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How to Create an Effective Communication Plan for Your District
Janet Civitelli

As a school communicator, one of your most challenging but rewarding tasks is to create an effective school district communication plan. A good communication plan will inform and engage your community, and consider all audiences: School board members, district employees, current students and families, and prospective students and families.
If you haven’t created a communications plan before, it can be a daunting task to start. We’ve created a step-by-step guide to help your plan take shape:

  1. Clarify your communication plan’s purpose and goals
  2. Choose your communication paths
  3. Build your content calendar
  4. Review your success
  5. Evaluate your technology and justify your budget 

Clarify your communication plan’s purpose and goals

Your communication plan should always tie back to your district’s strategic plan: What are the overarching goals of the district? What are the district’s mission, vision and values? Starting here will give your plan more buy-in and get you pointed in the right direction.  

The communications plan should express how you will take the district’s strategic plan and communicate the various components of it to the community. 

students reading a book

Park Hill School District recently earned NSPRA’s Gold Medallion for its approach to incorporating best practices, research, planning, implementation, and evaluation into every aspect of its daily communications. Throughout the year, the Park Hill team aligns their department’s communication plan with district priorities and how to best serve 11K+ students and families across 20 schools.

Read more about its communication plan and how the district outlines its target audiences, the channels it uses to engage community members, as well as the district’s communication goals and objectives.

Woolland Heights Elementary comms plan

As part of Iredell-Statesville Schools, the communications plan of Woolland Heights Elementary presents its strategy, purpose, timeline, targeted audience, and persons responsible for implementing both its staff and school-wide communications goals.

Choose your communication paths

Once you have nailed down your plan’s purpose and goals, the next step is to identify the different communications channels available and how they will be used. 

You’ll likely have a combination of digital, printed/mailed and in-person communications channels to choose from. We’ll focus on the digital pathways and how to best utilize them to accelerate your communications plan forward. 


Your website is your school district’s front door, creating both the first impression and the ongoing method for a thriving school community to communicate. Nearly everything you share digitally or in-person should have a home on your district’s website so the community can reference it anytime. 

Within your communications plan, be sure to include how your website will be used for community engagement and for sharing information with the public.  

Considerations for your website platform:

  • Design: Is it a reflection of who we are as a district and community, or could it use a refresh? 
  • ADA compliance: Can the content be easily viewed by someone with a disability? 
  • Is the interface flexible enough to meet my district’s needs now and in the future? 
  • Is the CMS easy to update, so even the school-level website admins can make changes without trouble?

Does it work hand-in-hand with your mass notifications provider, so you can send out an urgent text and update your website alerts simultaneously (for example)?

email on a phone


Email is an important part of any school district’s communication plan. 90.3% of Internet users in the U.S. use email (Statista). With so many emails pouring into users’ inboxes, it may feel difficult for school districts to stand out amongst the white noise, but there are tried-and-true methods for increasing the engagement level of a school district’s email campaigns.

Within your communications plan, you should outline how email will be used. What is the cadence for district newsletters, school-level newsletters and other critical messaging? How will you ensure your emails are being read?

Newsletters are the primary way districts engage with parents via email. Here are some considerations for newsletter providers and platforms:

  • Does your newsletter platform integrate with your website? 
  • Does your newsletter platform allow for custom design that reflects your district’s brand and personality? 
  • How easy is it to update your newsletter content? Can you pull content directly from your website through Create Once Publish Everywhere (COPE) functionality? 
  • Is your newsletter platform mobile responsive? Odds are good that more than half of your email readers are opening your newsletter on a phone.
  • Does your newsletter provider offer data like open rates and click rates?

Social Media

Social media is no longer a “nice to have” for school districts. In order to stay out in front of the many conversations happening on social media, districts should have and maintain a strong social media presence.

Although a presence is necessary, you don’t need to be on every platform. Decide which social media platforms will work best for your community (and that you’ll have time to maintain!) and include them in your communications plan. 

Be sure to mention how often each account will be updated and how quickly messages will be responded to. It’s also a nice touch to add who you will be communicating with on each channel. For example, you might use Twitter to engage with current and prospective staff, and Facebook for your parent community.

Click me

Text and voice messaging

In today’s day and age, parents will expect text and/or voice communications for critical or urgent situations. Including how you will communicate with parents in times of crisis will be an important part of your overall communications plan. 

Within the plan, let the public know what system you’ll be using for mass notifications (like Finalsite’s Messages XR) and the frequency you intend to use each feature. For example, how often can parents expect to receive a text message from the school district? Will you use it only in urgent situations, or also for times when you need their attention for a less emergent situation? 

When will you utilize voice calls? Only during school closures, or will you consider using them for other reasons like absences or emergencies? 

Laying out your plan for usage will ensure you’ll see fewer parents opting out of receiving your text and voice messages and may also keep them updating their own contact information more readily, too. A win/win!

Mobile App

These days, well over half of web traffic is accessed via mobile devices, and your families spend nearly 90% of their time on mobile devices on apps. Parents have come to expect a mobile app as part of their overall engagement with your school district and it should be part of your overall communications plan. 

The benefits of a mobile app extend beyond easily viewable content on a mobile device. Push notifications offer another layer of notification to parents so they don’t miss important information or announcements. 

In your communications plan, outline how the mobile app will be used and what parents and the community are able to do with it that they were not able to do before. 

Don’t have a mobile app and don’t know where to start shopping for one? The Finalsite mobile app puts a wide variety of information in one convenient location: your school’s events calendar, the school directory, and multimedia content including videos. Acting as a central hub relevant to each user, the app offers a personalized experience tailored to each person’s interests and needs.

content calendar

Build your content calendar

Now that you’ve decided on your goals, strategies and channels of communication, the next step is to outline your content calendar, putting it all into motion. 

By taking the time at the beginning of a school year to make content choices and a schedule for your school district’s communication plan, the rest of the school year will go more smoothly and be less labor-intensive. Your school district’s content calendar should specify details for each communication path of your school district’s communication, especially your website’s blog, email newsletters, and social media posts.

Your content calendar may include details about:

  • Topic
  • Content
  • The person who will create the content
  • Dates for creation
  • Distribution methods
  • Target publication date
  • Budget

The frequency of publication might depend on your school district’s resources. If you have a smaller staff, it is fine to communicate less frequently as long as the rhythm is predictable, or the communication can be shorter, but still informative. The main thing your audience should know is what content to expect and where they should look for it.

Review your success

School boards and families want to know that their expenditures are being used well. This means you must have a method to document the return on investment for your communication efforts and time. Since you took the time up front to assess your school district communication plan’s purpose and goals, you will know what metrics to track to evaluate whether your communication plan is successful.
When you use data analytics, it is customary to discover that some metrics will look good early on, and others will need additional work. A communications process will be a “Try something, test it, improve it, test again” type of project. 

Some possible metrics to evaluate are:

  • The number of page views for your school district’s website
  • The open rate of your school district’s emails, 
  • Level of engagement on social media, new followers, likes, comments, and shares
  • Mobile app downloads 
  • Annual communications survey data

Some resources to take a deep dive into metrics are:

reviewing technology

Evaluate your technology and justify your budget

You can implement your school district’s communication plan in a smooth and trouble-free way if you choose digital solutions that make your job easier. Take a hard look at your website provider, newsletter solution and mass notifications system and ask yourself if they aid or hinder your ability to communicate across multiple channels according to your outlined communications plan. If there is room for improvement, take a deeper dive into evaluating each tool’s effectiveness. 

Think beyond the basic elements of ease of use and cost during this phase. Some additional questions to ask should include the following: technology: 

Are your communications personalized?

Some reports suggest that 73% of consumers will only engage with personalized messaging. Make sure you're meeting parent expectations and increase your district’s website engagement with personalization, which features targeted relevant content, and personalized communications.

Finalsite can create community portals that enable users to read calendars, news blogs, directories, and more, specific to their constituent level. The best technology allows your school district to provide timely communications segmented by the audience so that people can read the information that matters most to them.

Is your technology accessible?

Make sure your communications incorporate the tools to make your site’s content accessible not just to your families, but to all users, including

  • Language translation
  • A built-in accessibility checker
  • Accessibility compliance technology 
  • Support for adding Alternative (alt) Text and video caption files

Is your technology secure?

School websites have become a target for cyber-attacks in the past decade, especially since the pandemic. Choosing open source platforms like WordPress, Drupal, and others carries levels of risk that are just too high for your district. Ensuring the safety of your site and your users’ data is paramount. That’s why schools around the world have chosen Finalsite to protect sensitive information while providing an accessible and mobile-friendly site. 

Key takeaway

We’ve reviewed how to create and implement an effective school district communication plan by clarifying your purpose and goals, choosing your communication path, building a content calendar, reviewing your success, and finally, evaluating the technology needed to make it all happen.
By communicating well with students, families, school employees, and your stakeholders, you’ll build and maintain the trust and engagement needed to achieve the goals of your district.

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Janet Civitelli headshot

Janet Civitelli is a communications consultant and copywriter with extensive experience working with educators and school systems. Trained as a psychologist, Janet uses her understanding of human behavior and persuasion to help organizations with strategy, storytelling, and marketing. Janet lives with her husband and two children in Austin, Texas.

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