SchoolCEO Conversations: Telling your school’s story? Keep it personal.
Sharing student and teacher stories strengthens and amplifies a district’s brand. Corey Christiansen from Aurora Public Schools in Colorado shares his insights.
As the Public Information Officer for Colorado’s fifth-largest school district, Corey Christiansen is more than aware of the need to market his district to Aurora’s greater community. Like many other communications directors and information officers, Christiansen’s roots are in journalism. “I worked in broadcast news for 15 years before joining the district,” he tells us. “I started off as a news reporter, then found my way into doing weather.” Christiansen fell in love with forecasting and eventually earned a degree in meteorology, spending the last two-thirds of his news career reporting the weather.
“When my last contract was up two years ago...I was looking for something with a little bit more stability than news provides,” he says. “So, when I saw the job opening for the Public Information Officer at APS, I jumped at it.”
Christiansen adds that he was “really grateful to be able to land” at Aurora Public Schools, which is obvious from the passionate way he speaks about his position. “My specific role is dealing with all media requests that we receive and being the main contact for anybody who’s interested in doing a story with the district,” he explains. “But not just waiting for story ideas to come to us—we are very proactive about trying to tell the story of our district and making sure that people understand the amazing work we’re doing here.”
Tying personal success stories back to the district’s goals will make your brand stronger.
“We’re seeing significant growth in our schools,” he adds. “We still have a good amount of work to do in the turnaround that we’re doing in this district, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to tell the story of our amazing students and staff and the work that they do.”
Telling Aurora’s story, Christiansen says, is all about keeping it personal. “I think that’s where we really find a lot of success...being able to find students who have great stories to tell, but then really focusing on that student voice,” he explains. “If we can talk about how something has impacted a student, and really show how it relates back to [our] strategic plan—students being able to develop plans, skills, and credentials to help them in the future—that really ties everything together. This also helps people understand the broader message that we’re trying to get across: We’re a district that continues to help students shape successful futures. We’re a district of momentum that continues to push forward.”
Adapt to the community’s needs.
Aurora is a large, diverse district. Students come from more than 130 different countries, and speak about 160 different languages—so sharing stories that reach and impact the entire school community takes a lot of work. “In the last school year, we brought our language services into one specific office which facilitates translation and interpretation requests,” Christiansen explains. “It has really allowed us to be more efficient with the way we’re communicating with those families, making sure we’re translating as much as possible—into at least our top ten languages—and making sure we are communicating our story to as many different language groups as we possibly can.”
Use entertaining, interactive technology to get out the info on your schools.
Beyond finding and sharing these stories, Aurora’s Communications Department tackles school marketing from many different angles. “There are several of us in the department who work on marketing. I specifically work on a lot of video marketing for the district,” Christiansen says. “Two years ago we created an interactive map with information on every single one of our schools. That gives a quick snapshot so anybody can get information on demographics, academic achievement, and growth for students, as well as what programs we offer at each of our schools.”
Finding the best ways to disseminate this information, Christiansen adds, is still an ongoing effort. “We certainly want any prospective parents or students to be able to have that information at their fingertips,” he says. “A huge project I’ve been working on for the last couple years is developing a short video that outlines some of the major programs as well as the highlights for many of our schools. We’re trying to get one done for every single school in the district.”
When asked about school choice, Christiansen says a fair number of students in Aurora have chosen to attend other districts. Retaining students, and drawing in new ones, is something they continue to work on. Aurora does, however, have an approach to tackle the issue. Christiansen says it’s all about “highlight[ing] the programs that [they] have available as well as the phenomenal staff at each of [their] schools, so that parents will know the quality education that they’ll be able to obtain when they enroll their children in APS.”
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