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4 Superpowers Every School PR Pro Needs
Morgan Delack

We’re wrapping up a third school year of COVID-19, and public schools have been under siege ever since the pandemic began.

With news headlines like “school board gets death threats amid rage over mask policies,” school communications professionals have been managing more than just the crisis situations themselves, but also the public backlash that has come along with them. 

It’s clear that public school districts need PR superheroes now more than ever before, armed with the following four superpowers to stay ahead: 

1. Reputation booster
2. Trust builder
3. Calm creator
4. Time saver 

1. Reputation booster

When we think of our school district’s reputation, we tend to think about the latest chatter on social media, or what a community member just sent to your inbox. What people are saying about your school or district is directly connected to what their experience and interactions have been with you. One of the first and most important interactions with your community is your website.  

Did you know that it takes .05 seconds for a website visitor to form an opinion about your school district? What’s more—75 percent of people base the credibility of a business on how its website looks, and 94 percent of those first impressions are design-related

And it’s not just how a website looks on a desktop or laptop that matters, consider a user’s experience on a smaller phone screen, too. With more than 50 percent of your website traffic coming from mobile, having a mobile-first approach is no longer optional. Don’t have a mobile-friendly website design? You’ll leave visitors thinking your district is out of touch with the needs of today’s world. 
So what if you find yourself with an out-of-date website that lacks a responsive design? You wouldn’t be alone. The lifespan of a website is shorter than you’d think. According to Forbes, the average lifespan of a website is two years, seven months. And since the average time to launch a new website is six months to a year, it might be time for you to start thinking about a redesign. 

If you’re looking for inspiration on districts that have successfully used their websites as reputation boosters, check out Edina Public Schools in suburban Minneapolis, MN. In a state with school choice, parents truly can choose if they want to enroll their children there, or the district next door—and their tax money follows. The stakes are high. 

Edina Public Schools has nailed the first impression piece with an excellent website design. The website serves as their main communications hub, and a one-stop shop for the community looking for information.

screenshot of edina public schools homepage

They’ve made a commitment to having fantastic video and photography as part of their digital communications strategy, which has resonated with parents, especially. One parent said, “I feel like the superintendent's videos allow her to convey emotion and really communicate beyond the written word. I feel like I know her better than the superintendent we had for the three years prior.” Kudos, Edina communications team! 

While you can’t control what people say about your district, you do have a role in their overall experience. Make the first impression of your schools a good one by ensuring your website and digital communications are a positive reflection of your district’s brand.


2. Trust builder

Community trust in public schools has waned in recent years. According to a recent survey, 52 percent of parents considered finding a new school for their children in the past year. And it’s not just a decline in student enrollment that is noteworthy. Staffing numbers are falling, too. According to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, K12 education employee numbers have decreased by more than 200,000 in just six months. 

There is a distinct lack of trust, especially at the board and administrative level that is contributing to these alarming statistics. In fact, only 24 percent of voters nationwide reported having a significant level of trust in their school board last year. 

What does it all boil down to? Clear, open, and honest communication is the foundation of a trusting relationship for both your internal and external audiences. 

Before the community makes contact with your board at a meeting or event, their first impression is what you share about your board members on your website. Take a look at the board of education section of your website and ask yourself if it portrays trust and professionalism. 

Eanes Independent School District’s board of education website does a great job of building community trust. It’s not just a landing page for photos—the board section shows off the culture of the organization and the people voted into office. Consistent, professional photography ties it all together as a cohesive unit and ultimately shows the board as trusting community members leading the district forward.

Eanes board of education

There’s no greater sign of trust in the school board and administration than when a community votes in favor of a bond levy. A main component of the bond levy process is clearly communicating the need and the ask to the public. Leveraging your website to push these messages is a big part of keeping the community informed.

Tacoma Public Schools recently passed a bond levy with more than a 65 percent yes vote—amazing! How’d they do it? Strategic communications were a large part of their success. Part of that included building out an information hub on their Finalsite website, making it a resource for the community to find out what the replacement levies were all about and how they would be used to fund schools and service kids.

tacoma bond levy site

Tulsa Public Schools also had great success building a microsite within their Finalsite software to house public information about their referenda. Their transparency and open communication paid off, and they passed a $414 million bond in June of 2021.

Screenshot of Tulsa Referenda

Building trust with the public reaps great rewards and it all starts with clear and effective communications.

3. Calm Creator

The third superpower to unleash as a school PR pro is instilling a sense of calm during a crisis, which has been the name of the game since early 2020. 

As school leaders, you’ve faced many crises over the last few years. Everything from COVID to political unrest, to school violence, to critical race theory controversy and staffing instability. The common thread between successfully managing all of these issues? Effective communication

In a survey of organizations who have experienced a crisis, most of their lessons learned or things they would do differently revolve around communications. 

  • 34 percent of organizations said they’d do more to identify crisis scenarios 
  • 29 percent said they’d execute a more timely and robust communications plan
  • 29 percent said they’d communicate more effectively with employees

Keeping calm is more than just having a steady voice and consistent tone to your messaging. There are many ways to think outside of the box to show your community you care during stressful times. Glenview 34 used its website to create a “wellness hub” for students, staff, and parents when schools were closed for in-person learning in 2020 and 2021.

glenview wellness hub

Developed using Finalsite Posts, the unique page offers something for everyone and speaks to the district’s priorities around student and staff wellbeing. Not only has it been well-received by the Glenview 34 community, it also was recognized by the Illinois Chapter of the National School Public Relations Association (INSPRA) with a 2022 Award of Excellence!

Like most school districts, Boulder Valley’s schools are the center of the community. Recognizing their importance as a community hub of information, they turned to their Finalsite website to share important details regarding crisis events that went beyond just a school setting. When the devastating Marshall Fire hit, they set up an information hub on their website for resources that could benefit everyone—not just families with children in schools.

screenshot of Boulder Valley Marshall fire resources

Boulder Valley also leans on its Finalsite website for communicating during other large, impactful issues like COVID-19 and a mass shooting that occurred in a community supermarket. 

When people feel informed during a crisis, they stay calm. Crisis thrives in chaos—leverage your digital communications tools to ensure people have consistent, clear, and accessible communications when managing a crisis.

4. Time saver

The last superpower to unleash is the ability to save time. We all could use more of it, especially those balancing a never-ending to-do list with no staff to help. 

What if you could accomplish the bulk of your to-do list with less time and effort? Would you do it? Of course, you would! What if you had a school PR superpower (or magic trick!) built right into your software? 

At Finalsite, we leverage Create Once, Publish Everywhere (C.O.P.E.) functionality within our website software so busy communicators can edit a piece of content one time, and then cross publish it on their mobile app, in their newsletter, or on a school page—wherever it needs to go. 

For communication teams of all sizes, C.O.P.E. software acts as an invaluable set of extra hands to help make your job easier and communication processes more efficient. 

Learn More: 3 Advantages of Create Once, Publish Everywhere Software

Another way to save time is to ensure your mass notifications system is truly a one-stop-shop for sending information to your community. Does it include a way to update your website, mobile app, email newsletter, and social media platforms all at once? With Finalsite Messages XR, you can do all of that and more with just a click of a button, unleashing that time saver superpower we could all use more of. 

Learn more: How to Choose a Mass Notifications System

Key Takeaway

School communicators are often the unsung heroes of their communities. By unleashing these four key superpowers, you’ll be able to tackle the next big challenge your school or district faces with confidence (and a cape).

Meet With a Website Expert | Finalsite

Morgan Delack Headshot

Morgan Delack is Finalsite's VP 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.

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