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Superintendents Focus on Using Social Media to Tell District’s Story; Keep Balance Between Personal Life, Community

man and woman on panel
Matthew L. Montgomery, superintendent of Lake Forest School Districts 67 & 115; and Shanna Spickard, superintendent in DeWitt, Mich. Photo by Paige Heller.

Maintaining balance with a positive social media presence while still being connected to the ‘real world’ can be challenging. A panel of four socially involved superintendents shared their tips to staying connected through social media outlets while still living in the moment at a Friday session.

Attendees gathered to hear how the panelists handle social media and finding the right moments to share with their community in the session, “Maintaining a Healthy Balance on Social Media,” which was sponsored by the U.S. Marines.

Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe shared how she balances her personal life with her social media community.

“Showing that I am part of the community, and that my decisions also impact me helped us pass our two recent bonds,” Sipe said.  She shared her experience with using Instagram Live and YouTube to connect with her audience by letting them ask real questions and answering with full transparency as far as even showing how her taxes would be affected. “It took a lot of transparency by being a little vulnerable, but still protecting my privacy.”

Shanna Spickard, superintendent of DeWitt Public Schools in Michigan, shared the importance of keeping social media platforms real while keeping positive. “If we as educators are belly-aching about education, we’re allowing everyone else to talk about it in a negative way as well.”

But mistakes do happen. Sipe shared about a time when a former student unleashed racial slurs through a microphone that was connected to a live stream via social media.

She explained how she carefully handled the situation by apologizing without making excuses for what had occurred. “It’s important to own when I messed up; I never want to make it seem like I’m covering anything up.”

Effectively telling the story of the district to connect with an online audience, said Katrice Perera, superintendent of Lancaster Independent School District in Lancaster, Texas, means finding what’s meaningful to the district audience all while posting in a timely manner.

“It’s truly about what you feel is important to your district,” said Perera. “I want to make sure that we are telling our story before someone else does.”

Matthew Montgomery, superintendent of Lake Forest District 67 in Illinois, suggested sending out a survey to all students and parents to find what platforms the viewers use most actively to better enhance their experience.

Using the correct platforms and tools to engage with her online following allows Sipe to correctly engage with her target audience. “Our Facebook is most common with our senior citizens for events and stories, Twitter is mostly to network or when I see someone else experience success or kids finding joy in learning,” she said. “That’s usually when I tweet.”

Overall, the panel encouraged attendees to explore social media and have fun while effectively telling the story of the school and district.

(Isabella Sandoval is a reporting intern for Conference Daily Online and a senior at Judson High School, Converse, Texas.)

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