The Seminar Scoop

2021 NSPRA National Seminar – Thursday, July 15

Pop quiz: Who's who?

Hey NSPRA Nation! This quiz should be easy! Which photo depicts attendees from Alabama, Colorado, Kentucky, the Northeast Region and the #K12prchat community? And for bonus points, what's unique about the photo featuring Jason Wheeler? Disclaimer: the only prize for the correct answers is a point of pride. Or a really awesome tweet out!

NSPRA's Return to Remember

Welcome Back Dock Party Second Line Parade

A salute to the spouses of NSPRA (aka SpouseSPRA)

By Julie Thannum, APR

It was late Monday evening in the President's Suite at the NSPRA Seminar. There was the usual laughing and storytelling among school PR colleagues. Then I noticed two husbands of NSPRA members sitting across the room, deep in conversation.

I walked over and interrupted their conversation. I asked Theo Bruinton and Rob Tinnin about what it was like to be married to school PR rock stars Lesley Bruinton (NSPRA president and director of public relations at Tuscaloosa City Schools in Alabama) and Tierney Michelle Tinnin (chief of marketing and communications at Cedar Hill ISD in Texas).

My motivation was to find out what topic had them so engaged ... NSPRA inside baseball? Politics? Life stories? The answer: sports! Rob is a diehard graduate of the University of Oklahoma (Boomer Sooner) and Theo prefers the University of Alabama (Roll Tide).

Theo and Rob are members of a club that many of us like to call Spouses of NSPRA (or SpouseSPRA for short). Some have become familiar faces; Rob has joined Tierney in San Diego (2013), Nashville (2015), Chicago (2016), San Antonio (2017) and now, New Orleans (2021).

Both men expressed admiration for how their wives balance the demands of their school communication jobs with their all-important role as moms. They have seen enough behind the scenes to know what it takes to effectively support their spouses in their role as school communicators.

“You have to have patience and understanding and a sense of humor,” Rob said. “You have to have multiple abilities when it comes to taking care of the kids. Like bath time! Sometimes, she doesn’t even get to come home until after 11 p.m.”

And what do they get out of attending the NSPRA Seminar?

“It’s very fun for me to get to meet everyone and just see the passion they have for what they do,” said Theo. “I try to be a supporter, as much as I can possibly be ... whether it’s being there with a listening ear when she needs to vent or taking care of the kids. You just have to give them as much time as you can. For her, she doesn’t feel like she has enough time to do it all – that’s just a part of the deal.”

Rob agreed that people in demanding jobs need strong support at home. “SpouseSPRA is an equal opportunity organization,” he said with a grin, right before winning a Michael Jackson dance competition down on Bourbon Street.

I decided to track down other members of the SpouseSPRA club and ask them for their perspective on the world of school PR.

“Honestly, it’s frustrating watching such a smart, capable professional have to deal with the self-doubt and uncertainty that comes with this job,” said Jamie Gorsuch, whose wife Molly McGowan Gorsuch is the public information officer for Henderson County Public Schools, a district in western North Carolina. “I sometimes worry that the anxiety of the work is going to be too much for her, but it never is … The one thing I would change would be to make sure these professionals receive the recognition and respect they deserve for this work in every district. School PR isn’t a luxury or a bonus department; it is essential to a well-functioning school system and should be treated that way.”

He added that he is “in awe” of how his wife deals with myriad challenges while maintaining an upbeat and can-do attitude.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Marie Nicol, whose husband Brian is director of communications for Howard-Suamico Schools in Green Bay, Wisconsin. As a kindergarten teacher, Marie has a unique perspective on education issues and often serves as an important at-home sounding board for her husband.

Marie sees NSPRA as part of the support system. “Brian has made positive connections with many NSPRA members and has developed lifelong friendships,” Marie says. “Everyone is so kind and welcoming. Many of you are the people he talks to and talks about on a weekly basis. I’m so proud of him and the work he does for the students, the staff and the families in our community.”

Marie has attended NSPRA seminars in Chicago, Anaheim, Washington D.C. and New Orleans. She said she enjoys meeting Brian’s Twitter friends in person.

As we close out another amazing NSPRA Seminar, we also salute the Spouses of NSPRA who are obviously legendary in their own right.

Unforgettable Images of the 2021 Seminar

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Jewels were everywhere at Wednesday's Gold Mine roundtables

By Andrew Robinson

Topics covered at Wednesday's Gold Mine roundtables ranged from recruiting a diverse workforce to planning the return to in-person instruction. Fifteen mini-sessions were available for in-person attendees and four sessions for virtual attendees.

Here are two examples of the many worthwhile mini-sessions:

COVID-19 School Reopening Guidebook. Gina Nielsen, the chief communications officer for Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District in Roseville, Calif., discussed her 2021 Golden Achievement Award-winning guidebook for reopening schools during the pandemic.

Gina was the sole person responsible for creating both the content and designing the guidebook for her district. She said it was a challenge in which she learned a lot. “When you put something like this together, you don’t know who will see it. The Department of Health had to sign off on this plan. I never thought I would be creating something that they would see and approve,” she said.

Diversity Recruitment Fair Campaign. As equity, diversity and inclusivity continue to take center stage and guide our conversations, PR pros from Clayton (MO) schools described a successful campaign to attract a diverse pool of candidates for employment.

Chris Tennill, APR, chief communications officer, and Todd Schumacher, digital communications specialist, said the goal was to recruit and retain teaching staff that reflected the diversity of the district in which they live. Using a mix of video, graphics and organic and paid methods, they achieved their goal while learning how to adapt and create even better videos in the future.

More images of the 2021 Seminar

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Nicole Kirby outlines her goals as incoming NSPRA president

By Julie Thannum, APR

A perfectly timed clap of thunder added a fitting exclamation point on incoming NSPRA President Nicole Kirby’s speech to attendees in New Orleans Wednesday at the awards luncheon. It brought closure to the 2021 seminar where leaders introduced a new executive director, a new logo and a new vision for the organization’s future.

“I believe we can be an organization that is one of the leading voices in education,” said Kirby, who is Accredited in Public Relations and serves as director of communication services for the Park Hill School District in Kansas City, Mo.

“I believe we can model the kind of excellence we want to inspire in our members. And I believe we can support this profession as it tells the stories that will save public education.”

As the next NSPRA president, Kirby said her priorities will be making sure:

  • Every member from every region and every background feels supported and included in NSPRA’s professional network.
  • All members have the professional development they need to become the strategic storytellers needed in this moment.
  • That NSPRA achieves its potential for excellence through an ambitious yet sustainable course for the future.

“Our NSPRA family is part of the family I choose, which is a powerful bond,” Kirby said. “For 22 years now, NSPRA members have lifted me up. As Bob Noyed said earlier this week, we get to walk alongside and learn from our heroes in this business.”

She credited both retired Executive Director Rich Bagin, APR, and newly hired Executive Director Barbara Hunter, APR, as being stable forces in the organization’s past and future success.

“Guided by our new strategic plan, we are building on the stable foundation that our previous executive director, Rich Bagin, left us,” said Kirby. “Now it’s time to see what NSPRA can be when we let ourselves soar.”

Kirby said Hunter has the sharp mind, relational skills, high standards and deep experience that NSPRA needs. She said she sees a shift in the public’s understanding of the forces impacting public schools, and there is a greater need now to communicate transparently about them.

“While our workload is higher than ever, so is the appetite for the important work we all do,” she told the audience of school communicators. “We need NSPRA more than ever to give us the tools we need to not only do this job, but to do it well. Which is why I’m so excited for this pivotal moment in NSPRA’s history.”

Kirby will begin her presidential duties on Oct. 1. She is a past vice president for the South Central region and a past MOSPRA president. She was named one of NSPRA's Learning and Liberty Legacy Leaders and has received the NSPRA Gold Medallion, the NSPRA Frontrunner Award, the MOSPRA Professional of the Year Award and the MOSPRA Distinguished Service Award.

Did you meet fascinating people at the Seminar? Me too!

By Andrew Robinson

Since I attended by first NSPRA Seminar in 2019 in Washington, D.C., my school PR network has grown -- and so has my list of treasured friends.

Josh Sauer, APR, was the very first person that I met at NSPRA. We cyber-met on Twitter in early 2019 and I had the pleasure of meeting him in person at the 2019 seminar in Washington, D.C. Since then, Josh and I connect regularly, and I cannot imagine my life without him. He has been a tremendous mentor, colleague, friend and just an overall inspiration.

Who's your Josh? Send them a text right now!

Here in New Orleans, I have met more interesting people from all over the country. Let me tell you about Jamie Brace, communications and media relations director for Claremore Public Schools in Claremore, Okla., and Patrick Gallaway, director of communications for New Albany Plain-Local Schools in New Albany, Ohio.

Jamie Brace Is attending her first NSPRA, and I met her at Monday's Tweetup. She's a high school teacher who noticed a need for more streamlined communications in her district. She approached the superintendent and asked if the district would consider creating a communications office. “I taught full time and did PR full time. I was doing it all,” Jamie said.

“I love NSPRA and the organization,” Jamie said. “I love the resources you get from coming here. Where I am in my district, I feel like I’m on an island. Coming here, I meet new people and then feel more comfortable asking questions and learning all that I can."

You can connect with Jamie on Twitter @jme_brace.

I bumped into Patrick Gallaway from New Albany, Ohio, in the lobby of the Sheraton hotel. We fell into a robust conversation about our districts' demographics. Like so many things at NSPRA, we found more commonalities than differences.

Patrick has been involved with NSPRA for quite a few years so I asked him what he was getting from this year's Seminar. “Networking, but of course we know that the organization is more than that,” he said. “The experiences and the camaraderie that you have here--there is nothing that comes close to that in terms of professional development anywhere else.”

Like many of us, he sees school PR as playing a key role in helping our districts navigate the unique challenges of the coming school year. “How are we transitioning our student population back to school this fall and how are we protecting their well being?” he asked. “The students haven’t been in school in over a year. Some students may have never been in the school building before. We don’t want them to be intimated and overwhelmed, so we have to have these important conversations now,” he said.

Connect with Patrick on Twitter @PGallaway827.

Networking and friendship seems to be high on everyone's priority list at this year's Seminar. In that spirit, I hope everyone reading this will feel free to keep in touch with me on Twitter @RobinsonReports. Even if we haven't crossed paths yet, don't hesitate to reach out and say hello. I’d enjoy meeting you!

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Reporters’ notebook: Unforgettable moments ... and some profound metaphors?

By Andrew Robinson and Julie Thannum, APR

The 2021 NSPRA National Seminar in New Orleans is now history. As reporters for the Seminar Scoop, we filled our notebooks with items about NOLA and NSPRA that we just couldn’t squeeze into our stories. Could there be profound truths in our top 10 marginalia? You be the judge:

10. Nobody karaokes like the spras.

9. Every child deserves the magic of Aunt Bea and her apple pancakes.

8. Spreading kindness is a little like treating the world to Cafe DuMonde; it’s nearly impossible to eat a beignet without sugar-coating yourself and everyone around you.

7. Too bad life isn’t a little bit more like a Sheraton elevator, which quickly and efficiently takes you right where you belong.

6. There’s apparently no wrong way to fix an oyster.

5. Happiness is best found in early morning moments of gratitude, but also in the absence of phubbing.

4. Members of SpouseSPRA deserve a Gold Medallion category.

3. Contrary to popular opinion, voodoo dolls won’t impact your next election.

2. Not being able to come together last year made us all a little bit more understanding about retrieving our own clean towels.

1. New executive director, new logo, new vision ... same authentic relationships.

Remember: Life is not meant to be spent in isolation! So gather your friends, find yourself a Second Line Band (or equivalent) and parade through town like there’s no tomorrow!

Postscript: It’s been a privilege to be reporters for the Seminar Scoop e-newsletter, which was the brainchild of Executive Director Barbara Hunter, APR. We hope the Scoop made this event (one the greatest NSPRA has ever offered!) even more memorable.

So long friends. Looking forward to seeing you on social media and In The Loop!

Get In The Loop ... and Get Ready for the NSPRA 2022 National Seminar

By Alex Mayster, APR, and Tom Jackson, APR

We’re looking forward to seeing you in Chicago next year! Our school communicators will once again receive the latest and greatest professional development when they Get In The Loop at the 2022 Seminar. In addition, Seminar attendees will have the opportunity to explore the Windy City and find out what makes Chicago a world-class city. Here are four things to look forward to:

The Food: If you haven’t had Chicago’s deep-dish pizza or a Chicago-style hot dog, have you even eaten? It doesn’t end there. During your trip, you may also want to grab an Italian Beef from Portillo’s, Garrett’s cheese and caramel popcorn or stop into one of the city’s outstanding steakhouses.

Museum Campus: Bringing your family? Consider spending some time enjoying Chicago’s museums. Some of the top spots include the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Adler Planetarium.

The Baseball: Wrigley Field is a destination for sports fans, and attending a Cubs game (and exploring Wrigleyville) is an experience you won’t want to miss. Remember, there are two baseball teams in Chicago! White Sox fans can jump on the Red Line to catch a game on the South Side.

The Waterfront(s): With all the city has to offer, it’s easy to forget the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. Conference-goers can enjoy the architecture on a riverboat cruise, spend a day in the sand at the beach, or take a ride on Navy Pier’s world-famous Ferris wheel.

Which song best expresses your feeling about leaving the Big Easy?

How you said goodbye on social media

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