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What All Districts Need: Superintendents as Brand Leaders
Connor Gleason

Communities need a leader and as a school community, districts need strong leadership — easier said than done when these days, superintendents are leaving their positions and heading for the exits at levels education hasn’t seen in some time.

The nonprofit consulting firm Education Resource Strategies looked at data from the last seven years to break down the superintendent turnover from the 100 largest districts by student enrollment.

In 2020-21 and 2021-22, nearly a quarter of superintendents had turnover—the highest number since 2018.

And while turnover in large, urban districts is more prevalent, those that haven’t left their position yet are considering doing so.

During uncertain times, K-12 school districts need to establish unity, trust, and strength in their mission. That's reinforced through branding and that starts at the top with superintendents and school leaders. With a strong brand, districts can unite their local communities, engage parents and students, and find more solutions to execute their district’s initiatives.

Effective branding strategies for superintendents

Superintendents should establish a consistent, clear, and simple message that reflects the district’s mission, values, and unique offerings. Establishing a strong collaboration with the communications office will be essential — with every interaction with families, this message should be communicated across all forms of communication, whether it's through the district’s website, social media presence, email communications, mobile app, and other communication tools.

Engaging the community where they are
Superintendents and district leaders should actively engage their community and involve parents, students, staff, and community members when building the school's brand. 

With a surge of communications tools (email, social media, voice, SMS and text, etc.) K-12 leaders need to balance four different generations of parents’ communication preferences, all with varying skill sets and digital proficiencies. Consider how your community receives content and also what devices families can access.

Showcase student and staff achievements
Share the voices of your community and celebrate the success of others within the district by highlighting the achievements of students and staff. Engaging photos, newsletters, social media posts, and sharing school news with local news outlets are powerful ways to build a school's brand.

Build trust with clear and consistent messaging
A strong reputation is essential for building a school's brand. This includes being transparent, responsive, and accountable to stakeholders and consistently delivering timely communications that are in line with the district's values and vision.

Build a strong online presence
A strong online presence is essential for building a school's brand. This includes having an engaging, mobile-first website that’s regularly updated, and remaining active on the district’s social media accounts to provide a glimpse into the district’s culture and achievements.

Brand development, paired with increased pressure on public districts to support enrollment and recruit staff, means that no tool is more important in this competitive environment than a district’s website.

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How can school district leaders use websites to support their school brand?

School leaders can support their brand by ensuring that their website accurately represents the school's mission, community, and offerings.

Take a look at Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191's site — there's branding at every click. And notice how the homepage presents the value of its district, encouraging students to "Blaze Your Path" (Blaze...Burnsville...get it?) There's great imagery, testimonials, and success stories — the district leans into its mission of inspiration and creating "barrier-free pathways for learning."

Burnsville homepage

As the home of district communications, a district’s website level of accessibility, usability, and design consistency is critical to providing an intuitive user experience and helping parents find the information they need — fast. But how can you evaluate if your website is making the grade?

Is my district’s website good enough?

A superintendent can determine if their district and school websites are good enough by evaluating them against several key factors.

  1. Functionality: The website should be easy to navigate, with clear and concise information. It should also be mobile-friendly and accessible to all users.
  2. Accessibility: The website should be accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. This can be tested by using tools like AudieEye.
  3. Content: The website should accurately represent the district and school's mission, values, and offerings, and provide detailed information about the curriculum and achievements of students and staff.
  4. Branding: The website should prominently display the district and school's logo and branding, creating a consistent look and feel across all pages. That also includes choices in design elements, language, and visuals.
  5. Communication: The website should be regularly updated with important information and news, and provide a clear and easy way for parents, students, and community members to contact the school.
  6. Visibility: Search engine optimization (SEO). The website's ranking on search engines like Google can indicate its visibility and accessibility to potential users. Can prospective families AND employees find you?
  7. Analytics and Feedback: Superintendents and communication offices can gather metrics like site traffic, and user and email engagement from parents, teachers, and students to know if the website is meeting their needs and expectations.

By evaluating the district and school websites against these factors, superintendents can determine if they are providing effective communication tools and identify areas for improvement. Additionally, superintendents can benchmark their websites against those of other school districts and schools to see how they compare.

Free Website Report Card | Finalsite

How do I know if my district’s communications tools are effective and support the brand?

A superintendent can work with the district’s communication office to determine if prospective parents and families are seeing and engaging with communications from the district by looking at:

  1. Analytics: An analysis of the sites’ data can indicate the level of interest and engagement from users. By tracking website traffic and user engagement, communication leaders can determine if families are visiting the district's website and viewing important information and updates on community pages, portals, calendars, and more.
  2. User Engagement and Adoption: Metrics, like time spent on the website, pages visited, and bounce rate can provide insight into how engaged users are with the website's content and functionality. The number of downloads of your school’s mobile app can also indicate how parents are adopting new avenues of communication.
  3. Email Open Rates and Engagement: If your district is using email communication tools to reach prospective parents and families, tracking open rates, click-through rates, and engagement can indicate how successful these efforts are and how well the district's message is reaching target audiences.
  4. Social Media Engagement: By monitoring engagement on the district's social media accounts, districts can determine if prospective parents and families are seeing and interacting with communications on these platforms.
  5. Surveys and Feedback: Superintendents and districts can’t afford to be tone-deaf. Regularly gathering feedback from parents and community members through surveys or by soliciting feedback directly can provide insight into how well communications are being received and if they’re meeting the needs and expectations of families.

By regularly monitoring these metrics, districts can gain insight into how well the website is performing and identify areas for improvement to support their brand.

Can families find the information they need easily, within a few clicks?

School leaders can determine if parents are able to find the information they need by using a few different methods:

  1. Website Analytics: By tracking website traffic, user engagement, and the click-through rate (CTR) on specific links or buttons on the website, leaders can determine which pages are being visited most frequently and for how long. This can indicate which information is most important to parents and if they are able to find it easily.
  2. Surveys and Feedback: The squeaky wheel gets the grease…Are families complaining about your district information being easily accessible across devices? Superintendents can gather feedback from parents through surveys or by soliciting feedback directly. 
  3. Usability Testing: By conducting usability testing, district can observe how parents interact with the website and identify any pain points or areas of confusion in finding the information they need — the comms office can help with this.
Austin Public School Main Navigation

Families can easily access district and community information through Austin Public School's main navigation. They have everything — resources for students, staff, and parents, and contact information...With everything just a few clicks away, families are treated to a great user experience.

Is my district’s website meeting accessible standards?

Accessibility needs to be a focus of every district’s digital presence and website. Without the resources to communicate and engage with all users — of every ability— a culture of inclusivity, community, and transparency can’t be accomplished.  A superintendent can determine if the school district's websites are accessible to all users by:

  1. Compliance with Accessibility Standards: The school district's websites should comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is the standard for web accessibility. Comms offices should identify and address any accessibility issues on the website, such as poor color contrast, missing alternative text, or lack of keyboard navigation.
  2. Auditing: The communication office can conduct regular accessibility audits to ensure that all new content and updates on the website comply with the accessibility standards.
  3. Monitoring: Districts can monitor the website for any accessibility issues reported by users, and take action to address them. An integrated accessibility checker within a content management system (CMS) can help identify common problems, like improper headings, missing alt text, or language-based issues.

FREE ONLINE COURSE: Building Accessibility into Your Communications Plans

By regularly monitoring and testing for accessibility, superintendents can ensure that the school district's websites are inclusive and accessible to all users, including those with disabilities.

Key takeaway

A school's website provides an opportunity for superintendents to engage with the community and create a sense of transparency and accessibility — all of which are needed for a strong brand and effective leadership.

To promote a positive brand that ultimately improves the overall reputation of the district, superintendents can help build trust and engagement among stakeholders and work to create an effective online presence that supports the school's mission and values.

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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