys: Send out surveys via email or social media to get feedback from families about the school's performance and their concerns, like Menomonee Falls Schools has done.

Feedback Section on the Website

  • Feedback Form: Create a section on your school's website where people can leave feedback or ask questions at any time. This will make it easier for families to communicate with your district or school.
Olentangy Feedback screenshot

Olentangy High School solicits monthly feedback from parents about everything from the carline logistics to the dress code. A recent survey received more than 500 submissions and found that 94% of parents were happy or mostly happy!

Enhance Your School Website's Portals and FAQ Sections

An up-to-date FAQ section on your website can answer common questions and clear up misconceptions. It also serves as a place to direct your community when they have common questions.

Regularly Updated FAQs

  • New Questions and Answers: Keep adding new questions that arise to the FAQ section. This helps ensure that the information stays relevant and useful.

Annual Reports and Informational Sessions

  • Publish Reports: Share annual reports via your school's website, offering a clear overview of operations, achievements, and financial health.

Offer Transparency Reports

Sharing detailed updates about the school's operations, decision-making processes, and finances can help build trust and clarity, too.

Beauford Schools Transparency report

Like many districts, Beaufort County School District is committed to transparency and regularly publishes its billing statements, administrative costs, and accounting structure.

Create an “Ask the Superintendent” Series

A regular column where the superintendent or other district leaders answer community questions can create a direct line of communication.

  • Submission Form: Set up a form on the school's website where people can submit their questions.
     
  • Regular Responses: Choose a variety of questions to answer each month so a broad range of topics can be covered by the superintendent or other district leaders.
Welsh superintendent night

Create a Community Advisory Board

Having a board of students, parents, teachers, and community members can provide diverse perspectives and feedback on communication strategies and district initiatives.

  • Recruitment: Look for a wide range of people to join the board to ensure different views are represented.
     
  • Discussion and Feedback: Hold regular meetings to discuss school issues, communication strategies, and community feedback. Use these discussions to guide school policies and communication efforts.
Parkland SD Community Advisory

Parkland School District brings together more than a dozen representatives to be a bridge between the extended community and the district, discussing a variety of topics and opportunities for its schools.

Key Takeaways

Bridging the perception gap ensures the public sees your district's true story. You can begin to close that gap by showing proof, prioritizing communication, asking your audience, and implementing additional strategies. It's a process, but with effort, your district's story will shine through.

Messages XR Tour

Connor Gleason Headshot

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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