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TSPRA Newsletter 75


ISSUE 75 -November 2, 2011

- Jump to:  From TSPRA Executive Director Linsae Snider

- Jump to:  Member Spotlight Kirk Lewis, Superintendent, Pasadena ISD

- Jump to:  Teachers of the Year receive Ammerman training courtesy of TSPRA and Ammerman

>>From TSPRA Executive Director Linsae Snider

altOn my mind

It is November! Guess that is no surprise to most of you! Football season is nearing the end and playoffs are about to begin.  Bands have performed in marching contests.  Volleyball season has ended and basketball is about to begin. Teachers are getting accustomed to preparing for STAAR. Most of you are already working on next year’s school calendar.  We are all learning as much as we can about STAAR and communicating every piece of new information received from TEA. I suppose we are getting used to the budget cuts.
The ultimate reason we know it is November is that Star Awards entries have been submitted! Over 1000 entries have been processed in our office over the past two days. Judges have some tough work and hard decisions to make in the coming weeks. The quality of work submitted has been exceptional!
There are few items on my mind and worthy of sharing.
Moak, Casey, & Associates released findings from a recent survey showing how state budget cuts have impacted our public schools.  Texas districts are employing an estimated 32,000 fewer staff today. Read the white paper to get a glimpse at ways the funding cuts continue to affect public education.
While attending an area meeting a couple of weeks ago, HB 1907 was a topic of conversation. This legislation made changes to the student arrest notification statute, most notably in the way law enforcement and school districts exchange information about juvenile arrestees.  Dr. Carol Simpson, Associate, Schwartz & Eichelbaum, Wardell Mehl and Hansen, outlined the changes for us. Read the summary here.
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Member Spotlight

KirkLewisA long standing TSPRA member, Kirk Lewis, Ed.D., superintendent, Pasadena ISD, was recently honored as one of four Texas Tech University Distinguished Alumni for 2011.

The awards are designed to recognize and honor alumni who have made significant contributions toward furthering the excellence of Texas Tech University through outstanding accomplishments, careers and/or through extraordinary measures of service.

As Kirk was the TSPRA president (2003-2004), we thought this would be a good opportunity to get him to reflect on his career in education, school public relations and his membership in TSPRA.

When asked, what would you say to a college student contemplating a career in school communications/public relations? Kirk replied, "There are few career pathways in which effective communication and public relations are not essential to personal and professional success. The person trained in oral and written communication will tap those skill sets daily regardless of the profession he or she enters. I chose school communication as a way of using my talents to give back to my community. There may be nothing as fundamental to our community or national future as public education. Effective communication goes a long way toward rallying public support behind the vision and work of public education for a greater outcome for all children."
We have a number of new TSPRA members coming on board this fall, what advice would you have for those presently starting out in school public relations?  He responded, "Most of us who enter school communication know very little about the art and science of teaching and little about the educational support functions required to facilitate learning at all levels. My advice is to make time to dig beneath the surface of all facets of the profession. Learn as much about what it takes to education children as you can. Only then will you be able to share the intricacies of the work to the public at large. The greater your understanding, the greater their understanding. The greater their understanding the deeper their support. Listen. Learn. Ask questions. Grow in the profession."
When you started out as an administrative assistant to the superintendent at Pasadena ISD 25 years ago, did you ever aspire to the superintendent's position? "The thought of becoming superintendent was not even on the edges of my radar screen. My professional path was an evolution of my experiences, my understanding of our district and the community and my relationships with the people of the district and the Board. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. There were probably others who saw this potential long before I did. I doubt that I could have made that jump without the lengthy term of service in this community and this district," Lewis said.
What skills are needed for a successful career in school public relations and how have those skills helped you in your second career as a school district superintendent? Kirk said, "A successful career in school public relations requires sound fundamental communication skills and the ability to build relationships. The credibility you gain as a communicator translates into the trust necessary to build those solid relationships. In the end, your credibility is your ticket. There is also a huge advantage as a communicator if you can look at an issue, dissect it and get a handle on every conceivable outcome. Then, you need the ability to find the desired outcome and be able to create a path through the minefield to get your organization where it needs to go. That ability is invaluable to the organization’s leadership."
He then added, "When you look at it deeply, the skills sets required of a superintendent, particularly in a large district, are not that different than the skills needed of a seasoned communication professional. Communication. Relationships. Vision. Problem solving. Leadership. Truthfully, I don’t know if a school public relations professional (like myself) would be successful in a small district as superintendent. I have the luxury of having educational specialists and professionals to address the curriculum and instructional issues in which my knowledge base is more limited. That’s not necessarily true in a smaller district where the superintendent has an active role in every area."
How has TSPRA and its members helped you throughout your years in public education? "It probably took me five years as a TSPRA member before I truly realized the wealth of knowledge within the organization that I had left untapped. Once I realized I could pick up the phone and seek advice, opinions and swap frustrations with other knowledgeable professionals, the organization took on a whole new meaning for me. The collective wisdom of the membership was a godsend. The workshops and conferences provided my professional development and my refuge. People of TSPRA are my friends, colleagues and in some cases, my confidants," he said.
Would you have any words of wisdom for TSPRA members, from a superintendent's point of view?

"· Never stop growing in your profession. See yourself as not just a communications professional, but also an educator. At first, I felt my knowledge of public education was a mile wide and an inch deep. I became more effective when my knowledge was a mile wide and a foot deep.
· Be someone whom your superintendent can trust. He or she needs to be able to “think out loud” with you without fear that the discussion creeps outside the office. Learn his or her voice. You often speak for the superintendent. Make sure the message is consistently reflects the superintendent’s vision.
· In dealing with critical issues, be someone who not only sees the forest and the trees, but also the root system. My experience as a pr person and a superintendent is that you until you treat the issue at its root, you never really fix the problem.
· Superintendents and other educators have a tendency to speak about facts. Help them learn to tell the stories. Facts inform, but stories resonate. Inspire.
· Develop a passion for what you do and for whom you do it. Education is not about the adults in the room. It’s about the kids. Let them renew you.
· Much of the media, politicians and public today seems to think public education has failed. It has not. You have a message to share. In a world that has a hard time listening, make them hear you!"

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Teachers of the Year Extend Gratitude to TSPRATOYSphoto

Just a week after they were named Texas Teachers of the Year, Stephanie Stoebe and Karen Morman attended Ammerman Training in Mesquite, courtesy of TSPRA and the Ammerman Experience.

The Secondary Teacher of the Year from Round Rock ISD, Stephanie Stoebe said, " We has so much fun at training, We got to know each other better and I learned I have to stop rolling my eyes! Thank you so much for the opportunity to learn the best way to get our love of teaching across to the public. "

"The training was absolutely amazing. I learned so much about interacting with the media. Terri and Dave were very informative, caring and helpful," said Karen Morman Texas Teacher of the year from McKinney ISD.

Karen added, "There were a great many aspects to the training. One important one was having the opportunity to be asked questions and videotaped multiple times. It is surprising how much you can learn about yourself when you watch your videotape. I learned how to bridge those difficult questions and focus on my message. Another significant part of the training was hearing others interviewed and critically discussing the positives and the negatives. In fact I used their advice later that evening when I was interviewed by a reporter.

Thank you so much for providing this training. I know the Ammerman training will be a valuable resource for me as I proceed through the upcoming year, and it is comforting to know that I can consult with them if needed."
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TSPRA Newsletter 74


ISSUE 74 -October 26, 2011

>> From Carol Simpson, Ed.D., Associate
Schwartz & Eichelbaum Wardell Mehl and Hansen, P.C.

Is a blogger a journalist entitled to preferential access?

Dr.Carol_SimpsonWith the advent of the Internet-as-publisher age, just about anyone can “publish.” Since traditional news outlets have moved to the Internet with at least some of their news, the lines blur between professional journalists and hobbyist commentators. Schools and other government organizations are faced with media access requests from more than the local newspaper, television and radio stations, and possibly alternative print media. Now anyone with an Internet
connection believes that he is a “journalist” with a right to free access to anything in the name of the First Amendment.

Demands that journalists (and possibly less mainstream commentators) may make in the name of freedom of the press include preferential seating at board meetings, free access to school events such as athletic games and plays or concerts, seating in the press box at football games,
and unfettered access to school officials for “interviews.”

Districts with public information officers are accustomed to referring press inquiries of whatever type to the public information officer. That person is charged to inform the press, at the time of the district’s choosing, of information that the district chooses to release. Members of the press (and members of the public) regularly make requests for documents under the state’s Public Information Act. Meetings of the board of trustees are open by law, and while the meeting must be open to some of the public, if more people attend than can fit in the anticipated space, those who arrive late may have to stand or be turned away for lack of space.

A premium for the press
While the First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” it does not say that the press will receive a premium seat at every event. Some districts favor the local press with free admission to district events in the hope that the media will report favorably on the event. But government entities are not required to do so, and may set reasonable restrictions on who can qualify for such benefits lest everyone declare himself a “reporter” to avoid paying for tickets. Because space in the press box or press seating may be limited (and understandably so because the seats generate no revenue – one of the reasons for the event to begin with), the district may limit the available seats and set guidelines and priorities for which press representatives get first priority on the press seats. The University of Texas has just such a policy for seats in the press box at the Texas Relays. Here is an excerpt from their rules on press seating:

· Credentials are granted to authorized working press, University of Texas approved officials and event management personnel only.
· Media organization identification and the name of the media member covering the event for that outlet are required for every credential.
· Passes are not transferable. Media members that need to alter their original request should do so by contacting [name].
· Media credential requests must be received by Tuesday, April 5 (5 p.m. Central) to receive consideration.
· Space in the Mike A. Myers Stadium press box is limited. There also will be a tent adjacent to the press box designated for media. Working space and credentials will be allotted based on the following priority guidelines:
1. Daily newspapers covering for next-day publication (based on circulation)
Wire services and national publications
UT Web site partners and visiting university Web site partners
2. Officially recognized University of Texas and visiting university student newspapers, publications and news outlets
3. Radio and television personnel reporting on the event
4. Web site reporters with a primary focus on athletics, specifically track and field
5. Non-daily newspapers or publications reporting on the event

This approach to assigning limited press credentials could work for assigning press seating at high-demand events such as football games. Other events where seating is more limited may have no assigned seating for press, such as at a basketball game. Even in that circumstance, you can request that press register and accept certain standards of conduct, such as not interfering with the game, or not obstructing fan viewing when taking photographs.The First Amendment right to gather news is not absolute, and does not provide journalists with special privileges denied ordinary citizens. U.S. v. Harrelson, 713 F.2d 1114, 1116 (5th Cir. 1983).

In a recent case in the Seventh Circuit, a court found that a media policy that limited, but did not preclude, coverage by the press was compatible with the First Amendment. Wisc. Interscholastic Athletic Ass’s v. Gannett Co., Inc., No. 10-2627, 2011 WL 3773844 (7th Cir. Aug. 24, 2011) (hereinafter WIAA). In WIAA the court distinguished between events (such as board meetings) where the district is a regulator from events (such as athletic events and plays) where the district is a proprietor. In the case of the latter, the game or play is a “performance product” that the district has the right to control. It does the press a favor to provide access and facilities. If the district wishes to charge for that special access, it is free to do so. Reporters and bloggers are free to purchase a ticket and report on the game or the performance from the same seats as the general public. Members of the press are not entitled to sideline or back stage access, and in fact allowing unlimited press access in those generally restricted areas may interfere with the participants in the event.

Obviously government entities need not give carte blanche access to the press – if that were the case, the White House Press Room would be the size of the Washington Mall. Districts are not required to provide any special facilities for the press, at all. If a district has so many requests for special press seating that it cannot accommodate all the requests, it has two options: eliminate special seating entirely and allow the press to grapple with the public for seats, or establish a policy that prioritizes press access to give the most likelihood that the event will be covered in a way to reach the most people in the most responsible manner.

The Texas Public Information Act defines (without naming either “press” or “media”) the special types of jobs that would ordinarily be called “press.” In allowing a district to set a maximum amount of “free” research time, the Public Information Act excepts requests from “. . . an individual who, for a substantial portion of the individual’s livelihood or for substantial financial gain, gathers, compiles, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, investigates, processes, or publishes news or information for and is seeking the information for:

(1) A radio or television broadcast station that holds a broadcast license for an assigned frequency issued by the Federal Communications Commission;
(2) A newspaper that is qualified under Section 2051.044 to publish legal notices or is a free newspaper of general circulation and that is published at least once a week and available and of interest to the general public in the dissemination of news;
(3) A newspaper of general circulation that is published on the Internet by a news medium engaged in the business of disseminating news or information to the general public; or
(4) A magazine that is published at least once a week or on the Internet by a news medium engaged in the business of disseminating news or information to the general public. Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 552.275(j).
These categories bring in most of the true journalists, and exclude the fly-by-night folks with an Internet connection and an axe to grind. In deciding to whom to grant press credentials, the district could establish a similar qualification. As long as the rules are content neutral, they should be defensible, if challenged.

In the case of school board meetings, Texas Government Code § 551.023(b) allows a board to set reasonable rules to maintain order at a meeting, including rules related to recording meetings. Texas Association of School Boards model regulation BE (Exhibit) identifies a collection of reasonable rules related to recording board meetings. But in larger districts where the board room has limited space for television equipment, districts may establish a “pool” video (similar to that done in the White House Press Room) where one television feed is shared with all networks. No one is denied the right to cover the event; they are just denied the right to havetheir own camera on the platform.

Remember, “freedom of the press” guarantees only the right to report on an event. It doesn’t guarantee free seats at a commercial event, nor does it guarantee preferential seating for the press. Some districts like to give the press extra “perqs,” including free access to ticked events, hoping for a favorable report; and members of the local press may have come to expect such treatment. But an observation that there are more requests for press seating than the district is able to accommodate can be justification to prioritize or eliminate preferential access. Reasonable restrictions on all the press (not just some annoying reporters) on places to stand to photograph where they will not interfere with the conduct of the event or the public’s view of the event are defensible. See, e.g., Stevens v. N.Y. Racing Assn’n, 665 F. Supp. 164, 175 (E.D.N.Y 1987); see also Estes v. Texas, 381 U.S. 532, 584 (1965) (“When members of the communications media attend [a public meeting] they have no greater rights than other members of the public.”). Restricting a reporter because you don’t like what or how he reports, however, will not fare well in the courts. Stevens, 665 F. Supp. at 175. When a restriction that affords different degrees of access to members of the press is not content-based, the limitation must serve a legitimate governmental purpose, must be rationally related to accomplishment of that purpose, and must outweigh the systemic benefits inherent in unrestricted, or lesser-restricted, access. Id.

TSPRA Newsletter 73


ISSUE 73 -October 19, 2011

- Jump to: President's Message

- Jump to: Member Spotlight Mary Ann Simpson

>> From TSPRA President Director Tim Carroll

altCatastrophes Challenge Communities & PR Practitioners

At the risk of sounding like an insurance agent, I ask if you are prepared for a catastrophe in your school district.  I don’t mean a crisis that requires meetings and strategies to navigate through. I mean a catastrophe where there is no frame of reference and you are operating in completely new territory.
Unfortunately a number of TSPRA members have found themselves in that new territory as their communities and schools faced destruction by hurricanes and wildfires.  Even the most prepared PR practitioners could not anticipate the challenges of natural disasters such as these but there are PR lessons we can take from them.  That’s why I spoke with two colleagues recently who shared their experiences and lessons learned from catastrophic events.

Donald Williams, executive director for community services and communications with Bastrop ISD, faced a multitude of challenges as 450 square miles burned last month in central Texas. A total of 1,600 homes in the Bastrop community were lost to fire just one week after school began this year.

“In the midst of the crisis you realize how important the school district is to the community,” said Williams. “Working closely with county officials, we worked to keep families informed about the fires, road closures and relief efforts for example.”

Because the fires were affecting numerous communities outside of Austin, specific information about the Bastrop fires was hard to get from local television or radio. The schools became the primary source for information and later became the center of relief efforts as well.

“We immediately opened up our doors to families who had lost homes and began processing and distributing donations that were pouring into the community from around the country,” he explained. “Since then we have been coordinating donations and requests to help those affected by the fires.”

Bastrop primarily used an automated calling system (SchoolMessenger) to send phone and text messages to parents.  They also held scheduled press conferences twice a day with county and city officials. The scheduled conferences allowed the staff time to handle other duties and prepare for the conferences instead of fielding interview requests throughout each day. The media outlets also appreciated the schedule which fit their morning and evening news cycle.

While Bastrop was able to use facilities for relief efforts, Clear Creek ISD faced the added challenge of rebuilding schools that were damaged during Hurricane Rita.

Clear Creek’s director of communications, Elaina Polsen, explained that all of the logical communications channels were destroyed by the hurricane.

“There was no electricity and no cell phone service immediately after the hurricane hit. We were posting messages for parents on marquees and taping them to the doors.  At the time we had a hardware based calling system so we lost that capability as well.”

Like Bastrop and Austin, much of the Houston area was impacted by the hurricane so local news  for Clear Creek residents was hard to come by.

Earlier that same year, hundreds of children had been relocated from New Orleans to Clear Creek due to Hurricane Katrina. The school district had a system for processing the children and helping them get clothes and needed school supplies.  A similar program called Operation Crayon was then employed by Clear Creek to help the many families who were homeless due to the storm.

Both Donald and Elaina felt that a good working relationship with local and county officials is critical to managing the crisis.  Things go more smoothly when the agencies work together instead of competing for attention and resources.  It is also a good exercise to imagine how you would manage a crisis if there was no school administration building or there were no schools.  Clear Creek ISD saw 41 out of 43 campuses damaged by the storm.  Bastrop lost no school facilities but found transporting students extremely difficult with numerous road closures.

Both also advised colleagues to look at their communication tools.  Off-site websites, mobile apps and Internet based callout systems can all help manage a crisis from a remote location.

The emotional toll on students, families and your employees can’t be overlooked, they both explained.

“You can’t separate yourself from the events when people you work with have lost everything,” said Polsen. “It takes a long time to and a lot of counseling for a community to come back from something like this.”

>> Member Spotlight:  Mary Ann Simpson 

Member Spotlight
As the year is winding down we understand that several of our longtime TSPRANs will soon be retiring. And after years of bragging on behalf of their districts, employees and students, we thought it appropriate to take a moment to brag on their behalf.


Mary Ann Simpson, APR
Chief Communications Officer, Fort Bend ISD
After a 38 year career in public school communications Mary Ann will retire on Friday, November 11.  She has spent the last 16 years at Fort Bend ISD (FBISD) serving as Director of Community Relations, Associate Superintendent for Community Relations and Partnerships and concluding her career as the FBISD Chief Communications Officer. Prior to coming to FBISD, she served as the Public Information Officer for Region IV Education Service Center in Houston.

During her years at FBISD the Community Relations and Partnerships office was recognized by both the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA) and the Texas Association of Partners in Education (TAPE) for outstanding achievement in both print and electronic communication.

Over the years Mary Ann has been very active in TSPRA serving as president in 2001-2002. She was honored with TSPRA's professional Achievement Award in 2003.

As for her retirement plans, "While I look forward to the future and having more time to pursue new interests, I will greatly miss working with my extremely talented staff and the many, many, other wonderful colleagues and TSPRANs that have been a pleasure to work with through the years. I have made life-long friends and that is something that I will always treasure."

She leaves this message for TSPRA members, "I want to thank TSPRA and all of my many fine TSPRA colleagues. TSPRA has always been a valuable resource to me in many different aspects during my 38 year career in public school communications. TSPRA provides opportunities to share, to learn, and to network with colleagues who face similar challenges--and that is probably the most important thing that TSPRA offers to its members. There were many years that I was very active in several leadership roles, i.e. president, regional vice president, committee chair for several of the larger revenue generating committees, as well as, the strategic planning committee. Serving in these roles taught me invaluable leadership skills that have served me well in my career."

TSPRA president honored with national mentoring award

CarrollThe National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) has selected TSPRA president Tim Carroll, APR (Allen ISD) as the 2011 Barry Gaskins Mentor Legacy Award recipient. Since entering the school public relations profession in 1981, Tim has not only dedicated himself to elevating the practice of public relations in education but also to helping his colleagues hone their skills and abilities in order to better serve our schools.

"Tim truly cares about the future of public schools, kids and those with whom he works each day," said colleague Cody Cunningham, chief communications officer at McKinney ISD. "He is both a great mentor and friend to hundreds of individuals in school PR, and both the profession and many individuals, including myself, owe him a debt of gratitude."

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