Like a politician whose first 100 days are under high scrutiny, a superintendent's first months on the job are no less public, when every interaction is evaluated and critiqued. Every interaction with faculty, staff, parents and students has a direct impact on not only the reputation of the leader, but the overall image of the school or district, too. Making sure you have a solid communications plan in place before your superintendent or head of school takes over is the key to a successful leadership transition.
Before new leadership takes over
Introducing a new superintendent or head of school often starts long before they start the job. Your communications and outreach efforts should begin the day the new person is announced by the board, which could be months before their start date.
Naming a new leader is a very confidential process, and you may not be immediately told who the selected candidate will be. Talk with your current leader and board president and ask to be informed of who was selected a week or two in advance of the public announcement. This will give you time to connect with the incoming superintendent or head of school to share your day-of announcement communications with them before they’ve been officially hired.
Where to share the news the day it’s made public:
- Social media channels
- Press release to local media
King School created a great introduction video for its interim head of school Carol Maoz, which was shared with the community right after the appointment was announced. A video goes a long way with building community rapport and is more meaningful and memorable than a written letter alone. You don’t need to be a professional videographer to make a great video like this. King School’s video looks great and didn’t require a lot of fancy editing - the team just added music and basic graphics for a more polished look.
Weeks following public announcement
Often a superintendent or head of school will be announced several months before they officially take over. The public will expect an opportunity to meet the new leader shortly after the announcement is made, even if they won’t start work for 3-6 months. Shortly after the public announcement, you’ll want to plan some virtual and in-person introductions for your faculty, staff, students and parents.
Tuxedo Park School organized a meet and greet with its incoming head of school dubbed “coffee and conversation.” The event was successful with many families feeling grateful for the opportunity to meet the new school leader in person, and enjoy some time together before the school year began.
Virtual opportunities for connection will be important, too, both out of convenience and to accommodate public health guidelines. Facebook Live or Zoom webinar chats are great platforms to allow people to say hello and ask questions.
💡 TIP: Connect with your incoming leader in advance of the announcement to share your thoughts on a communications plan and get their input, too. This will give you time to make adjustments to your plan if they have something different in mind.
💡 TIP: In-person meet-and-greets will be more difficult to plan, depending on current health restrictions and the geographic location of the incoming leader. If an in-person event isn’t possible prior to their start date, make sure this is on the top of your list in July.
July: Days 1-31
Most new school leaders start the job on July 1. Even though you’ve already done some legwork in introducing the new leader through virtual and in-person community introductions, establishing trust and respect from the community starts now.
There are some communications that should be published as soon as new leadership takes over. Ideally, these should be developed in advance and be ready for publishing on Day 1. We know that’s not always possible, so as soon as your new superintendent or head of school starts the job, get going on these important projects.
Communications for Days 1-31:
1. Create a school leader hub on your website
Among the first things to do when new leadership begins is to update your website. If you don’t already have one, create a superintendent or head of school “hub” and make it easy to find from your homepage.
Elements to include in your school leader’s website hub:
- Contact information
- News articles
- Ways to connect (beyond just email & phone numbers)
Lakeside School created a great school leader hub when Kai Bynum took over as Head of School in 2021. Letters from Bynum and the board of trustees offer a personalized feel, and the addition of quotes and career highlights lends credibility.
Another good example of a school leader hub comes from Troy School District’s superintendent page. The page includes links to a superintendent podcast and monthly times to connect in person. Scheduling informal ways for the community to connect with the superintendent could be anything from in-person informal coffee in the administrative conference room to a Facebook live chat. Get creative! Anything that offers a two-way conversation will work well.
2. Update templates and printed materials
This one won’t take long, but will go a long way with your new boss to have personalized letterhead and newsletter templates ready to go as soon as they walk in the door. Don’t forget the print materials they’ll need right away, like business cards and notecards.
Barrington 220 School District has a newsletter template for superintendent communications that stands out from the typical district or board communications. The personalized, branded header is a unique element that both the school leader and community appreciate.
3. Schedule welcome emails
Within their first week on the job, you’ll want to send a separate welcome email or newsletter to the community and to employees. Both stakeholder groups will be eager to hear from the new leader as soon as possible.
In advance of this message being shared, consider offering the new leader a guided tour of your school or district. You can include stories and photos from the tour in the email messages, providing an even more personalized touch.
💡 TIP: Develop a regular cadence for superintendent or head of school updates to be shared, and stick to it. Lay the groundwork early on for how and when the leader will communicate.
💡 TIP: Pull quotes and photos from the newsletters and put them on your social media channels. Link back to your superintendent or head of school’s website hub where you can archive all newsletter communications by school year and date.
August: Days 32-62
Come August, your new leader will be diving deeply into getting the new school year started. Your focus for communications during this time will shift from “getting to know you” to “getting to work.” Your community will want to know less about who the new leader is, and more about what they plan to do in the top role of the school or district. Your communications should reflect that.
Communications for Days 32-62:
1. Schedule appearances for the first day of school
If your school year starts before Labor Day, this is the month that you’ll need to execute a plan to launch the school year under new leadership. How will you engage the new leader with faculty and staff? What is your strategy for the new leader to be visible in the school or district on the first day of school?
Eanes ISD’s Superintendent Dr. Tom Leonard has a tradition of visiting all 14 campuses on the first day of school. This provides awesome photo opportunities and ample visibility of his leadership across the district year after year. Starting a tradition like this (and modifying it to fit the needs of your school or district) is a great way to gain trust and respect from all corners of the community.
2. Community organization introductions
This is the time when you’ll want to also make introductions at any local community groups where your school or district has membership or existing relationships. This could be the chamber of commerce, Rotary club, or any other community organization that your leadership would be part of. Schedule time for the new superintendent to be introduced either in-person or virtually.
3. Write a local media article
Getting the new leader’s name back in the local press will go a long way in terms of visibility and trust. Consider writing an article about the superintendent or head of school’s first 30 days on the job and submitting it to a local reporter, or pitching the concept to the media directly.
If you need some ideas for what could go into a media story, here’s a good example of a story I secured during my time as a school communicator. This local newspaper story includes great quotes, professional photos and overall good feelings about the new leader.
September: Days 63-92
By September, the leader’s first school year will be underway and the newness of the role will start to wear off. Finding ways to stay engaged with all stakeholders will be key to your new leader solidifying the trust and respect earned early on.
Communications for Days 63-92:
1. Begin monthly “coffee and conversations” meetings
With the craziness of the school year winding down, September is a good time to introduce monthly coffees or conversations with the superintendent or head of school. These can be either virtual or in person and should be casual in nature.
Some schools prefer to have a topic of the month that will be the point of discussion at the event, and others choose to keep them open-ended. Topic ideas could be core curriculum, social-emotional learning, facilities, or technology. No matter what direction you choose, having these events on your school’s calendar of events will show the community that the leader is listening and engaged.
Novi School District started “coffee with the superintendent” events held monthly in partnership with the local library. While the event is informal, the superintendent does introduce a topic of interest before opening things up for conversation.
2. Continue social media photo opps
As the month comes to a close and the year rolls on, keep up with the monthly communications cadence to both the community and employee groups, and remember to share photo and video clips of your new leader in action on social media!
Tips for the School Communicator
Introducing a new school or district leader is an immense opportunity for the school communicator to showcase their skills and value. Here are some tips for ensuring you solidify your role as the new superintendent or head of school’s trusted wing man and advisor.
👋 Reach out early and let the new leader know your plans. They’ll appreciate knowing you are organized and have things under control.
📷 Be sure to tag along on photo opportunities, meet-and-greets and media interviews. Not only will you get to know each other better, but you’ll establish that you are there to help in all situations.
👍 Share monthly updates about the new leader’s introduction with the board of education. They’ll value knowing their hire has been well-received, and you’ll get a nod of approval for your hard work in ensuring the community’s support.
First impressions matter, especially when introducing a new school leader to the community. A well-developed communications plan for the superintendent or head of school’s first few months on the job will be critical for gaining trust and respect from the community and staff.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Morgan Delack is Finalsite's Director of Communications, leading the marketing team's public school content, branding initiatives and professional development events. Morgan's background is a mixture of public school communications and television journalism, having worked in both industries for several years. She was named among NSPRA's 35 under 35 and has earned two Emmy Awards for her work in broadcasting. Morgan lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two kids.