Dr. Peter Hannigan: Communicating to Different Generations

Dr. Pete Hannigan, Superintendent of Hawthorn School District 73, and Samantha Cook, Communications Director, discuss generational differences in the workplace, effective communication strategies to engage their community, and the importance of strong school culture.

By SchoolCEO Last Updated: November 29, 2023


Dr. Pete Hannigan, Superintendent of Hawthorn School District 73, and Samantha Cook, Communications Director, discuss generational differences in the workplace, effective communication strategies to engage their community, and the importance of strong school culture. Join a light-hearted conversation with practical suggestions about bridging generational divides, leveraging social media, and creating a positive school experience.


About Dr. Peter Hannigan

Dr. Peter Hannigan is an accomplished educational leader with a strong commitment to ensuring quality education for all. He holds a Doctorate in Educational Administration, an Educational Specialist degree, and a Master of Science in Education, all from Northern Illinois University. He began his career as an elementary school teacher, and his passion for education led him to assume various leadership roles.

Dr. Hannigan's administrative experience includes serving as the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources in the Schaumburg Consolidated Community School District 54. In this role, he oversaw a district with 15,000 students and 28 schools. Prior to that, he held principal positions at schools ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade.

As the Superintendent of Hawthorn School District 73, Dr. Hannigan is dedicated to the mission of 'Ensuring learning for all.' He leads a diverse student population of approximately 4,200 students across nine schools, providing equitable opportunities and a world-class, whole-child education. Hawthorn District 73 has earned recognition for its academic and extracurricular achievements, including National Blue Ribbon Awards and the 'Whole Child Award' from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

About Samantha Cook

Samantha Cook is the Communications Specialist at Hawthorn School District, responsible for overseeing communications for all nine elementary schools within the district. She plays a vital role in supporting the District's mission through effective internal and external communications, including the creation of impactful videos for Hawthorn School District as a key component of her work. With a background as a former television reporter specializing in delivering stories on education, Samantha brings a wealth of media expertise to her current role. She holds a degree in communications from DePaul University.

As a Communications Specialist, Samantha values families and believes in fostering a love for education. She is passionate about ensuring that Hawthorn students receive a quality education while forming meaningful, impactful relationships with the amazing teachers in the district.

Samantha is a proud bilingual Black Latina. Her goals goals include showcasing students' achievements, celebrating the district's dedicated staff, and fostering a sense of community among parents and community members. With her dedication and creative communication skills, she plays a crucial role in making Hawthorn School District a welcoming and vibrant educational community.

Follow Hawthorn 73 at https://twitter.com/District_73 and Dr. Hannigan at https://twitter.com/petehannigan

And be sure to check out the latest Hannigan's Shenanigan video here.


Tyler Vawser (Host): All right, well, thanks so much for joining school CEO conversations. We have Dr. Pete Hannigan with us and Samantha Cook as well. So thanks so much for joining me.

Dr. Peter Hannigan (Guest): Thank you.

Samantha Cook (Guest): Thanks for having us.

Tyler Vawser (Host): Absolutely. We had a really fun call about a week or two ago in preparation for this. And so I know a little bit about you, but just to start things off, Dr. Hannigan, if you want to start just by telling us a little bit about who you are and your back round, and then I'll ask the same question for Samantha.

Dr. Peter Hannigan (Guest): Perfect.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: So this is my 22nd year in being a school administrator. I served as an elementary principal, middle school principal. Prior to becoming a superintendent, I was the assistant superintendent for human resources in a suburban Chicago school district for six years. And then in 2019, I took the leap and became the superintendent of Hawthorn District 73, where I've been for the. This is the start of my fifth year just personally. Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, I hold that near and dear to my heart. I have three kids. My wife Sarah and I have three kids. I have a sophomore, and I have twins that are in 8th grade. So I'm in the thick of it as a parent as well.

Tyler Vawser: Wow. Yeah. You have a very busy schedule. It's impressive. And, Samantha, what about you? Tell us about your background.

Samantha Cook (Guest): I feel like I should have went first because I do not have those kind of accolades. But I was a reporter, and then I did that for, like, a year. I was, like, TV reporting, got out of that, came back home to Mundeline, to looking for jobs, and I found Vernon Hills was looking for a specific social media person to kind of promote the things going on in their schools. And I've been here for about a year and nine months.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Her role has came on. She came to the district more for social media, video, print materials, things of that nature. And then she's evolved into now being, like, our core communications person.

Tyler Vawser: That's amazing. Fantastic. Well, the introduction that I had before I even met you was this thing called Hannigan's shenanigans, and it's so memorable, you can't forget it once you've heard it. So let's start there. Now that we've done introductions, what is Hannigan's Shenanigans and how did it come to be?

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I'm going to turn it over to Samantha.

Samantha Cook: I feel like this is one of those situations where the name came before the actual concept. It was just like Hannigan's Shenanigans. And just like, from a PR perspective, it's honestly been a gold mine. It's definitely been like a multi generational endeavor. Know, Pete goes out with this old school Big mic and interviews these little kindergartners through middle schoolers and just gets funny responses. We push it on our most popular platform, which is Facebook right now, and parents love it, the community loves it, grandparents see it. It's kind of blown up locally. It's definitely evolved since we first started. I know the kids recognize Pete now a lot more than maybe before. What were you telling me the other day? Like, you walked into Starbucks or something? And all the kids.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: So we have early release Wednesdays and so on. The first early release because we're right off of a major road and there's Starbucks, Walgreens, food establishments. And so our kids get out of school and they go up there and they're in herds of 100, 200 kids. And so I went out there to make sure our students were soaring like an eagle. And I walk into Starbucks, and there's 75 kids in Starbucks. And of course, it's the tallest kid in the middle of the store turns around, he's like, oh. Said a word, the superintendent's in here. And then every kid looks at me. And to cut the tension, I'm like, who's buying the superintendent a cup of coffee? But no, how it started was about a year and a half ago, because I'm always out in the buildings. And primarily when I go out in the buildings, I'm trying to build relationships with our staff and with our students. And nine times out of ten, I'm more of a distraction when I get in the class because I mess with the kid. Like I'm messing with the kids. I'm asking them questions, just getting to know and engaging with them. 

And then, so I would come back to the district office, and they're like, what did you see at Townline? What did you see at dual language? Whatever school I might have been at? And I would tell them the stories of what the kids did with me, like how they engaged with me and interacted with then. And then it started to go from there. We should do an episode, or we should film you interacting with the kids. And then I said, why don't we do Dr. Hannigan Shenanigans? Because my whole life, people have said, Pete's up to shenanigans. And so that's how we got the name. Then it started snowballing. And then we hired Samantha, and then she was able to take the concept, know, bring it to life, basically.

Samantha Cook: Well, that's what's been really cool about working with Pete, too. He'll just come up with these random ideas, and then, like, I don't know how I feel about that. I don't know how we'll execute it, but then it turns into this awesome thing. So it's not always, like, me coming up with things for him to do. I think almost every time you thought about it, shower or something.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I got a dog during COVID and I spend a lot of time walking the dog. And so during those dog walks, I do a lot of reflecting and just thinking about work and where we're at, where I'm at personally, professionally. And I come up with these ideas. And so when I come into the office, I'm always like, hey, I got this great idea. Let's try this. And then she rolls her eyes at me, and we'll see if we can pull this. So that's how a lot of this stuff comes to light. I can't put together. I'll come up with the idea, and then I have other people kind of pull it together.

Samantha Cook: Well, with Hannigan's Shenanigans, too, I was a little nervous because Pete really is just unfiltered and very direct, so I was, hmm, how's this going to work with the kiddos? But I feel like you went with it. It was awesome. And I know I'm very fortunate that I have a superintendent that's willing to put themselves out there, not in just, lIke, the classrooms or being visible, but on social media, where it can be a scary, nasty place sometimes. But Pete is definitely willing to put himself out there, which I think is awesome.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Yeah, I have fun doing it.

Samantha Cook: That's true.

Tyler Vawser: Very cool. 

[Intermission Music]

Tyler Vawser: I want to push pause real quickly and just add a little bit more context to this conversation. We're going to play a quick clip of the most recent Hannigan shenanigans that Dr. Hannigan put out there just so you can get a taste of what this sounds like, and we'll put the full video and a link to that in the show notes. Enjoy.

[Hannigan Shenanigans Audio Plays]

[Music Throughout]

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Did you pack a snack? 

[Snack Timer Bings 1]

Elementary Student 1: What? 

Dr. Peter Hannigan: She's gonna take my snack?

[Snack Timer Bings 2]

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I'm bigger than her. I'm here for snack.

[Snack Timer Bings 3]

 Dr. Peter Hannigan: I'm gonna eat some snack. 

[Snack Timer Bings 4]

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I think you guys are messing with me. You got your Barbie stuff on? 

[Elementary Student 2 Nods]

Dr. Peter Hannigan: That's awesome. I got my Hawthorn stuff. You gonna get some Eagle Bucks today?

[Students & Dr. Hannigan digging through their backpacks]

Elementary Student 3: I have a folder. 

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I got a crisis binder and a computer.

[Check the show notes for a link to the full video with subtitles]

[Back to SchoolCEO Conversations]

Tyler Vawser: Dr. Hannigan or Pete. I'm going to start saying Pete for the rest of the conversation. But, Pete, did you find that that kind of idea of Hannigan Shenanigans made you more approachable and that it opened up more conversations and more relationships with students and families?

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I do think it did, because you look at. So I was hired in February of 2019. I transitioned. I started July 1, and I spent, like, during my transition period, I met with north of 450 individuals, parents, staff. I met with students just to solicit feedback on kind of where the district is at and where they want to see the district go. And I did it all face to face. It wasn't a survey. It wasn't them sending me emails. And so I was able to build those strong relationships as I transitioned in and then carried those through. And then March 13, of 2020 hit, and we shut down the schools. And I lost a lot of those connections in the community just with our parents and our students. And so, really, when we came on the heels of coming out of COVID and being back in school full time, we were really looking for ways to re-engage with the community. And that really is kind of just coincidentally, Hannigan's shenanigans is really kind of what was the springboard of getting us back in business.

Tyler Vawser: Well, good. Well, now it's in a podcast, so for all posterity purposes, it will always be part of your legacy, which is a fun legacy to have.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I love it.

Tyler Vawser: Well, good. Well, one of the reasons I invited you both on is because you're from different generations, but you're working closely together. And at our SchoolCEO Conference, one of our best speakers is Kim Lear. She's a generational researcher. And some of the best feedback we get about the conference often comes from pairs that superintendent, comms director, that are attending together because they're having to think about how do they work together, how do they also reach different generations? And so that's one of the reasons for the audience that Pete and Samantha are on the podcast here today, is because we're talking about how we're going to reach different generations in our school community. Sometimes those generations that don't have a direct connection to the school, but then also thinking about that generational work that's happening within the buildings, we all have different colleagues of different ages and different generations and how to make that working relationship more effective and stronger for both sides of that. Right.

So, Samantha, let's start with you. What's been your experience working with Pete, and what's it been like to work with someone that's a different generation? And I think you already said it earlier, he can be very direct. Right. So what are some of those things that you notice in a different generation that might not be as true of your own generation?

Samantha Cook: Pete does a lot of, well, things that might not be true in my generation that I really do admire that Pete does. He is a face to face person. So it's kind of taking those old school concepts of meeting people face to face, writing letters. He does, you know, birthday cards. I remember you said once, like, if your email is more than five–

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Yeah. So I stress to our administrative team or anybody I work with, if it's not informational, if you're corresponding with somebody and you have to respond in more than five sentences, you need to pick up the phone call, because, one, it's going to take more time, because you're trying to craft and figure out what your response is, because depending on the response, depending on the situation, it can be interpreted in a thousand different ways and it's going to cause more problems in the end. Whereas if you just pick up the phone, you could knock it out in five to ten minutes and everybody's on the same page. You can real time clarify what you mean, what you're doing, how you handled the situation, whatever it might be, talking about, working with everybody's texting me. I'm not a texter. If it requires me to give you more than a ha ha, a thumbs up, a thumbs down, I'm picking up the phone and I'm going to call you. It's just faster for me.

Samantha Cook: In my generation, I find it a common thread that phone calls are frightening. Whenever I see Pete calling, I'm like, oh, just text me. Or even just the know, his advice and calling. It's a little frightening to me at first, but it's definitely. I've learned so many of those professional soft skills from Pete that I wouldn't have otherwise. With that being said, though, too, I am kind of interested to see when millennials take over and how maybe the workplaces might shift in that. But those are kind of those values and those acts, those small things, too, I feel like they make a huge difference in the workplace and really improve the culture. So I hope those things stay the tradition of face to face phone calls. So I really appreciate that from Pete. Yeah, but you've been pretty. Yeah, we've worked really well together.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: First time she sent me a text that was like, five pages long, I added like, hey, pick up the phone and call.

Tyler Vawser:  That's awesome. And then, Pete, for you, what about your side of it? What's it been like to work with Samantha? What are some of the things that you appreciate about her and her generation that may be not as true of your own?

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I think from the communication side, specifically with the communication side. So this being my 21st even, how many years? It's been north of 20 years of being in a school administrator. If you look at coming up in academia as a writer, you look at 20 years ago, my first year as a principal, I would send out long two page emails, letters. Actually, back then, I probably didn't even email them. I probably sent them in kids backpacks. But the way we communicate has significantly changed. 

And what I've learned from her is just how the reality is. And I even experience it as a parent now because I have three kids in school; one being a sophomore and two kids in 8th grade, when the school sends me a message, if I don't get the gist of it in the first five to ten sentences, I'm done reading it. And so what Samantha has really helped is different ways to write the communication and get the message across in a succinct manner. And I think that would be the biggest pieces that she's taught me. And then also the video. 

Believe it or not, even though we have Hannigan Shenanigans and my Twitter does well, I'm not a social media person. I actually would rather never do it. But with Samantha's help, she's able to take, okay, this is what we're doing internally in the system. This is what we need to push out into the community. This is what we need people to know and this is how we can do it, whether it's videos, pictures, brochures, whatever she comes up with. Because really, I didn't have a communication department when I first started. And one of the things that I quickly learned was that we needed to rebrand and tell our story. We weren't telling the Hawthorn story. And so really from there, once identified that as an opportunity for growth, we started to build the department and then really strategically showcasing what we're doing, how we're doing, so that we can build goodwill within the community. That's been the biggest plus on the upside of things is just being able to proactively tell the story and make those. I always talk about, like, we've got to make deposits because in schools we're always going to have to make withdrawals. And if the goodwill bank is empty and we're withdrawing from nothing, it's going to be problematic.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, that's a really good example.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Really working with Samantha has helped because that's not my wheelhouse. The communication side, the marketing side, the branding piece. And so that's what's really what she's brought to the table. And you talk about the generational piece. I come from a different generation and I communicate in a different way. But what she's brought to the table is that other side of it. This is how we consume information and this is what we should do. It really has been successful. But that know, just being a superintendent, like when you know people within my department, whether it's a cabinet, like I'm always looking, I want to surround myself with different types of people, people that are going to bring different things to the table. I don't want everybody to be like Pete because as a superintendent, I'm constantly getting filled up with information, and then ultimately, I need to take all that information, synthesize it, and then make a decision. And so I want to make sure I surround myself with different perspectives so that I can make the best decision possible with the information I have.

Tyler Vawser: One thing that stands out to me as we're talking is that Pete, as the older generation here, you probably have more insight into how to build strong culture and relationships and get an executive team and a cabinet together and working effectively. Right. That's the phone call instead of the text and the emoji. But what Samantha brings is more maybe to the outside groups. Right. Those millennial parents with kids in the SchoolCEO who they don't want to receive an unexpected phone call or have to call into the school, they want to instead be able to go to the website and do that kind of on their own, take their own journey, and do it digitally instead of having that in person interaction. Right. So it's interesting that there's not a right way, but there are different modalities and methods and knowing those preferences, but also then understanding how do we build a strong team at the same time, using a different method is so important.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Yeah.

Samantha Cook: I did just want to add to Pete's whole superintendent department. I mean, it's pretty much what we're all millennials. Millennials. Strong willed, big personality, like, all in his corner. So he definitely doesn't shy away.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I get bossed around a lot, so.

Samantha Cook: He doesn't shy away from differing perspectives, which I think, in my personal experience, has been something I've seen in the workplace. Just like, higher ups kind of surrounding themselves with people that look like them, act like them, talk like them. Not in this case with Pete. He's very open, very comfortable, too, around people that are different, and that's really helped open up that trust and communication between us.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Yeah, I trust that when I'm hiring, I'm a former HR. My background is in HR prior to becoming a superintendent. So I spend a significant amount of time vetting the candidates to make sure I invest a lot of time on the front end, because at the end of the day, because I'm pulled in a thousand different directions, I have to be able to trust that when Samantha is going to do her job, Jessica is going to do her job, Alicia is going to do her job, and then I kind of oversee it, and they bounce things off of me, and I provide feedback on that. But trust is big for me. I need to be able to trust my people, to be able to get the job done and make us all produce a good product.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, absolutely. What helped you get there? So, Pete, when you're talking about having to trust your team, and you're not always going to be able to be in every conversation or in every room, what helped you, with Samantha and other millennials on your team, build that trust and build that relationship?

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I think already she officially became our official comms person July 1. We've already had some pretty major. Not major, but PR things that have happened and the way she's handled it and coming to me proactively, like, okay, here's the situation. This is what I think we should do. Here's the plan. What are your thoughts? And then her and I will go through it. Okay, well, here's the school administrative side of things. We can't do this. We can do this. Maybe we should reword this and we come together and get consensus on what. But she always comes to the table with, okay, here's the situation. This is how I think we should respond. And then I take it from the superintendent lens, and then we adapt it.

Samantha Cook: And make it go Back and forth.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Yeah, we go back and forth.

Tyler Vawser: Samantha, what about for you?

Samantha Cook: Well, I mean, just to add on to that, I definitely think what we've built together has been very organic. There definitely isn't steps or a formula to it. I know I have some of my PR folks ask me, like, how do you get Hannigan to do stuff like that? Or how do you build that relationship? Luckily, Pete's like, you're pretty cool. I feel like you're pretty cool. He's up on the up and just, again, him being very direct and unfiltered. We could just go back and forth. It's happened very organically. I don't know. You're just really cool about stuff. But when it comes down to business, he definitely had to put some trust in me when I got this position. But it was just me trying not to let anybody down and working hard, and I feel like it's just been organic. It was something that formed out of necessity, too. You kind of have to trust the people you work with until they let you down.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: That's kind of my flaw, honestly, when I bring them in, I'm trusting you until I can't trust you.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah. You don't have to earn it, but you can lose it.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Yeah. I regularly say, don't fall out of the trust tree.

Tyler Vawser: No pressure, because it's going to hurt. That's interesting. 

One of the bigger parts of conflict in different generations in the workplace is kind of unspoken expectations. And so I wonder if both of you can speak to that. What are some expectations that were unspoken that you, just as you work together, you realize, oh, we actually need to verbalize this and make this more clear if we're going to work well together. Keep the trust, get things moving faster.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: All of that outside of telling her not to text me five page text messages. Yeah, outside of that, I think the biggest. Samantha, being new to the school system, we can control 70% of the school year. And we need to be proactively prepared for that 70%, because when that 30% hits it is time consuming. It's going to take weeks, hours. And so my pace, I think that's been the biggest adjustment for Samantha, is I'm always six, seven weeks out. I'm already planning post January 1 with respect to the school year, because I know exactly, like, the school year. You start on August 21, you're going to end on June 1, and there's 70%. I know exactly what we need to do. Like, I'm always going to send a back to school letter. Well, I'm not starting the back to school letter on August 19 when it's going out on August 21. I'm working on it in April. Like, what is our theme? What is the message we want to send? What is going to be our focus for the coming school year? 

And so I think the biggest adjustment, because we have bi weekly superintendent office meetings with Samantha and other members of my, like, when we set the. I'm. I'm talking about things that need to happen in January. We're already talking, like, this past week, we started talking about the registration process and staffing plans, and Samantha will be like, dude, I'm just trying to get through this week. I already have 15 things to go, and I'm already six months down the road. And so I think that you could.

Samantha Cook: Probably speak to him, like, two months ago, he sends me an iCal invite to something he's going to know. And I'm like, oh, my. I can't. I can't even look at that. Right? I don't. I don't know. I don't think anything goes unspoken between us. Maybe that's why things have kind of developed so organically. If there's ever anything going on, we just tell each other or like, ooh, I don't think we should put that in this letter. Or, ooh, I don't like how your sentence is structured here. Let me just change it. And he'll just let me change stuff in his docs. And then with me, too, I feel like we definitely have almost like a mentoring relationship where you'll tell me, like, oh, that's not a good look. If you do that.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: There's another example, because when I write, if I have to get out of communication, I'll just put a bunch of stuff on the paper, and then I send it to her, like, hey, fix this up. The first time she gave it back, she was redlining it, striking it out, changing words. I'm like, no, you just fix it. Just do it. Here's the basic. So you have the basic idea of what I'm trying to get out and what I need to communicate, whether it's internally or an external communication. And then I just need you to fix it and then send what your thoughts are, and then I'll make sure that this is on point, what I'm trying to say.

Samantha Cook: Well, and then maybe you could speak to this. I know, like, talking to my dad in his workplace, you kind of have to tiptoe around things. You have to be delicate with the words that you use. And I really do appreciate that. I feel like we really can just openly talk, be direct, be unfiltered, instead of just like the passive aggressive comments or anything like that. It's all very direct, very open.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: My personality. I'm very direct and honest. Like, if I have to say something, I'm not going to sugarcoat it.

Samantha Cook: No, I'm going to hear it. Yeah, he's going to hear it.

Tyler Vawser: I'm picking up on that. Yeah. That's good, though, right? That means the work is about the work and not about politics or feelings or how to approach different people. Radically different, to not step on toes. So I actually think that's really healthy. Right? You can have conflict in the open instead of kind of in the shadows.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: And I think that's because the reality is our job, like, working in schools, there's so much coming at you at a rapid pace.

Samantha Cook: I don't have time worrying about how you're phrasing things.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Yeah. Especially with people like us, math up. Like, hey, we have 15 things we got to get done. I don't have time to make sure you feel good. I'll praise her at the end of it when the product is done, and I give her kudos. I write her a handwritten letter and cursive. She probably can't read it because she didn't learn cursive in school, but.

Tyler Vawser: That's the jokes that I expected when I picked out this topic. So that's awesome. That's so funny. Well, good.

Well, let's shift gears a little bit to talking more about how we reach different generations. So not just the people that we're working with within the schools, but the people that we're trying to reach outside of the walls. And so let's talk a little bit more about how important is it for Hawthorn 73 to reach people that are well beyond the school. So someone that doesn't have a son or daughter or grandson or granddaughter in the school system, how do you think about reaching those people? Is it important? How important is it? I'd love for you to just talk about that.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I think it's critical, because if you look at the way we're funded, it's primarily on tax dollars, our community. And so when you look at a school system our size of the greater community, probably only 25, 30% of the community has students or kids in our school system. And so when you see your property tax bill and you're like, oh, my gosh, I'm giving this amount of money to Hawthorn District 73. What's it all about? And so I think it's critically important that we not only reach our stakeholders that have students in the system, but also the greater community as a whole. 

And so that's been one of our biggest charges is really, like I said earlier, building the Hawthorn brand and that marketing side of it is what is Hawthorn doing for our community? Because we are. You look at a school like the school system is the hub of the community. I firmly believe that when people are looking for houses, they're looking for houses, especially if they have school age children on the school experience. And so that's a lot of what we do is really just that communication, not only internally to our current 73 stakeholders, but the greater community as a whole. And there's been a number of things that we've really implemented over the last three years that Samantha could probably touch on.

Samantha Cook: Yeah, well, I think it's really important, too, to have those stakeholders feel like they know in the know. One of our Hawthorn Helpers is a big one, where we're trying to get people that don't have students in the school system to turn around and be advocates for us. They come into the schools, they check everything out. They see what it's really like inside of a school, and they can turn around and go share their experiences and spread our goodwill. A lot of things that we've done, too, to reach those people kind of I was thinking back to when I was a kid and how schools would communicate to my parents. And it was a lot of paper know, paper flyers. We send out a newsletter every year, and then we do. Pete does like, postcards. He'll do like, yeah, I designed, like, a little postcard. He puts an important message on there, signs it. We send that out, too. There's just a lot of.

Well, Hawthorn Helpers is the next big thing that we're really trying to push.

Tyler Vawser: What is Hawthorn Helpers? Can you talk about that a little bit? We've talked about it, but I'd love for the audience to hear more about it.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: We're trying to get more volunteers into the school, like showcasing our schools, but also giving people that don't have students in the system an opportunity to volunteer in our schools. Whether it's reading with students, mentoring students, supervising students, you name it. We have a number of opportunities for people. But then the other side of it is we're looking for key communicators because there's so much misinformation about public schools. And so we want people to come in so that when someone sees something on the news, they can. 

You know, I was at elementary north, and that's not happening there. That's not happening at our schools in Vernon Hills. And so really trying to broaden that experience so that they can communicate out to their friends and family about what they're experiencing on a weekly, monthly basis as they're working with our individual students. And so that's really the bigger push we're trying to get post COVID, we had a strong volunteer program we're trying to reestablish. So. But the underlying piece of that, outside of getting people in the schools, is so people can see this is what's really happening in our schools.

Tyler Vawser: Very good. Well, Samantha, since you're the millennial here, let's talk about social media. Different generations use or don't use social media quite differently. So I'd love to hear about your approach and Hawthorn 73’s approach to social media.

Samantha Cook: Yeah. I also want to do a little shout out to our Village News Team. Pete goes on it, it's like a cable news public access.

Tyler Vawser: Nice.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I'm on public access because that reaches our residents that don't have students in the system. So obviously it's on YouTube, so people will be able to access. They push it out on social media, but then it also runs on Channel Four throughout the village a couple of times a week, I think. So I try to do quarterly interviews just trying to showcase some of the things happening around Hawthorn 73.

Samantha Cook: But as far as our Facebook goes, that's probably our most popular platform. And our growth on there is pretty crazy right now just because when I hopped in in the communications department, it really just kind of skyrocketed. I was posting three times a day, editing, shooting videos, posting those every other week. So our numbers are a little inflated right now. But it's our engagement because we don't have a ton of followers, I guess, for a school. But our engagement numbers are awesome. They're definitely above average. I think last time I checked, we get on average like 2.3 thousand engagement like comments, likes, shares on a monthly basis. And if you're looking at other schools in the surrounding area, that's definitely way higher than a lot of them. 

So I guess what that told me is that we have a really strong, tight knit kind of social media family that I don't know. I would prefer high engagement over high numbers. I think what we have is awesome. We get great comments, lots of shares on stuff. It's just been kind of like. It's almost like a little Hawthorn club to me. But I know it's Facebook. I love Instagram. I think most millennials do. We didn't really have any presence on Instagram and since I've been hired, has been viewed like 15,000 times. It's really grown on there. It's kind of funny because I'll see some parents actually messaging our Instagram asking about registration questions. Could their kid go there? Which I would never think to use Instagram to ask those kind of questions. But it's definitely something I've been seeing kind of more of. Twitter is like Pete's thing. I feel like whenever I want something kind of seen on, I guess more of an outsiders, you don't really have a lot of people in the community following you. It's almost like it's more professional.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Other superintendents administration, I use it as like a recruiting tool, honestly, to showcase what we're doing in Hawthorn because the reach is more of a professional network, in all honesty.

Tyler Vawser: Interesting. Yeah, I do see superintendents quite a bit on Twitter in a way that they're not on other platforms. Maybe a little bit more on LinkedIn recently, but definitely not Instagram or Facebook. I don't think superintendents have any interest in posting thoughts. So yeah, that's really interesting. Is Twitter for you kind of new, Pete? Or is that something that you've done for a while and developed?

Dr. Peter Hannigan: I've had it for probably ten years-ish. Yeah, I had it when I was an assistant superintendent for Human Resources. And so do I post on there? I try to post, like, once or twice a month, honestly, on my Twitter account. But what I do is every night I go through, because our staff, we promoted it internally with our staff to kind of showcase. So from a professional standpoint, I've had it for about ten years, and I try to post once or twice a month, just showcasing some of the things we're doing in Hawthorn. I don't overdo it, because I do see some people, they're tweeting out like 15 times. Like, hey, I'm at elementary south today. Hey, now I'm at Middle North. I don't do that. I post more–

Samantha Cook: He's very selective with.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Very selective of what I post. But then what I'll do every night is then I go through and I look for what our staff is like, the Hawthorn staff are posting, and I'll make sure know. Give it a heart. And I go through, know the work.

Samantha Cook: That our staff are kind of. It's just the whole thing kind of funny to me because I just have not caught a good stride with Twitter at all. But then I look over at Pete's Twitter, and if there's anything I want something of some people outside the district to see, I'll ask Pete if he can tweet about it and it'll gain traction that way, for sure.

Tyler Vawser: We just have to convince him that it's worth it, right?

Samantha Cook: He's going to be very selective.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: But the social media, like, as I transitioned in prior to me coming in here, social media, we have a number of neighborhood groups, Vernon Hills’ Moms, and what would happen to me, especially my first six months, and it always happened on a Friday night. All of a sudden, somebody would post, and it was our fault. There was a lack of communication and PR around some of the things we're doing. People would post questions, and then it would just turn into a whole big ordeal throughout the evening that I wouldn't then have to navigate. And so, really, since bringing Samantha on, that has really significantly dropped. 

I also think it helps that our community knows they can call me or call any of our building administrators to get the accurate information and not go post a question on Facebook. So we've really looked at a lot of our efforts around social media in a positive light because a lot of people would say, like, oh, stay away from social media. We really had to change the narrative on social media around Hawthorn, and that's really what our communication plan and the strategy has done.

Tyler Vawser: Are you thinking about different generations with each platform? Like, does Facebook tend to be millennial parents? And Instagram is even younger; parents that are considering enrolling. Like you mentioned, Samantha. Like, they're asking, can my kid go to this school? And then Twitter is a different demographic. So I'm curious, do you draw those fine lines between social media platforms, or is it more kind of a full court press?

Samantha Cook: So for me, I definitely think about. We don't post the same stuff on those different platforms because I've seen, according to Facebook Metrics, we have a spike in 35 to 44 year olds that follow us. And primarily female, like 70%. And then on Instagram, it's like 80% female, 25 to 35. Yeah, it's exactly what you're saying. There are younger parents on Instagram and then millennials, and even. We'll have grandparents on Facebook, too. They'll comment on pictures like, “oh, I'm so glad my son works here at this.”

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, I was going to say, yeah, is that the new teacher or is that Pete?

Dr. Peter Hannigan: My mom is on Instagram. I had to tell her to cut back on the comments,

Tyler Vawser: Tell her to be more selective, like you, right?

Samantha Cook: Yeah, selective. Yeah. It's kind of funny because I'll post a Hannigan Shenanigans and Pete will text me, like, has my mom seen it yet? It's just funny.

Tyler Vawser: That's awesome. Well, good. I know communication is a lot bigger than social media, and you mentioned it earlier about public access, but are there other channels of communication that you've been spending time on investing in? And what are those?

Samantha Cook: No, we've definitely noticed we see a gap in communication. Well, like social media, not all our parents are on social media. So again, it's kind of thinking back to what you would use to reach parents before social media even. And it's paper, flyers, backpack, mail, those postcards. I really like the postcards. It has, like, Pete's signature on there. He puts important messages, QR codes. Yeah. 

So we definitely try to make sure we're sending physical things. Our newsletter every year that we send out has images, and we promote the construction we have going on.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: It's more of, like, an annual report we do every summer, just showcasing kind of the previous year at a glance. But one thing around the communication piece, I firmly believe this, especially as a parent. Our parents consume information through their children. And so I firmly believe the biggest avenue I send out very few. The messages that I actually send out to our community is typically not good, whether it's around a crisis or something major is happening. And so we really strive, our parents consume information from their building principle. That's who they know. 

Now, granted, I built more of a relationship with our community, so they know a lot more people know who I am. But we really press upon our principals around effective communication because that's how parents are going to consume what's happening in Hawthorn District 73. And so as Samantha came on, our principals do weekly newsletters, and she can talk more about that, like with s'more, and helping them identify what is the appropriate content, what should be in those newsletters every week, how do you arrange it? Like the most important information up at the top, things of that nature. And so we really press upon our building administration to be effective communicators. 

And Samantha's done a great job providing them with professional development, helping them set up their newsletters, because I've always said, even outside of that, our students are the key communicators. When their parent takes them off the bus or their parent picks them up in the car, the first thing they're asking them is, how was your day? And so really, that school experience, that's how you get the message out, is through our students and what they're experiencing in the 7 hours that they're with us. And so we spend a lot of time really emphasizing what does that school experience look like? How are we making it better for every student?

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, I love that for everybody.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: The social media stuff is great, but really, our parents are going to take in information from their children and what are their children going home every day?

Tyler Vawser: Yeah. Our newest issue of SchoolCEO is actually exactly about what you just said, which is, principals are the ones that have that connection with families. Right. And obviously, the central office, the superintendent, the comms director who we're usually speaking with, they're the ones that know the brand, they know the strategy, all of that. But principals are on the front line, so to speak, but they're also busy. And so one of the big observations that we made and actually kind of the idea that we really wanted to encourage superintendents to do with principals is that your principal is already doing marketing. It just looks different. It's not postcards or flyers, but it is experience. Right. They're actually like experiential marketers. They just don't realize that about themselves. But weeks like Spirit Week for Halloween and these different moments around homecoming, all of that. Right. They're so good at that, but they don't necessarily make that connection to how that influences students and families and grandparents in the broader community, but it absolutely has that influence. So, Pete, I'm really glad that you called that out.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Yeah.

Samantha Cook: I've always felt like principals, teachers can be, like, the worst promoters of, like, they do a lot of that work and then don't really promote it. So. And I'm only one, you know, I can't go to everybody's classroom, but our social media really is just highlighting the things that are already happening. So we're not creating anything on social. Right. It's not forced. This stuff's already happening. We're just showing it on a bigger scale, I guess. But, yeah, like, to your stuff, these interactions are happening at a school level. Our social media just gets know, just pictures of that.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, that's perfect. Well, Pete, one last question I had for you was about the importance of being visible. And so I'd love for you to talk about how you're approaching that, because I found it was a little bit different than the way some other superintendents think about it.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Again, going back to our students are our biggest advocates and our key communicators. And so with respect to being visible as a superintendent, this job is very complex. And the reality is I could work 15,18 hours a day and the job is never done. But a big part of that is that visibility pIece. And so one of the things that I really try to do is because I have three kids, I have a wife that works, and I can't be in Hawthorn 73 for 15 or 16 hours a day. 

And so one of the things I really try to do is being visible throughout the school day, because that's what the kids, when the kids get off the bus, they're like, “I saw Dr. Hannigan. Dr. Hannigan shot hoops with me. Dr. Hannigan helped me with my math problem,” whatever it might have been, in class. And so, as opposed to that, I could be at a chorus event, a band concert, an orchestra concert, a basketball game, six days a week, and I would never see my family. And so one of the approaches I've taken, especially as my own personal kids have gotten older, they're involved in activities, is really make a conscious effort to be visible during the school day, being in the cafeteria, if there is an orchestra concert, I go and see their practices during the school day when they're in class, interacting with the kids, which I feel like you get more bang for your buck doing that. 

Where I'm interacting with the kids, as opposed to going to an orchestra concert where the room is black. I'm in the back. I'm not going up on stage and introduce myself to say, hey, this is Dr. Hannigan. I'm here to watch you. You're just in the background and most parents don't even know you're there. And so coming up as an administrator, we're always like, you have to be visible. You have to be at all these events. And there's supporting your staff side of it as well. But I think the staff, when they see me at the practices or they see me in their school building on a regular basis, it's taken away from that need for me to be at every basketball softball game, cross country meet. Now I try to go to them periodically because the kids ask me to go like, “hey, are you coming to the Crosstown Classic basketball game tonight?”

Samantha Cook: First pitch?

Dr. Peter Hannigan: Yeah, I'm throwing out first pitches at softball games and stuff like that. But it cuts down on that night event obligation because I still have those. I still have school board meetings, I have Village meetings. I have things of that nature. But I also try to live a balanced life. And I want to be there for my kids because pretty soon they're going to be gone and they're going to remember me as the dad that was never home. And so I really pride myself and work to be visible during the school day so that I have the flexibility to be able to attend my own kids events. And that's been important to me and it's worked. 

Parents regularly– in my 21 years, I've never had a parent thank me for coming to an orchestra concert at 07:00 at night. But I've had parents say, like, hey, Samantha said that she saw you in the cafeteria. Samantha told me that you helped her get her iPad rebooted. I think that carries more weight than me being not at home at night.

Tyler Vawser: That's great. That's probably the most practical advice you could give, right? Superintendents everywhere probably just took a deep breath and went, okay, I don't have to go to everything. I can fit some of these moments into the day to day work and not have having to go 07:00 p.m. And get home at 10:00 p.m. Well, good. Thank you both so much for joining SchoolCEO Conversations. I really appreciate your time.

Dr. Peter Hannigan: No, it's awesome. Thanks for having us on. Bye.

[Outro Music]

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