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Communication Audit Report:

                      Long Beach Unified
                        School District
National School Public Relations Association
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Long Beach Unified School District - Long Beach Unified School ...
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NSPRA Communication Audit Report 2021

Introduction������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 4

Key Findings������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 8

Observations and Comments��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 13


     Recommendation 1 & Action Steps�������������������������������������������������������������� 18

     Recommendation 2 & Action Steps��������������������������������������������������������������22

     Recommendation 3 & Action Steps������������������������������������������������������������ 26

     Recommendation 4 & Action Steps������������������������������������������������������������ 29

     Recommendation 5 & Action Steps������������������������������������������������������������ 35

     Recommendation 6 & Action Steps������������������������������������������������������������ 38

     Recommendation 7 & Action Steps������������������������������������������������������������� 44

     Recommendation 8 & Action Steps������������������������������������������������������������ 50

     Recommendation 9 & Action Steps������������������������������������������������������������ 52

     Recommendation 10 & Action Steps���������������������������������������������������������� 55

Benchmarking Against NSPRA’s Rubrics of Practice
and Suggested Measures����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 57


Long Beach Unified School District

                                                       by stakeholders as a district strength. Another
                                                       strength is the willingness of district leaders,
 Introduction                                          including the LBUSD Board of Education and Dr.
                                                       Baker, to address communication challenges
   The Long Beach Unified School District              and continue to strengthen the relationship
 (LBUSD) is the third largest district in California   between the district and its key stakeholders.
 and is in one of the most diverse large cities
                                                         Since 1935, the National School Public
 in the United States. Its 12,000 full-time and
                                                       Relations Association (NSPRA) has been
 part-time employees provide educational and
                                                       providing school communication training
 support services for more than 70,000 students,
                                                       and services to school districts, departments
 from preschool to high school, in 85 educational
                                                       of education, regional service agencies and
 facilities located in Long Beach, Lakewood,
                                                       state and national associations throughout
 Signal Hill and Avalon on Catalina Island.
                                                       the United States and Canada. Among those
   LBUSD families are diverse, with                    services is the NSPRA Communication Audit,
 approximately 58 percent of the student               which provides:
 population identifying as Hispanic, 12 percent
                                                        y   An important foundation for developing
 as Black, 12 percent as white and another
                                                            and implementing a strategic
 17.2 percent as multiple races and ethnicities.
                                                            communication plan.
 Of note, the number of Cambodian residents
 within the district is the largest single              y   A benchmark for continuing to measure
 population outside of Cambodia. Dozens of                  progress in the future.
 languages are spoken by students, to primarily
 include Spanish and Khmer. More than 13                In serving LBUSD, the goals of the NSPRA
 percent of students are English language              Communication Audit process were to:
 learners and 62.3 percent have been identified
                                                        y   Seek data, opinion and perceptions, and
 as socioeconomically disadvantaged.
                                                            from these to assess the effectiveness
   The district continually is evolving to meet             and management of public relations,
 the needs of the broad diversity of students and           marketing and engagement efforts in the
 families it serves. Its efforts were recognized            school district; and
 in 2019 by the Learning Policy Institute,
 which found that Hispanic, white and African           y   Provide customized recommendations on
 American students in LBUSD achieve at                      strategies and best practices to enhance
 higher than predicted levels. LBUSD also was               the overall communication program.
 recognized as a high-performing school system           The observations and recommendations
 in a 2012 Global Education Study by Battelle          included in this report should be reviewed
 for Kids. Yet the district is facing significant      carefully. Whether they pertain to the work
 declines in enrollment, with a loss of nearly         of the Public Information office, Marketing
 6,000 students between 2015 and 2020.                 and Media Services or any other department
   Jill Baker, Ed.D., began her tenure as              or individual school, they are intended to help
 LBUSD superintendent in July 2020 amid a              LBUSD improve the effectiveness of current
 global pandemic that already had shut down            communications, engagement and marketing
 in-person learning for months. Dr. Baker,             efforts and to support its commitment to
 who spent her 28-year education career in             continuous improvement.
 LBUSD, followed two superintendents with                It is difficult to measure public relations
 nearly 30 years of longevity in the post. In          overall, but individual elements can be
 a profession where the national turnover of           assessed. It can be determined whether specific
 large district superintendents is about five          program goals and objectives have been met
 years, this consistency in leadership is seen         for example. The real measure of success,

NSPRA Communication Audit Report 2021

though, is whether the communication program
is helping the division move forward on its
                                                   Scope and Nature of the Audit
stated mission. Accordingly, in developing           A communication audit of LBUSD enables
recommendations, the NSPRA auditing team           the district to view its communication from an
reviewed the perceptions of the focus groups       outside, independent perspective. The NSPRA
and the resource materials in light of the         consultants for this communication audit were
district’s vision, mission, beliefs and goals.     Tim Carroll, APR, and Elise Shelton. Their vitae
                                                   are included in the appendix of this report.
Guiding Definition                                 Materials Review
  Since 1935, NSPRA has worked with school           The first step in the communication audit
systems, education organizations and agencies      involved the Public Information office,
throughout North America to advance the            Marketing and Media Services, and district
cause of education through responsible public      leaders in Equity and Engagement and Equity
relations, communication engagement and            Access submitting samples of materials used
marketing practices. In doing so, NSPRA uses       to communicate with various internal and
the following definition as a foundation for all   external audiences (e.g., LB School Bulletin,
educational public relations programs:             Building Success Annual Report, strategic plan
   Educational public relations is a planned,      brochure, Right To Know parent newsletter,
 systematic management function, designed          Parent University fliers). The auditors conducted
 to help improve the programs and services         a rigorous review of these materials as well as
 of an educational organization. It relies on      of the district and school websites and social
 a comprehensive, two-way communication            media.
 process involving both internal and external        These digital and print materials were all
 publics with the goal of stimulating better       examined for effectiveness of message delivery,
 understanding of the role, objectives,            readability, visual appeal and ease of use. In
 accomplishments and needs of the                  addition, the auditors reviewed the district’s
 organization.                                     demographic data, strategic plan, news coverage
   Educational public relations programs assist    and digital communication analytics.
 in interpreting public attitudes, identify and
                                                   Virtual Focus Groups and Interviews
 help shape policies and procedures in the
 public interest, and carry on involvement           The core of the communication audit is
 and information activities that earn public       the virtual focus group component designed
 understanding and support.                        to listen to and gather perceptions from the
                                                   district’s internal and external stakeholders.
                                                   The auditors met with 22 focus groups on
Opinion Research as a                              January 11-19, 2021, and conducted interviews
Foundation                                         with the superintendent and communications-
                                                   related staff on December 7-8, 2020.
  An NSPRA Communication Audit provides
information about attitudes, perceptions and         For the focus groups, district officials
the effectiveness of current public relations,     identified and invited as participants those
engagement and marketing efforts, and offers       who could represent a broad range of opinions
recommendations to enhance or expand the           and ideas. Each group met for an hour (with
overall program. The audit also provides a         the exception of one group, which met for 90
benchmark for continuing to measure progress       minutes, where translators of Spanish and
in the future. The development of any effective    Khmer assisted) and was guided through a
communication program begins with opinion          similar set of discussion questions on a variety
research.                                          of communication issues. Participants were

Long Beach Unified School District

 assured their comments would be anonymous              and communication programs. It is also
 and not attributed to individuals if used in the       assumed that they wish to view the school
 audit report.                                          district and its work through the perceptions of
                                                        others, and that they would not enter into an
   The stakeholder groups represented in the
                                                        audit unless they were comfortable in doing so.
 focus group sessions and interviews included
 the following:                                            However, some caution should be observed
                                                        regarding the nature of such a review. Whenever
     y   Parents                                        opinions are solicited about an institution
     y   Business leaders, community leaders and        and its work, there is a tendency to dwell on
         school partners                                perceived problem areas. This is natural and,
                                                        indeed, is one of the objectives of an audit.
     y   Students                                       Improvement is impossible unless there is
                                                        information on what may need to be changed.
     y   Teachers                                       It is important to note that perceptions are
                                                        just that. Whether or not they are accurate,
     y   Central office and school administrative
                                                        they reflect beliefs held by focus group
                                                        participants and provide strong indicators of
     y   Principals                                     the communication gaps that may exist. It is
                                                        also a “snapshot” or view of the district at the
     y   Department directors, managers and             time of the audit, and some situations may
         supervisors                                    have changed or been addressed by the time the
                                                        report is issued.
     y   School counselors and nurses
                                                          This report is intended to build on the many
     y   Executive staff                                positive activities and accomplishments
     y   Board of Education members                     of the district and its Public Information
                                                        office and Marketing and Media Services by
   Following the review of materials, focus             suggesting options and considerations for
 group discussion comments and interview                strengthening the overall communication
 feedback, the auditors identified key findings         program. Recommendations are designed to
 and prepared recommendations for improving             address gaps and assist LBUSD leaders’ efforts to
 two-way communication and engagement with              communicate consistently and effectively.
 the district’s internal and external stakeholders.
 The recommendations are based on proven
 strategies used in successful communication            Considerations for Implementing
 programs by school systems around North                Recommendations
 America and are reflected within NSPRA’s
                                                          The recommendations in this report address
 Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures
                                                        immediate communication needs as well as
 benchmarking publication.
                                                        those that are ongoing or that should receive
   The final report was carefully reviewed and          future consideration as part of long-range
 edited by NSPRA Executive Director Barbara M.          planning. Some recommendations may apply
 Hunter, APR, and Associate Director Mellissa           only to those with formal communication tasks,
 Braham, APR.                                           and others may apply to additional departments
                                                        or all staff. Some recommendations may be
                                                        implemented right away, and others may
 Assumptions                                            require additional staff capacity or financial
   It is assumed that school systems undertake          resources to undertake while maintaining
 communication audits because they are                  existing programs.
 committed to improving their public relations

NSPRA Communication Audit Report 2021

  This is a long-term effort in which the report
should serve as a road map for the future.
  Communication programs in any
organization are most successful when treated
as a management function that is planned,
evaluated and regularly updated. With this
NSPRA Communication Audit Report, LBUSD
now has the research and guidance necessary
to more effectively manage its communication
with key stakeholders.

Copies to participants
  Participants were generous in sharing their
thoughts and ideas during the focus group
sessions. They were also interested in finding
out the results of the communication audit.
Because of their high level of interest and
involvement, along with the importance of
closing the communication loop to build trust
and credibility, NSPRA recommends that the
findings of this report be shared with focus
group participants.

Long Beach Unified School District

                                                         District Image Challenges
 Key Findings                                             y   Many of the district’s challenges from
                                                              March 2020 through the time of this audit
   The following key findings reflect common                  relate to the pandemic. Concerns repeatedly
 themes that emerged from the focus group                     were voiced about the disparity of students
 discussions, one-on-one interviews and review                who don’t have internet connectivity for
 of district materials.                                       online learning, and parents who may not
                                                              have the necessary devices with which to
 District Image Strengths                                     monitor their child’s progress.
     y   When focus groups were asked about the           y   The strength of diversity in the district has
         strengths of Long Beach Unified School               brought with it the need to communicate
         District (LBUSD), the most common answers            in the various languages spoken by parents,
         were diversity and equity, a focus on                most frequently Spanish and Khmer,
         helping all students succeed, excellent              but also Vietnamese, Bengali, Mandarin,
         resources and professional training for              Samoan, Tagalog, Thai and Russian. A need
         teaching staff, leadership opportunities, a          for access to translation services for parent
         high graduation rate, meeting the needs of           materials was often mentioned by staff,
         student subgroups, supportive community,             who noted that timeliness is a barrier to
         continuity in leadership and the positive            circulating important information. In focus
         feeling of Long Beach as a “little big town.”        groups, both parents and staff agreed that
                                                              students are too often depended upon to
     y   Specifically, other strengths named by
                                                              interpret information for their parents.
         the participants were the wide choice of
         high school pathways, dual immersion             y   The pandemic has restricted the
         programs, providing technology to                    superintendent from holding face-
         students, comprehensive offerings in                 to-face meetings with stakeholders.
         Parent University and the use of data in             Focus group participants noted that the
         decision making.                                     current superintendent’s predecessor
                                                              held frequent in-person meetings with
     y   More general comments focused on the
                                                              stakeholders. Focus group participants were
         family atmosphere; the longevity (low
                                                              understanding of why this was not possible
         turnover) of employees, who also live in the
                                                              during the pandemic, but some felt that a
         community; and doing things “The Long
                                                              more frequent live online interaction could
         Beach Way.”
                                                              have been a substitute in the interim.
     y   Community trust was touted by staff
         focus groups, and auditors found further
                                                         Communication Strengths
         evidence in the successful LBUSD bond            y   Focus groups indicated that the work
         measures, with 75 percent public support             produced by the Public Information office
         for a $1.5 billion school bond measure in            and Marketing and Media Services was
         2016 and 71 percent support for a                    appreciated and valued.
         $1.2 billion ballot initiative in 2008.
                                                          y   Administrators in the focus groups
     y   Auditors saw that LBUSD offers a                     believed the two departments providing
         comprehensive number of parent                       communication support, the Public
         workshops with livestream options in                 Information office and Marketing and
         English, Spanish and Khmer.                          Media Services, would be available in times
                                                              of crisis.

NSPRA Communication Audit Report 2021

 y   Focus group participants generally noted a      y   Focus group participants and interviewees
     highly effective roll out regarding COVID-19        expressed concerns about communication
     communications, with information posted             timing and identification of the appropriate
     on the website, issued via communication            vehicles for relaying important information.
     tools such as SchoolMessenger and shared            They also sought a better balance between
     via video updates from the superintendent.          “too much communication” and “not
                                                         enough communication.”
 y   Many focus group participants were able
     to recall multiple platforms with which the     y   Several participants in the staff focus
     district communicates.                              groups felt that information from Board
                                                         of Education meetings was not readily
 y   Several staff members said they viewed              available. They said that they look to local
     and appreciated the streamed Board of               media online resources (Long Beach Post)
     Education meetings.                                 for that information.
Communication Challenges                            Internal Communications—Employees
 y   The structure and workflow of                   y   Internal focus group participants expressed
     communications in LBUSD is complex.                 support for the superintendent and the
 y   Focus group participants voiced concerns            district administration, and they noted the
     about the timeliness of district website            communication challenges inherent in a
     information and updates to school building          pandemic.
     webpages. Under the current structure of        y   Both elementary and secondary principals
     the Public Information office, only one             commented that the Public Information
     staff member has access to update all               office and Marketing and Media Services
     district website content. School pages are          are very supportive and helpful when
     managed at the school level.                        asked. They appreciated the departments
 y   Not all staff with communication                    “getting the word out” and felt the staff
     responsibilities have a written job                 would readily assist in a crisis situation.
     description that outlines those                 y   Auditors observed a general perception
     responsibilities, as is the case for the            among staff focus group participants that
     Marketing and Media Services assistant              communication with internal publics could
     director. In addition, some descriptions            be improved. “Much of the public relations
     have not been updated in some time and              efforts are directed to the parents and
     so do not reflect current responsibilities          social media,” noted a staff member in one
     or best practices in communication.                 illustrative comment.
     For example, the actual duties for the
     webmaster have far outpaced those               y   There was a feeling among staff
     outlined in the current job description,            members that central office decisions
     which was created in 2005.                          were not communicated down to school
                                                         administrators and teachers in a timely
 y   The two offices directly responsible                manner.
     for district communications—Public
     Information and Marketing and                   y   Comments from teachers and principals
     Media Services—also collaborate on                  indicated that there is a greater need
     communications for Equity, Access,                  to involve staff in decision-making,
     College/Career Readiness and for                    particularly when decisions impact staff.
     Organizational Equity and Engagement,               When input is requested, staff members
     which includes the district’s                       felt that the recommendations were not
     Education Foundation.                               included in the decision-making process.

Long Beach Unified School District

   y   The focus group of teachers felt that there      y   Use of the website and social media was
       was a need for more information about                sporadic among employees in focus groups.
       what’s going on in the school district
       and what impacts their jobs. The Canvas         External Communications—
       management system and the asynchronous          Parents and Community
       learning attendance changes were given
                                                        y   Inconsistency in teacher-to-parent
       as examples of not providing timely
                                                            communications was identified as a
       information or not giving the rationale for
                                                            problem by principals, teachers and
       decisions affecting staff.
                                                            parents. The comments centered on
   y   The School Bulletin employee newsletter              different tools teachers are using such as
       was not widely read. Reasons cited were              Remind, Bloom and Canvas. Apparently,
       lack of relevance “to my job” and the links          most campuses allow teachers to choose
       that take readers to different levels of             their own system, which leads to multiple
       staff intranet webpages. Employees in the            portals for parents with several children.
       focus groups said they typically get school          It was especially a concern/frustration of
       district news from sources other than the            parents in the focus groups.
       employee newsletter. The need for a more
                                                        y   Parents, parent liaison representatives
       visible and relevant employee newsletter
                                                            and students identified frustrations in
       was expressed.
                                                            school-to-home communications, whether
   y   Paraprofessional group members were                  from lack of understanding of how to
       frustrated by inconsistent communications            use a program (e.g., Canvas, Zoom) or lack
       from different departments. Principals               of internet access. With the majority of
       also indicated that communications from              messages only on an online platform due
       different departments was not consistent.            to COVID-19 safety restrictions, information
                                                            equity gaps appear to have been created.
   y   Email communication internally
       was identified as a problem by staff.            y   While the district’s communication plan
       The number of emails from different                  supports Goal 5 of the LBUSD strategic plan
       departments was cited as a problem by                in supporting effective communication
       campus level administrators. Teachers                throughout the district, and identifies
       indicated that they were often confused              parents/guardians as a key audience,
       by conflicting emails. They also said                auditors identified a need for a more
       that emails of varying importance come               strategic plan to reach them through
       through different channels: Outlook, MyPD            communications.
       and Canvas.
                                                        y   Participants in the parent and community
   y   When asked how they receive school                   partner focus groups said they would
       district information, the internal focus             welcome learning more about LBUSD, but
       groups said they receive most school                 they observed that locating the information
       district information by email and then               was sometimes a barrier. Sometimes that
       word of mouth from supervisors. Several              difficulty was identified as being due to
       cited the Long Beach Post and various                language and sometimes it was due to
       community social media as their source of            unfamiliarity with which platform was
       school district information. Weekly updates          being used, according to comments.
       and communications from the mayor of
       Long Beach were also identified as a source
       for school district information along with
       regular communications from the union.

10 |
NSPRA Communication Audit Report 2021

Website                                                   boundaries and registration procedures
                                                          require multiple clicks to find.
 y   Multiple focus group participants felt the
     COVID-19 information provided on the             y   Bond updates are communicated on a
     district website was helpful and up to date.         dedicated sub-site https://lbschoolbonds.
                                                          net/ and through a Building on Success
     ƒ   The responsive design of the site                e-newsletter, both of which are developed
         works well on handheld devices and               through the support of a communications
         meets the Web Content Accessibility              coordinator position created in 2019.
         Guidelines.                                      The bond website includes work photos,
     ƒ   With the exception of news releases,             project details and schedules, fact sheets,
         the website is mostly static. Information        details on information sessions and more.
         is not updated in several areas.                 Auditors found it to be very thorough,
     ƒ   Only one person is able to update                clear and concise, with information
         most sections of the district website            to keep voters apprised of the school
         site, which focus group participants             district’s ongoing efforts to build and
         noted as causing time delays in getting          upgrade school facilities using bond funds.
         information deployed.                       Social Media and Video
 y   Campus leadership felt they did not have         y   LBUSD has a social media presence on
     the staff time to properly manage their              Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but
     school webpages. The quality of the                  focus group participants rarely mentioned
     webpages varies from campus to campus,               district social media as a go-to source of
     apparently based on who is editing the site.         information. The three platforms each have
 y   Individuals in many focus groups felt                about 4,500 followers. The district also
     that the district website was difficult to           maintains a YouTube channel, with about
     navigate. Some noted that LBUSD staff                6,800 subscribers, where it posts all videos,
     who know which words to search for                   including school board meetings and
     in the index don’t have a problem, but               messages from the superintendent.
     those who don’t know the key word have           y   Parents in the focus groups said they
     difficulty locating helpful information.             don’t see district social media as effective
     Office staff members found it hard to grab           communication for themselves, and
     facts and figures quickly when getting               students thought it would be more effective
     requests.                                            if students pushed the content.
 y   Some focus group participants commented          y   In general, the level of engagement with
     that the search function draws too many              district social media depends on the
     results for simple requests.                         nature of the content. As the district
 y   Focus group participants generally liked             communicated COVID-19 information and
     the A-Z Directory, but some stated that              plans for opening schools, the engagement
     they would have preferred it be broken               numbers on district social media
     into categories first and acknowledged               significantly increased. Content including
     that it worked best for “insiders” who               messages from the superintendent and
     already understand how the district works.           COVID-19 updates were the most followed.

 y   There is enrollment information on the           y   Many focus group participants mentioned
     district website, but access to data such            that Superintendent Baker’s videos were
     as such as test scores, demographics,                helpful.

                                                                                                     | 11
Long Beach Unified School District

   y   The Parent University video catalogue was
       also commended for its insight and ability
       to be communicated in three languages.

   y   Student focus group participants indicated
       that they don’t follow LBUSD social media,
       but they suggested having students create
       content and tag LBUSD for cross promotion.
       Students noted that one high school junior
       had set up an Instagram page to post key
       deadlines of which students should be

 Future Communication Challenges
   y   A final question in each focus group asked
       about the major communication challenge
       facing the district in the immediate
       future. While there were many and varied
       responses, the most frequent centered on:
       ƒ   How best to communicate in a
           paperless system since not all
           stakeholders have internet access;
       ƒ   Multiple online communication
           tools have created confusion and
       ƒ   A need for more intentionality in who
           receives messages first and what the
           message is;
       ƒ   Being able to make communication
           preferences known before receiving
       ƒ   Managing email overload; and
       ƒ   Crafting quality messages that are
           written with the audience in mind.

12 |
NSPRA Communication Audit Report 2021

Observations and Comments
  Following the conclusion of the                    y   If improving academic performance
comprehensive communication audit process,               is a priority key message for the
the auditors offer these general observations            district, awareness of that message and
and comments:                                            communicating it should be a priority for
                                                         all staff. Academic performance was not
 y   Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD)          identified as a strength or a challenge by
     is an excellent school district academically        any of the focus groups. More strategic
     as demonstrated through its numerous                communication efforts can help build
     awards. This is a boon for communication            awareness of this board goal internally and
     efforts because it is easier to manage a            externally.
     communications program and to maintain
     supportive relationships with school           Public Relations
     stakeholders when the perceptions of the
     staff and community are positive.               y   Two different departments handle district
                                                         communications. The Public Information
 y   Stability in school board leadership and            office handles corporate communications,
     superintendent tenure is a strength, as is          media relations and website content, while
     a high teacher retention rate. Frequent             Marketing and Media Services coordinates
     changes in leadership often lead to public          video, social media and special marketing
     relations problems, but the news that               projects. Having separate departments
     LBUSD generates is overall positive or              sometimes duplicates efforts, serves as
     neutral.                                            a barrier to projecting a unified message
                                                         and may be the reason for the lack of
 y   Work of the Public Information office               an overall communication vision. The
     and Marketing and Media Services is                 offices work closely together but some
     acknowledged and respected. The staff               responsibilities seem parallel to each other
     members’ willingness to help, especially            rather than combined for a common goal.
     at the campus level, was noted by campus
     administrators and other staff members.             The large and diverse nature of the Long
Marketing and Branding                                   Beach community makes it important
                                                         to consider how best to target messages
 y   The school district does not have a                 and communication delivery vehicles
     unifying message or brand. Marketing                to these varied audiences. Today a “one
     is largely directed at recruiting new               size fits all” approach engages none. In
     families, but a marketing program can               addition, LBUSD can better market its
     also build support and pride among staff            value proposition with families, who are
     and existing families. These stakeholders           seeking a quality education program, by
     can serve as brand ambassadors in the               maintaining high visibility for positive
     community to help attract (and maintain)            success stories and innovative programs
     potential new employees and students.               that elevate its brand.

 y   In reviewing materials from across the              Auditors believe these challenges and
     district, there appears to be no consistent,        opportunities warrant ongoing, high
     recognizable brand for the district as a            level, strategic collaboration across public
     whole. Printed collateral materials should          information and marketing efforts in order
     have a cohesive design, and a LBUSD Brand           to manage the complex communication
     Standards Guide should be developed.

                                                                                                    | 13
Long Beach Unified School District

       challenges and opportunities facing large            an internal Public Information document
       urban systems today.                                 that breaks down the role of each staff
                                                            member in various crises.
   y   Because of his longevity in the district, the
       public information director and his staff        y   Internal communication efforts should
       have absorbed many responsibilities over             receive more attention and strategic focus.
       the years that now should be evaluated,              During focus group conversations, staff
       prioritized, and if appropriate, considered          indicated there is a lack of information
       for reassignment to other departments                they need in the formats they prefer. This
       or for elimination. Reprioritizing work              has contributed to some staff feeling
       from the office should be done so that               not in the loop on district or school
       more strategic activities can be pursued,            information and not included in important
       as recommended in this report. Auditors’             decisions that affect their work. Some staff
       observations and conversations with                  are overwhelmed by the volume of email
       communications staff suggest that they               communication, and some are confused
       are operating beyond capacity to try to              by conflicting information or competing
       stay on top of the myriad communication              sources for that information. This creates
       demands that must be addressed daily.                a void of staff knowledge that makes them
       The same can be said of Marketing and                less effective as district ambassadors.
       Media Services, where the assistant
       director is the sole manager of all LBUSD        y   The district’s online presence can and
       social media platforms and podcasting                should be strengthened. Working in the
       in addition to other critical duties,                district’s favor is the fact that the current
       though the position does not have a job              website design is mobile responsive and
       description.                                         set up to meet Web Content Accessibility
                                                            Guidelines. Yet focus group feedback and
   y   There is an overemphasis on one-                     the auditors’ analysis suggest multiple
       way communication (i.e., pushing                     areas for improvement. For example, basic
       out information) rather than on two-                 facts are not easy to locate, much of the
       way communication (i.e., exchange of                 content and imagery is dated or largely
       information between the district and its             static, and video as a communication tool
       stakeholders). One-way communication                 is underutilized.
       tools such as e-newsletters and static
       website postings are important sources of
       information for stakeholders, but engaging
       stakeholders in two-way conversations
       can strengthen relationships, build
       mutual understanding and create trust.
       Community engagement is a priority
       of the district, but it is being managed
       independently by several departments.
       From a communications perspective,
       there needs to be more coordination and

   y   There needs to be a more detailed
       crisis communication plan. LBUSD has
       a comprehensive crisis management
       plan in place (EOC – MMA) that includes
       the Public Information office in a key
       communications role. What is needed is

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NSPRA Communication Audit Report 2021

  The auditors have identified the following             LBUSD to achieve its communication goals. Each
items as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities            item is addressed in the recommendations of
and threats (SWOT) affecting the ability of              this report.

                            Strengths                                     Weaknesses
           y   Staff and parents expressed pride in        y   Stakeholders shared that confusion
               LBUSD academic options; the district’s          sometimes occurs on who “owns” a
               diversity; and the promotion of equity.         message, resulting in timing challenges.

           y   LBUSD implements a wide array of            y   Clear structure and organization of
               communication tools.                            communication flow was expressed as a

           y   Superintendent Baker received
               appreciation for her intentional            y   The LBUSD website was often mentioned
               communications with staff and parents           as non-intuitive in searching for key
               in her biweekly video messages. (These          information.
               became weekly video messages in late
               February.)                                  y   There may be an overreliance on
                                                               electronic communication tools,
                                                               leaving out families and community
                                                               stakeholders who lack the necessary
                                                               resources to connect to those tools.

                          Opportunities                                      Threats
           y   Many stakeholder groups said they           y   Without question, the global pandemic
               often learn of district news through            has hindered direct and face-to-face

               outside social media news outlets.              communication, causing a multitude of
                                                               communication frustrations.
           y   Community and partner organizations
               said they want to know more about           y   Offering opportunities for stakeholder
               LBUSD, sharing concerns about having            engagement is especially critical
               to search and seek out news and                 as student enrollment has trended
               information.                                    downward in LBUSD.

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Long Beach Unified School District

   This NSPRA Communication Audit Report                Public Information and Marketing and Media
 offers recommendations—informed by auditors’         Services staff have accomplished a great deal in
 research and communication best practices—to         LBUSD. The following recommendations focus
 address immediate communication needs in             on areas for improvement or growth in the
 Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) as        district’s overall communication program, but
 well as those that are ongoing or should receive     that should not detract from the many positives
 future consideration. They are presented with        coming from those two offices.
 the intention of helping LBUSD to not only
                                                        In fact, many of the recommendations will
 improve current communication efforts but also
                                                      require commitment and participation from
 to look ahead to the future. This is a long-term
                                                      the entire LBUSD administrative team—at
 effort, and the report is intended to serve as a
                                                      the district and school levels—if the district
 road map the district can use as a resource to
                                                      is to realize meaningful improvements in
 maintain and increase the effectiveness of its
                                                      its communication program. Administrators
 communication program.
                                                      should be accountable together for improving
   Effective communication is listed as a             communication districtwide and may need to
 priority in the LBUSD Strategic Plan main goals.     take the lead in some of the areas addressed in
 Responsibility for achieving that goal falls to      this report. District leaders should review the
 multiple departments and schools, but at the         recommendations in this light and consider
 district level, it primarily rests with the Public   how some communication responsibilities
 Information office. The LBUSD Communication          and tasks might be distributed among
 plan, developed by Public Information,               administrative teams.
 addresses communication collaboration across
                                                        There are many recommendations that
 the following departments: Research and School
                                                      apply to all departments and schools that
 Improvement; Technology and Information
                                                      LBUSD can begin implementing right away.
 Services; Facilities Development and Planning;
                                                      However, it would be unreasonable to expect
 the deputy superintendent (includes Equity,
                                                      Public Information and Marketing and Media
 Access and College/Career Readiness;
                                                      Services to undertake more than two or three
 Organizational Equity and Engagement;
                                                      of the major recommendations in a year while
 and Business Engagement and Strategic
                                                      continuing to maintain existing programs.
 Partnerships); and the Office of Curriculum,
                                                      New communication components will need
 Instruction and Professional Development. The
                                                      to be introduced when budget, resources and
 district also has a Marketing and Media Services
                                                      staff capacity allow. In addition, some of the
 department, and separately, a draft plan for
                                                      recommendations would not be practical
 marketing was provided for the auditors’ review.
                                                      during the ongoing pandemic under current
   Currently, Public Information handles              social distancing restrictions. Therefore, some
 corporate communications, media relations            recommendations may be planned now and set
 and website content, while Marketing and             aside for a more “normal” school year.
 Media Services coordinates video, social
                                                        This report can serve as a planning guide
 media and special marketing projects. These
                                                      for the next several years to help keep
 two departments meet weekly, but this audit
                                                      communications work on track and positioned
 report includes a suggested organizational
                                                      for success.
 structure that would facilitate more effective
 communication and collaboration across all of
 the district’s official communication functions.

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NSPRA Communication Audit Report 2021

Summary of Recommendations
 1. Strengthen the value and usefulness of LBUSD’s communication plan by including measurable
    objectives and research-based strategies.
 2. Increase alignment of the varied communication service areas and staff to maximize the
    effectiveness of the district communication program.
 3. Expand LBUSD’s inclusive culture for diverse families to its expectations for all communication
 4. Make internal communications a priority.
 5. Strengthen the engagement of staff members in the district’s decision-making process.
 6. Enhance LBUSD’s use of digital communication tools to strengthen their effectiveness.
 7. Incorporate marketing strategies into a strategic communication and marketing plan.
 8. Create a network of key communicators.
 9. Expand and enhance Board of Education communications.
 10. Include students in delivering the LBUSD message.

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Long Beach Unified School District

                                                        For example, focus group feedback on the LB
 Recommendation 1:                                      School Bulletin suggests it may be less effective
                                                        than desired at keeping internal stakeholders
 Strengthen the value and                               informed. A strategic communication plan
 usefulness of LBUSD’s                                  can establish expectations by which projects,
 communication plan by including                        programs and activities will be measured to
 measurable objectives and                              determine their relative value.
 research-based strategies.                               Charting a clear course for current and
                                                        future communication needs, as well as
                                                        being responsive to the direction of the
   In Long Beach Unified School District, the           district, will ensure that LBUSD leadership is
 Public Information office has a communication          communicating the right message to the right
 plan in place that is guided by the district’s         constituency using the right communication
 strategic plan and fosters collaboration with          tactics. A strategic plan also will help ensure
 certain departments. While the current                 the development and dissemination of key
 plan lacks research-grounded strategies and            messages critical to the district’s mission
 sufficient measures for evaluating successful          and goals. One significant finding of this
 outcomes, there is an opportunity to build on          communication audit was that although
 this foundation to develop a more strategic and        information is shared regularly from Executive
 measurable plan. Such a plan would help staff          Cabinet, there is often a breakdown in
 keep their daily work aligned with departmental        communication as the information works its
 goals while improving the effectiveness of the         way through all levels of the school system.
 district’s overall communication program.              A strategic communication plan can make it
   A strategic communication plan, informed by          clear which roles communication staff and
 research and guided by communication-specific          administrators share in helping to ensure that
 goals and measurable objectives, should serve          key information is shared throughout LBUSD.
 as the framework for determining priorities              A strategic communication plan provides
 that drive the work of the communications              transparency with district leaders and
 team. The findings and recommendations                 accountability for communication staff. It is
 in this report should serve as a foundation            both a guide for staff members’ work and a
 for the plan’s development, particularly in            vehicle for reporting on progress. However, it
 the identification of plan objectives and the          is important to remember that school systems
 selection of strategies. A comprehensive               exist in an ever-changing environment,
 plan – blending public relations, marketing,           impacted by community, state and federal
 digital media and engagement efforts –                 influences. Creating a flexible and dynamic plan
 should demonstrate how projects, tasks and             that allows for the impact of these influences
 responsibilities align with the district’s strategic   will benefit LBUSD and the families that it serves.
 goals and provide clear direction for prioritizing
 the work of the team.
                                                        Action Step 1.1
   In listening to communication staff talk about
 their work, valuable time often is dedicated            Follow the four-step strategic PR
 to tasks that have always fallen under their            planning process.
 purview though such tasks don’t necessarily
 contribute to achievement of overarching                 A strategic communication plan adheres
 goals. When identifying priority areas for             to the four-step strategic communication
 communication, staff may discover a need to            planning model. The four steps outlined here
 abandon projects or activities that are good           constitute a planning process based in sound
 practice but not high priority (Action Step 2.2).      public relations theory. Begin transforming the

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NSPRA Communication Audit Report 2021

current communication plan into a strategic
communication and marketing plan by
following these four steps:

 y   Research all public relations, marketing
     and engagement activities currently                   Strengthen the value
     happening in LBUSD; stakeholders’                        and usefulness
     communication needs and wants; and
     the problems and opportunities now                         of LBUSD’s
     facing the district that could be addressed
     through communication. This research
                                                           communication plan.
     will create a more accurate picture of
                                                       and communication preferences,
     how communication is integrated into
                                                       drawing many such details from this
     district and school operations. It also will
                                                       communication audit report. Similar
     show the scope of responsibilities for
                                                       to the focus groups convened for this
     communications staff and help identify
                                                       communication audit, stakeholder groups/
     areas where they can provide assistance,
                                                       target audiences should include:
     support and/or training to schools
     and other departments. This NSPRA                 ƒ   Parents (may be broken down by grade
     Communication Audit is an excellent                   levels, “involved” and “non-involved,”
     starting point on that research, with its             non-English-speaking, etc.);
     findings on district perceptions and the          ƒ   Newcomers such as families and other
     communication preferences of parent and               residents new to the community;
     staff stakeholders.
                                                       ƒ   Students such as high school student
 y   Plan for how to address the problems                  government leaders or active club
     and/or opportunities identified through               members;
     research by first setting longer-term             ƒ   Employees (teachers, principals,
     communication and marketing goals.                    administrators, central office staff,
     With goal setting, think of a future state            other support staff);
     for the district and its communication
                                                       ƒ   Business and community partners
     program that you hope to achieve. Keep
                                                           such as civic leaders, faith community
     in mind that planning does not mean
                                                           leaders, vendors/boosters, scholarship
     that communications staff are solely
                                                           providers, Realtors, volunteers and
     responsible for implementing all elements
                                                           others active in the schools and
     within the plan. All district and school
     employees contribute to and have a
     responsibility for the communications             ƒ   Elected officials in state and local
     and marketing of Long Beach schools, so               government (Long Beach Mayor Robert
     some elements of the plan may require                 Garcia was identified in focus groups as
     collaboration with other operational areas            being an effective communicator.);
     beyond communications.                            ƒ   “Empty nesters,” seniors and other
                                                           community members without children
     In the plan, be sure to identify affected             in LBUSD; and
     stakeholder groups/target audiences and
     the best ways to reach, build relationships       ƒ   Media representatives such as local
     with and attract them. Define the                     print, broadcast and digital news
     demographic and psychographic                         reporters, including for stations
     characteristics of each main audience,                and platforms that have formats for
     including their attitudes, concerns                   speakers of Spanish and Khmer.

                                                                                                   | 19
Long Beach Unified School District

       Focus around key messages to disseminate             Areas to be considered for expenditures
       to each target audience. Key messages                could include:
       should be “sticky”—memorable and                     ƒ   Equipment/software licensing;
       relevant to the audience. Aim for a
       maximum of three key messages per                    ƒ   Materials and supplies;
       individual program, campaign or initiative.          ƒ   Printing and duplicating;
       For example, initial messaging could                 ƒ   Advertising;
       address how LBUSD is taking proactive
       steps to improve communication,                      ƒ   Professional development;
       provide transparency to build trust, and             ƒ   Staff travel (post COVID);
       demonstrate progress toward achieving
                                                            ƒ   Subscriptions;
       the strategic plan goals.
                                                            ƒ   Professional dues/fees; and
       The plan also should articulate objectives
                                                            ƒ   Additional staff members or contracted
       for communication and marketing based
       on desired changes in awareness levels,
       knowledge levels, perceptions and/               y   Implement the plan and begin
       or behaviors of key audiences (Action                communicating with specific tools
       Step 1.2). The objectives should be                  on an established schedule. The
       measurable in order to evaluate the plan’s           recommendations included in this report
       effectiveness. For example, measurable               provide some direction for identifying
       objectives might call for:                           communication activities to accomplish
       ƒ   A desired percentage increase in                 the desired outcomes. Other ideas
           positive statements from employees               may come from discussions about key
           about “being well-informed,” which               messages related to the strategic plan or
           could be measured via a survey; or               from a group such as a communication
                                                            advisory council. Responsibility must be
       ƒ   A desired number of people who
                                                            assigned to someone for each action step
           agree to serve on a Key Communicator
                                                            to ensure accountability and completion.
           Network (also discussed in this report).
       Identify the strategies to use to achieve        y   Evaluate the outcomes, whether
       objectives and the tactics/tools for                 measurable objectives were achieved and
       accomplishing each strategy. (Focus                  the success of the strategies and tactics
       communication strategies and tactics                 used. (This step is often overlooked by
       on increasing outreach, engagement                   school districts, yet it will be critical in
       and two-way dialogue rather than                     demonstrating the impact of strategic
       simply on broadcasting information.)                 communication in helping LBUSD achieve
       Delineate specific tools and tactics for             its strategic plan goals.) When initially
       each stakeholder group/target audience.              writing up the plan, be sure to identify
       Identify needed resources to deploy tools/           evaluative measures to use at a later date
       tactics and how they will be acquired.               to determine whether the articulated goals
                                                            and measurable objectives were achieved.
       A timeline to achieve the desired                    Those evaluative measures might include
       outcomes should be set to ensure effective           survey responses, participation numbers,
       and efficient delivery of information. It            election results, user analytics, etc.
       should include starting dates for actions to
       be taken, dates for objectives to be reached      Regular evaluation of all communication
       and dates for evaluation to be carried out.     activities should take place throughout the year
                                                       to refine the plan and consider the addition
       A budget that notes the resources needed        or elimination of tactics and strategies as
       is the final step of plan development.

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NSPRA Communication Audit Report 2021

necessary. The communication plan must be            Action Step 1.4
a dynamic document that can be updated as
needed.                                               Plan a communications team retreat
                                                      to evaluate current efforts.
Action Step 1.2                                        A planning retreat, whether virtual or
 Include “SMART” objectives in                       in person, can be an effective way to give
 communication planning.                             communications staff time to delve into the
                                                     intensive discussion, analysis and “give and
  The strategic communication plan must              take” necessary to evaluate the success of
include SMART (specific, measurable, ambitious       current communication activities. This will
but attainable, results-oriented, and time-          provide a solid starting point for developing the
bound) objectives for each goal. This will allow     strategic communication and marketing plan
LBUSD to determine whether a communication           and for ensuring all staff understand and own
activity is successful, needs additional resources   their roles in the implementation of that plan.
or should be eliminated.                             When held annually, a departmental retreat
                                                     allows communication staff to review, plan and
  An example of a SMART objective is, “By            brainstorm activities, events and storytelling
[date], 80 percent of staff will indicate they       opportunities.
are familiar with the five goals of the Board
of Education’s strategic plan.” In contrast,
an objective that only aims to “create               Action Step 1.5
awareness”cannot be effectively measured.             Create a crisis communication plan.
Measurable objectives will increase the
accountability of communication efforts.               Auditors’ analysis did not yield any formal
Results-oriented, outcome-based objectives will      plan for how crisis communications is handled
enable LBUSD to better demonstrate its return        by communication staff. Crisis communication
on investment of resources (funds and staff          plans may be separate from or embedded
time) spent on communications.                       within existing crisis management plans, but
                                                     they should be very specific about which staff
Action Step 1.3                                      member(s) is responsible for disseminating
                                                     communications during a crisis when, how
 Create mini communication plans for                 and to whom. In addition to the LBUSD crisis
 new programs and initiatives.                       management plan (EOC – MMA), consider
                                                     developing an internal document that details
  Where an annual or multi-year strategic            what each communication staff member will
communication and marketing plan serves as           do in the event of a district or school crisis. For
an overall guide for district communication          example, if a serious bus accident occurs and
efforts, a major initiative may require its own      media coverage at the site is expected, which
mini communication plan. Such a plan is more         staff member drives to the site? Who will
narrowly focused, but it still follows the best      answer news media calls, who will answer calls
practices as outlined in the preceding four-step     and social posts from the public, and how will
strategic planning process. Consider developing      they all stay consistent in their messaging? If an
a mini plan template that communications staff       earthquake shut down a school, what would the
can use whenever they are asked to consult           role be of each communication staff person in
with another department or a school building to      that scenario? Some school districts create a flip
help them communicate about a new program            book that be scanned by any communications
or service.                                          staff member. Auditors recommend reviewing
                                                     this plan annually as staff roles and
                                                     organization change.

                                                                                                     | 21
Long Beach Unified School District

                                                      charter schools, private schools and virtual
 Recommendation 2:                                    learning alternatives—makes it essential that
                                                      LBUSD elevate the marketing of its brand
 Increase alignment of the                            (Recommendation 7) to families seeking a
 varied communication service                         quality education for their children.
 areas and staff to maximize the                        Consideration must be given to how LBUSD
 effectiveness of the district                        can create the capacity needed to maximize the
 communication program.                               effectiveness of its marketing efforts and to
                                                      strategically focus its communication efforts, in
                                                      alignment with the LBUSD Strategic Plan. While
   Long Beach Unified School District currently       having adequate capacity is often a function
 manages its communication functions                  of staffing levels, it can also be improved
 through a Public Information office and              through rethinking how work is prioritized.
 the separate Marketing and Media Services.           This concept is addressed throughout the
 Public Information, led by a director, largely       recommendations in this report. The ability
 coordinates media relations, major internal          to improve the strategic focus, though, relies
 and external communications, website content         both on improved strategic communication
 and communications support for executive             planning (Recommendation 1) as well as on
 leadership and the Board of Education.               ensuring alignment across the many and
 Marketing and Media Services, led by an              varied functional areas that now shape district
 assistant director, has primary responsibility       communications.
 for cable streaming content, social media
 (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and project             After reviewing the tasks, responsibilities
 management for specialized marketing events.         and organization of the varied offices involved
 The Public Information director and the              in district communications, auditors offer
 Marketing and Media Services assistant director,     the following suggestions for improving
 who each report directly to the superintendent,      the effectiveness of LBUSD’s official
 meet regularly and work closely together. The        communication functions.
 work of two other departments—Organizational
 Equity and Engagement, and Equity, Access            Action Step 2.1
 and College/Career Readiness—necessitate
 additional, regular communication efforts, and        Reconfigure the structure of the
 those efforts fall inside and outside the purview     communications function.
 of official communications staff.
                                                        To manage the complex communication
   As LBUSD communication needs have evolved          challenges and opportunities facing large
 with advanced communication technology and           urban systems today, consider creating a
 increased engagement activities, the separate        chief communications and community
 offices responsible for communications have          engagement officer position that serves on
 attempted to keep pace by adding an increased        the executive staff and provides ongoing,
 use of social media, video communication and         high-level strategic communication counsel to
 “Leading Students in Time of Crisis” podcasts.       the superintendent and executive leadership
 Yet the communication needs of the district          team. This position would oversee all staff and
 and its stakeholders continue to grow and            functions pertaining to public information,
 change. One example is the increasing diversity      public relations, marketing, media services,
 of the school community, which brings with it        communications equity and community
 more opportunities to tailor messages, tactics       engagement. Where now the Public Information
 and tools to meet the communication needs            director and Marketing and Media Services
 of these varied audiences. In addition, today’s      assistant director report directly and separately
 competitive learning environment—with                to the superintendent, such positions and

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