WSPRAgram, October 2012

WSPRAgram, October 2012
  RptCardTake a Positive Approach to Telling Your School Story as the Report Card is Released    
As school districts brace for the release of the new school report card a good overall PR approach needs to be in place.

Let’s summarize this strategy in three steps:

  1. Acknowledge and explain the school report card.
  2. Put the school report card in context with the rest of your efforts.
  3. Deploy your messages – pull out the stops and let the good stories flow out of your schools.

We are already hearing from members that those who are sharing information early have received positive comments from their Boards and staff who are appreciative of being kept in the loop. That’s the power of proactive communication.

This article focuses on two things: developing your key messages and content about the upcoming school report card and taking a proactive approach for the deployment of your key messages all year long.

Samples to Help Customize Your School’s Story About the Report Card
We would like to acknowledge the Department of Public Instruction’s efforts, including their communications team, for helping schools be proactive in their communication efforts about the new school report card. WSPRA recommends that you visit their website for resources and information.

The information provided helps put context of the school accountability reform on the college and career ready focus of new initiatives.

To address the upcoming release of the school report card, WSPRA is sharing sample materials that have been provided by other WSPRA members including CESA 6 and Ripon Area School District, used by with permission. (For a complete toolkit, provided by CESA 6, click here.)  If members have ideas and samples to submit to WSPRA as a resource, please contact Heather Westgor.

Additionally, at the WSPRA Fall Conference, the State Accountability System will be presented during a Thursday session to help members better understand its focus and components.  Click here for more information.

All of these resources can help you develop content: A very important piece of the communication work to be done. These materials are provided as samples only for you to customize for your schools and district.  In addition to developing content, now is the time to plan deployment of your messages.

Plan your Deployment Strategies
What lines of communication need to be open so that your school district story can flow through the pipelines to your intended audiences?

Here’s a sample TO DO list of how to deploy the message.

1. Inventory your current communication vehicles.
At a minimum, every school needs a good solid newsletter and an efficient distribution method. Open up the channels of communication now and you’ll be ready to access them when you need them.

2. Develop this year’s key messages.
Only one of your key messages may be about school accountability, but also include your main focus areas for the year. Don’t allow your success stories and improvement focus areas to be pushed to the background while the school report card breaks. Use those as additional talking points while the report card breaks and throughout the year to demonstrate the strength of your schools.

3. Write an article that provides a preview of what’s to come.
The attachments give you some ideas to get you started.  Use it everywhere – in your upcoming newsletter; in your blog; in your internal and external newsletters, etc. Prepare local reporters with information, too

4. Prepare school principals to talk to their staffs and parents.
The report card is going to hit schools and internal staff need to know what it is and how to talk about it. Ask principals to schedule a face-to-face meeting with teachers, but also consider how other staff can get information about this issue.

Schedule parent information meeting or drop-in question and answer sessions during parent conferences, for example. One topic may be the school report card, but what are the other key messages of the district?

5. Write down a tactical plan.
The school report card may (or may not) take center stage for a while. However, what’s needed is a solid tactical communication plan that will you will deploy all year long. Include dates and topics for all your district newsletters, plan your content for e-newsletters, etc., plan your social media presence, your key communicators topics, even your interview quotes for the print media and sound bites for the electronic media. What can you achieve? It’s hard to know unless you deliberately plan it out. Do that now.

Bottom-line: Acknowledge the report card, put it in the context of the improvement efforts you already have in place, and let the good stories roll all year long.

Dorreen Dembski, Director of Communications, CESA 6
Richard Zimman, Superintendent, Ripon Area School District

RaiseBarRaising the Bar 
By Dr. Richard Zimman

During a recent phone conversation my daughter observed that it was a chilly summer day where she was.  Noting the hot, dry weather here in Wisconsin, I expressed envy.  That’s when she told me her daytime high temperature was 18 degrees!

My envy vanished…for a moment.  Then, I remembered that where she lives, in Ireland, temperatures are expressed on the Celsius scale.  Some quick math revealed that she was experiencing weather that was 64 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale.

Still a bit chilly for a summer day, but far different from the freezing temperature I was first imagining at 18 degrees.

This made me more acutely aware that whenever we measure anything, the first thing we need to consider is the scale.  Is it Celsius or Fahrenheit?  Kilometers or miles?  Kilos or pounds?  Wisconsin or NAEP?

Wisconsin or NAEP?  What’s that you say?

If you haven’t already heard, all of Wisconsin’s 2011 standardized test score results for students are in the process of being converted from the Wisconsin proficiency scale to the national proficiency scale.  And soon many parents, students, and citizens will be having the same feeling I had when I had to make the switch from Fahrenheit to Celsius.  The scores will look lower, but that’s just because it’s a different scale.

In late September all Wisconsin public schools will be receiving newly designed report cards from the state.  These report cards will indicate how each school is doing according to new criteria contained in the state’s waiver to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal law.  The results from the 2011 Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) which were distributed last spring using the Wisconsin measurement of proficiency are now being redistributed using the national measurement of proficiency.  The same test results, but reported on a different scale.

The national measurement of proficiency is taken from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which has been testing kids in all states-and even Ripon during some years-since 1969.  The difference in measurement is that the NCLB law allowed each state to determine its own level of proficiency according to its own definition of “being at grade level.”  That resulted in fifty different scales.

However, the federal NAEP proficiency level that we now must use is setting a single, common bar of high expectations for all states based on being able to “demonstrate competency over challenging subject matter.”

Moving from being at grade level to being able to master challenging subject matter is a huge jump in what constitutes being acceptable.  Raising the bar for student achievement will cause those students who were previously categorized as Advanced with the Wisconsin scale to be re-categorized as Proficient with the national scale.  And those who were previously considered Proficient are now likely to fall down to the Basic category.

The actual temperature of the air at 18 degrees Celsius is no different from 64 degrees Fahrenheit, but is sure sounds much colder.  Likewise, the expected drop in Ripon’s percentage of proficient students will be reported as a lower number even though student performance has remained the same.

For example, although we won’t know for sure until the final figures are released in late September, we are anticipating that the number of Ripon third graders who are considered proficient in reading will drop from 91 percent to approximately 36 percent.  And the number of Ripon eighth graders who are considered proficient in math will drop from 85 percent to approximately 50 percent.

The reading and math results on the 2011 WKCE test for Ripon’s students in grades 3-8 and grade 10 will drop in a similar manner.  The same will be true in every school district in the state.  It is a new beginning of higher expectations for career and college readiness needed for success in the 21st century.  And for the first time these higher standards will be consistent across every state in our nation.

In a nutshell, test scores are going down because we’re expecting more.

And what are we doing about it in Ripon?  We’re busy redesigning our curriculum so it matches the more rigorous Common Core standards that are being introduced into most states.  We’re busy retooling our teaching practices to align with modern research.  We’re busy providing extra support to struggling students as part of our district-wide Response to Intervention model.

And, since the report cards also measure other things such as student achievement and student academic growth as well as the achievement gap, graduation rate, attendance rate, and ACT test scores, we’re busy analyzing what’s necessary to maintain Ripon’s high quality education.

The last decade was all about the federal NCLB regulations.  This decade promises to be all about higher expectations which will be measured using more rigorous scales and reported with tougher accountability instruments like the new school report cards.  Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.  And tune in to the District’s website for podcasts explaining more about this topic.

FallConf12REGISTER TODAY – Fall Conference

November 8-9, 2012
Blue Harbor Resort, Sheboygan, WI

 The Wisconsin School Public Relations Association is proud to present another course of professional development in the field of communications.  With today’s educational landscape in Wisconsin, making sure your audiences hear and understand your message is a crucial step in building support for your students and staff.

After reviewing this year’s membership survey, the WSPRA Board has developed a workshop that pulls together a diverse and relevant group of topics ranging from public engagement and the referendum process to using social media and key communicator networks.  New this year is a track specifically tailored for District Superintendents and Administrators.  We are also offering an evening networking session for conference attendees with appetizers and beverages at the hotel, a perfect chance to discuss issues going on in our home districts, talk over the day’s sessions, or simply relax with old and new friends.

Click here to download the brochure with additional information.

Click here for online registration.


  • Deadline to register for the conference is Monday, October 29th.
  • Deadline to reserve a room at the Blue Harbor Resort has been extended to Monday, October 22nd.

 WASBWASB Workshop
Messaging: if you don’t tell your story, who will?

In the grand marketplace of ideas, public school supporters too often let others provide messages about our schools. Do you have a district strategy to get important messages to your community? In this upbeat, interactive workshop learn how to craft a message about your district, the different ways to get it out and identifying community partners to publicly support your message – and more.

Saturday, October 27, 2012
9 am-12 noon
1221 Innovation Drive, Suite 205
Whitewater, WI 53190

Click here for more information.

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About the author

The Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA) is a professional association representing schools, school districts, educational associations, consulting agencies and organizations. WSPRA is a state affiliate of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). 4797 HAYES ROAD | SUITE 103 | MADISON, WI 53704 | PHONE: 608-241-0300 | WSPRA@AWSA.ORG