Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
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Public Relations

    Has your school district hired a professional public relations agency for the purpose of enlisting community support, particularly in pursuit of tax hikes and bond issues? Are you surprised to learn this is becoming common?

  • Start here: Spinmeisters Come To Town
    This is our special report on the issues of public relations and school districts, with a particular focus on one such firm, UNICOM-ARC, which has been hired by a number of school districts in the Chicago area, including Adlai Stevenson HS D125, Antioch D34, Antioch Community HS D117, Barrington D220, Bensenville D2, Butler D53, Carpentersville D300, Deerfield D109, Downers Grove D58, DuPage HS D88, Elgin U46, Glenbard HS District 87, Glen Ellyn D41, Glenview D34, Gurnee (Woodland) D50, Gurnee D56, Highland Park D112, Highland Park D113, Hinsdale Township HS D86, Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills D181, Kenilworth D38, Lake Park Community HS D108, Lake Zurich D95, Lemont-Bromberek D113A, Libertyville/Vernon Hills HS D128, Lincolnshire-Prairie View D103, Lincolnwood D74, Lockport Township D205, Medinah D11, Mt. Prospect D57, Naperville D203, North Palos D117, Northbrook D27, Palatine Township HS D211, Park Ridge-Niles D64, Riverside-Brookfield HS D208, Roselle D108, St. Charles, Schiller Park D81, Skokie D69, Skokie (East Prairie) D73, Skokie D73.5, Wheaton-Warrenville D200, and Woodstock D200, as well as in a number of school districts downstate including Belleville Township HS D201, Belvidere D100, Collinsville D10, Columbia D4, Decatur D61, O'Fallon D203 (in St. Clair County), Olympia D16, Rockford D205, Springfield D186, and Waterloo D5.

  • Here is a wonderful series of reports from the NSPRA (National School Public Relations Association) Conference, Minneapolis, July 9-11, 2001. These were prepared by Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, and they are gems -- well-researched and in-depth, and fun to boot!

    • Report for July 9, 2001: Excerpt...
      "No doubt you have a few questions about NSPRA and about why I am here. First, I will venture a guess that many of you are unaware your school districts employ public relations officers, or that there are enough of them to have a national organization and a conference. I assure you there are over 1,000 school district public relations officers at this event, along with some superintendents and other school officials."

    • Report for July 10, 2001: The EIA covers some of the main sessions of the conference, including such eye-openers as how to appeal to the "75 percent of the public have no children in the public schools", a very revealing session on getting out the yes vote in referendum campaigns entitled "Getting Voter Approval the New Fail-Safe Way," and a watch-your-behind session named "Communicating Proactively in Sensitive Situations."

    • Report for July 11, 2001: the EIA covers more NSPRA sessions, including one called (no kidding) "'Bribing' Your Critics and Other Unusual Community Involvement Strategies." There is a mention of why it is important to involve real estate professionals in your education work. Best of all, the EIA report includes the delicious names of a number of sessions that could not be covered due to time constraints, including "Dealing with Public Anger" and "How to Outwit, Outplay and Outlast Our Critics".



  • If you're trying to build community support to convince your school district to restore academics and effective teaching methods, meet your opponent: the National School Public Relations Association.

  • There also exists an Illinois Chapter of the National School Public Relations Association or "INSPRA." INSPRA is active in offering instructional workshops like the following to administrators in your Illinois school district:
    October 15, 2004: Referendums: Setting Up for Winning Strategies
    With today's financial realities, more school districts than ever before are faced with winning public support for additional funds. What you and your administration do now to lay down the proper foundation can make or break important voter initiatives. What can you do to put your district in the driver's seat? Who are your strategic partners? Learn in this information-packed session how to prepare for the inevitable referendum six to twenty-four months or more ahead of the curve.

  • PR and the Public Schools; Before announcing bad test scores, inspire community pride by George A. Clowes, School Reform News, October 2001

  • How Schools "Manage" Parents, School Reform News, October 2001. This is a review of the book Parents and Schools: The 150-Year Struggle for Control in American Education by Temple University history professor William Cutler. The review starts by asking this compelling question: "Why is it that parents who give a mediocre grade to public schools in general almost invariably have a favorable impression of the performance of their local public school?" The answer, continues the article, is "Organized public relations programs have been an essential part of urban school systems since the 1920s, with public school educators working systematically to influence public opinion about their schools. Teacher colleges offer courses in educational publicity and strategies for building local support."

  • Here is an additional review of Parents and Schools: The 150-Year Struggle for Control in American Education by William Cutler. This review also starts with questions: "Why aren't schools more responsive to parent and taxpayer demands for improvement? ... Cutler shows that schools and parents have been at odds for a very long time. Instead of acting to fulfill the expectations of parents and the public, the schools have historically sought to shape and reshape the views of parents and the public to suit their own ideas about education's aims and purposes.".

    "Allowing the survey to be biased by a single group of 'influential' people is not only more predictive, it also leads to a more successful [tax hike] initiative."
  • The mere act of conducting a survey in anticipation of a tax hike referendum can be in itself a promotion for the tax hike. Read how:
    Biased Survey Beats Unbiased For Influence [editor's note: that's their title, not ours!] by Bill Foster, Illinois School Board Journal, March/April 2006. Key excerpts: "... the process of building ownership in solutions and gaining support for a referendum includes much more than a traditional sampling survey. ... Traditionally, school districts have prepared for referendums by surveying a small sample of the population representative of the entire community. ... And as the rate of referendums that fail continues to outpace those that pass, school districts realize that this may not be the best approach to understand the community's priorities. Allowing the survey to be biased by a single group of 'influential' people is not only more predictive, it also leads to a more successful initiative."

  • PR To The Rescue: District 186's Plan To Rebuild Credibility by Pete Sherman, Illinois Times [Springfield, IL], June 26, 2003. "Last year, when Springfield voters overwhelmingly rejected a property-tax increase meant to benefit the public schools, District 186 officials began to realize they'd lost what little respect they had in the community. ... In a case of understatement, a district report earlier this year acknowledged, 'Public relations continue to be a challenge.' Soon after taking office in May, the new school board hired a PR firm. That company, Unicom-Arc ... will be paid about $45,000 ... New board member Cindy Tate says she's met with cynicism when telling constituents of the plan to hire the PR consultant: 'Oh, another smoke and mirrors game?' ... 'Unicom-Arc is a very good, very professional, and very successful public relations agency that focuses on the education industry,' says Kevin Killion, director of Illinois Loop, an organization claiming more than 200 statewide members who support back-to-the-basics public education. 'Let's be clear: Unicom is a PR shop. They are in business to help their clients achieve immediate goals, such as passing referenda.'"

  • Practical PR, llinois School Board Journal, July/August 2005. Villa Park school district 45 is very happy with the results of an ambitious public relations campaign: "... this process helped assure that the board would proceed with the support of its stakeholders. This was evidenced when the community supported a recent referendum on the first try when it hadn't approved such a ballot measure in 17 years."

  • The vaguely disturbing banner shown here is called the "Flag of Learning and Liberty", and perhaps it is flying over your neighborhood school. This flag was designed as a publicity device by the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) which promotes it and sells it to schools. Each element has an assigned theme. For example, the red stripe denotes "democratic way of life" while the blue stripe represents a "strong system of education". Suitably, these are on the opposite edges of the flag.

  • "We didn't want people stirring up emotions we're afraid will make us lose control of the message."
    -- Mary Louise Scheid, director of the office of school and community relations for the Indianapolis Public Schools, explaining why she uses a facilitated small group discussion format for community meetings, rather than a panel with questions from the audience (National School Public Relations Association Conference, 2001)

Schools, Teachers, Parents and the Community

    For more information on the role, perspectives and involvement of teachers, parents and the community with schools, see these other pages on our website:

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