While crisis communications remains the top priority among school communication professionals, there’s less focus on the matter compared to previous years, according to a survey recently published by the National School Public Relations Association.
The percentage of school communication professionals naming school crisis communications as a top-five responsibility dropped from 69% in 2020 to 58% in 2022, according to NSPRA. On the other hand, the association found community relations and public engagement rose to the fourth-highest priority for members in 2022 up from the No. 7 spot in 2020 and No. 6 in 2018.
These findings reflect the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on school communications starting three years ago, said Barbara Hunter, executive director of NSPRA. Crisis communications is still a key priority, Hunter said, but it has declined now that schools “have moved through” the widespread global health issue.
School communication professionals are increasingly focused on community engagement since the pandemic because of districts’ efforts to bridge the divides seen in many communities around book bans, transgender policies, and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, Hunter said.
Hunter also expects that these undercurrents of tension around certain issues will likely continue in some school communities.
Every school community is different and every district has to reflect their local values, Hunter said. Considering that, she’s noticed some districts have held various community engagement initiatives — sometimes in small groups to ensure meaningful conversations from differing perspectives.
NSPRA advises that discussions in those groups also ask community members to reflect on the core purpose of education. “I think people are heard, and I think differences are honored and respected so long as it happens within a civilized conversation,” Hunter said.
“It does show, again, the value of school communications and what they can bring to really impact change and really facilitate authentic conversation around these issues that can be so divisive in many communities,” Hunter said.
More than 500 NSPRA members responded to the latest survey, conducted in November 2022.
As schools continue to navigate divisive issues within their communities, other NSPRA survey findings show districts are investing more in school communications. For instance, school communicators are increasingly considered a member of their district’s leadership team — rising from 59% in 2020 to 67% in 2022.
Additionally, the report found that a communications department size of two to four people was the most reported size (41%) for the first time over a one-person communication office. More respondents also said their district had department sizes of eight to 15 people or more than 15 people in 2022 compared to both 2020 and 2018.