Two new sessions have been added to the 2023 School Public Relations Forum, which will be Friday, June 2, at the New Jersey School Boards Association’s headquarters in Trenton.

Attendees will hear from individuals who have first-hand experience with handling public relations in good, bad and normal times. The two new sessions are:

Cresskill’s Perfect Storm: Communicating with the Community through COVID, a Flood and a Bond Referendum

Like most school districts in the state, Cresskill was looking forward to getting back to in-person learning in September 2021. But on the evening of Sept. 1, the remnants of Hurricane Ida caused widespread flooding through the region — including at the Cresskill Middle/High School.

With nearly the entire school rendered unusable by floodwaters, the district scrambled to provide virtual learning for students and seek alternate locations for in-person learning, all while grappling with the restoration process. A huge obstacle: the $21.6 million bond referendum needed to restore the school before FEMA reimbursement.

Laura Bishop, managing principal of Laura Bishop Communications, the communications firm that assisted Cresskill during the referendum process, will team up with her colleague Nina Contento, to highlight the district’s public relations efforts during this trying time, as well as lessons learned. Joining them from Cresskill will be:

  • Dr. Peter J. Hughes, superintendent.
  • Dawn Delasandro, business administrator/board secretary. 
  • Mary Klein, vice president of the Cresskill Board of Education.

Strategies to Help Bridge Divides: Braver Angels

Launched in 2016, Braver Angels is a national movement to bring people of all political persuasions together at the grassroots level to understand each other beyond stereotypes and to communicate effectively as citizens. Through workshops, debates, campus engagement and more, Braver Angels helps Americans learn about each other, form community alliances and reduce the contentiousness that can poison our civic culture.

Cindy Mullock, the New Jersey state coordinator for the group, will speak about the work of Braver Angels and will present strategies and skills for setting the right tone for productive interaction, listening and speaking skills and handling difficult moments. Cindy is the founding executive director of the Harriet Tubman Museum of New Jersey and a board member and adviser to other nonprofit organizations focused on community engagement.

The other previously announced sessions include:

Facing the Media: On-Camera Training on Speaking During a Crisis

When your school district is facing a crisis, a district spokesperson will need to respond quickly, calmly and appropriately. In this session, Tom Slater, formerly the risk communications director at the New Jersey Department of Health, and a nationally known trainer in crisis communications, will present an overview of the principles of communication during a crisis. This session will include the creation of a mock scenario, video recording of interviews and critiques of results. Participants will work in teams to prepare for the interviews.

Panel Discussion: Engaging Your District’s Parents

Parents are a school’s primary partner in the education of a child. Effectively communicating with and engaging parents creates a climate of trust and respect in a district and is essential to student success. School communications professionals will discuss what parents want and need to know, how to target messages, using social media, managing language differences, crisis communications and more.

Participants in this session include Kia Bergman, director of communications, West Windsor Plainsboro School District; Paul Brubaker, director of communications, Paterson School District; and Chanta L. Jackson, communications coordinator, Asbury Park School District.

Spots are very limited – don’t let this opportunity pass you by! Ask your school business administrator to register you today.

The annual School Public Relations Program will take place at NJSBA headquarters from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Breakfast and lunch will be served. This program offers three Board Member Academy credits and has a member fee of $99 per person.