5 Communications Lessons from an Award-Winning Superintendent

To say communication is key in marketing would be an understatement, and yet, many school districts struggle to effectively communicate with their stakeholders.

Raindrop Education expert Jeff Felix spent 30 years in education and the past 19 as a superintendent before retiring in 2016. To help school district superintendents understand the importance of having a clear marketing and communications plan, we asked Jeff to share some of the most impactful lessons he has learned over the course of his career. The takeaways are profound not just for superintendents, but also for business leaders in virtually any industry. 

1. Inspect What You Expect

Like any leadership position, being a superintendent brings a high level of visibility and a vast landscape of accountability. When the job pulls you in so many different directions, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. Take a step back and “inspect what you expect” out of your efforts. Even if you have a chief information or public information officer working alongside you, remember you are ultimately responsible for internal and external communications. Your ability to motivate and inspire others is pivotal.

2. Think Beyond Your Direct Audience

A school district is an integral part of the community it serves. Communication doesn’t stop at parents and students; there are board members, council members, businesses, and countless other stakeholders.

Students and parents typically comprise less than 20 percent of the community members who pay taxes for the school district. If you’re only involving those directly in front of you in your decisions, you are alienating three-fourths of your audience. You need to build relationships with all stakeholders, at all times. For example, while Jeff was the superintendent for the Coronado Unified School District (CUSD), he made a concerted and consistent effort to forge a relationship with the largest business in the community, Hotel del Coronado. He also met frequently with community leaders.

3. Start Small

Marketing success doesn’t happen overnight. It’s great to have a long-term vision, but start with one or two measurable, manageable investments. Do things the right way and build on your successes.

When Raindrop Marketing first started working with CUSD, Jeff was in charge of a $9 million swimming pool that was eating up the district’s resources. We were trying to make up a large deficit by charging fifty cents per swimmer, which we all realized simply wasn’t going to work. So, we repositioned the facility for a more profitable audience. Leveraging Coronado’s tourism allure (warm weather, the beach, and San Diego attractions), we built an international database of water polo and swimming coaches in cold weather climates, and then began sending them monthly email blasts enticing them to hold their training at CUSD’s complex. Within a year, the booking schedule was filling up with teams from all over the U.S. and world.

4. See Things Through

Strategic planning is the backbone of communication. During his time with CUSD, Jeff implemented annual planning sessions with Raindrop Marketing to evaluate what was accomplished over the past year, where the district stood in the present, and what we needed to improve upon in the future. This helped to establish a culture of communication that naturally translated to positive communications with the school district’s audiences. We shared our strategic planning documents on the CUSD website and openly invited community members to attend the meetings.

5. Work with a Marketing Agency

We accomplished some amazing things with Jeff while he was at the helm of CUSD, and that same communications-focused foundation continues to carry our marketing momentum with the district’s new superintendent Karl Mueller.

Meanwhile, Jeff is now working with us as our business development and communications strategist, helping schools and school districts improve their marketing communications. To learn more about our branding and communications services for schools, visit raindropforeducation.com.

By: Jeff Felix