Washoe County School District Receives 2012 Leadership through Communication Award


Media contact: Kitty Porterfield, kporterfield@aasa.org, 703-774-6953


Award Recognizes Exemplary Leadership in the Enhancement of Communications for Schools and the Community

Alexandria, Va., February 9, 2012 - Washoe County School District, a K-12 urban school system in Reno, Nev., has been named the 2012 recipient of the Leadership through Communication Award, jointly sponsored by Blackboard Connect, the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). The award recognizes Heath Morrison, Ph.D., superintendent, and Irene Payne, chief communications and community engagement officer, for demonstrating exemplary leadership in the enhancement of school-to-parent communication within the school system and the community they serve. Washoe County School District serves 63,000 students in 94 schools.

The judges for the 2012 award were impressed with the zeal that the superintendent and entire team exhibit for the communication function. Despite extreme budget uncertainty and reductions due to Nevada’s deep economic troubles with one of the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the country, Dr. Heath, in collaboration with the Board of Trustees, has worked to protect and maintain resources for maintaining a strong communication program as an effective management tool to support student achievement. In addition, Washoe County School District is commended for:
• Providing an array of communication-related professional development opportunities for administrators and expanding the number of spokespersons to provide information via the news media.
• Creating the WCSD Legislative Blog with up-to-date information on education reform bills and K-12 funding that has had a positive impact on behalf of all Nevada school districts.
• Piloting the Community Compact on behalf of the Council for Excellence in Education.
• Focusing on internal communication that creates staff ambassadors.
• Requiring all schools to have a communication plan and supporting branding and marketing efforts by principals and administrators.
• Initiating “courageous conversations” on topics such as sexual orientation and anti-bullying in order to create a “buzz” that focuses on what’s best for kids.

“In only two years, Washoe County School District has made amazing strides in transitioning from a reactive to a proactive communications effort. Under the leadership of Dr. Morrison and Ms. Payne, this dynamic communication program has brought the district major recognition at local, state and national levels. They understand that in order to maintain the community’s support and trust, and build a base of support for improving student achievement, a strong communication effort is absolutely critical,” said Rich Bagin, APR, executive director of the National School Public Relations Association.

"Blackboard congratulates Dr. Morrison, Ms. Payne and all educational leaders at Washoe County School District for their strong communications vision and effective practices to support their students and school communities. Quality communication plays a critical role in student achievement and we applaud the district for the strategies they have implemented to meet this important mission,” said John Canuel, vice president of K-12 Education Strategy for Blackboard Inc.

“Communication is a key leadership skill,” added AASA’s executive director, Daniel A. Domenech. “Congratulations to the team at Washoe County Schools for understanding that it, indeed, takes the whole community to build a strong educational system and that all the stakeholders need to feel they are part of the process. Good communication makes that happen.”

The Leadership Through Communication Award program is open to all school districts throughout the United States and Canada. The award will be presented at AASA’s National Conference on Education in Houston, Texas, February 16-19, 2012. A $10,000 contribution will be made by Blackboard Connect to Washoe County School District to be used for student scholarships or communication activities that benefit students and schools. District leaders will also give a panel presentation on their communication program at the AASA Conference.

About Blackboard Connect
Blackboard Connect mass communication solutions streamline real time, one-to-one communication to your learning community. With a suite of trusted, scalable solutions and a client care team committed to providing professional, responsive and knowledgeable support around the clock, Blackboard Connect delivers targeted and effective voice, e-mail, and SMS messages to thousands of parents, students and community members – in minutes. Every day, school districts large and small are using the Blackboard Connect solutions to empower school and district leaders to make measurable improvements in attendance, student achievement and parental involvement, ensuring accurate information is communicated immediately. For more information, visit www.blackboardconnect.com.

About AASA
AASA, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders in the United States and throughout the world. AASA’s mission is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children. For more information, visit www.aasa.org.

NSPRA is a professional association dedicated to building support and trust for education through effective, responsible communication and public relations that lead to success for all students. NSPRA has been providing training, services, resources and support to school leaders in North America since 1935. For more information, visit www.nspra.org.