ISPRA 2021 Virtual Fall Conference

ISPRA 2021 Virtual Fall Conference

Did you attend the ISPRA 2021 Virtual Fall Conference? Access your virtual conference account any time to watch recordings and get materials!


About the conference:

Where do we go from here? After 20+ months of anything but ordinary communications work, it is exciting to be looking towards the future. The 2021 Iowa School Public Relations Association Fall Conference will be an opportunity to connect, reconnect and reset the world of school communications and public relations. Join us virtually for some “you” time!

Agenda and Speakers:

Session #1 Recruiting Millennials
Tyler Vawser, Vice President of Marketing

Attracting and retaining talent is a crucial challenge for many districts. Based on the largest survey of millennial teachers, you will learn key misconceptions about recruiting teachers, what your prospective staff is actually looking for, and private sector best practices on how to stand out.

About Tyler Vawser
Tyler leads Apptegy’s Marketing & Media teams. Tyler was the VP of People and focused on recruiting, onboarding, and culture for 3.5 years at Apptegy and helped to grow the company from 50 to more than 260. Prior to Apptey, Tyler worked in NYC in higher education and for startups including Museum Hack and Sticker Mule.

Session #2 Storytelling
Sarah Roberson, Senior Education Advisor

Storytelling – It’s something everyone talks about, but hardly ever thinks through – how do we actually tell a good story? Now that we’re almost out of this crazy COVID year, how do you continue to tell your story with a community that’s more engaged than ever. In this session, we’ll give you a crash course on how school leaders can use different platforms to tell better stories. We’ll start with the basics, sharing why stories are so effective and how to craft the overarching narrative of your district. Then, we’ll teach you how to find and tell smaller stories that not only reflect your values but captivate your audience along the way.

About Sarah Roberson
Sarah has been working with schools for over 25 years as a nonprofit professional, most recently as the Executive Director of City Year Little Rock. She has a passion for building collaborative partnerships that result in student success. From the classroom to the superintendent’s office, Sarah understands the interdependent nature of school districts and the need for clear communication and expectations. Sarah enjoys making communication easier for teachers, staff, and administrators so they can focus on students!

Session #3 Crisis Communication: Communicating Tragedy
Jennifer Woodley, Public Relations Coordinator
Great Prairie Area Education Agency

School communications is challenging in the best of times as districts weigh the needs of their different stakeholders, the changing technology, and battle the rise of misinformation. It becomes even more challenging when there is a tragedy in your community impacting your staff, students, and families. Jennifer Woodley will walk us through real life Iowa events and the strategy employed to keep everyone informed while creating an environment where learning can continue amid community unrest.

About Jennifer Woodley
Jennifer Woodley is the Public Relations Coordinator for the Great Prairie Area Education Agency. Her work includes guiding school district personnel through communications challenges in addition to long-term public relations planning. Woodley also serves on the ISPRA Board as the Awards Chair.

Session #4 The Fires are Burning and The Waves are High: Best practices for responding to your critics
Susan Brott and Julie Thannum

There have always been critics of public education, but the current politicized climate has made navigating the waters a bit more rocky for school leaders. Whether the conversation is heating up about mask mandates, what’s being taught, how students are learning or your district’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, opponents are organizing and responding in ways that can distract and disrupt your mission-driven work to support each and every student. In this session we will share effective messaging and communication strategies that can help school leaders proactively promote a positive narrative around their district’s decisions and strategic work while also lessening the need to react and respond to negative and inaccurate messaging. Participants will gain insight into the well-organized strategies of opposition groups. They will learn best practices for responding to critics, and how to lower the temperature and navigate through difficult conversations with credibility by focusing on transparency, truth and by cultivating long-term trust.

Session #5 Launching a Podcast: Can I Really Do it?
Eric Smidt, Ames CSD and AJ Ellingson, Waukee CSD

Interested in starting a podcast? Eric Smidt, Director of Communications for the Ames Community School District, and Anthony Ellingson, Communications Project Coordinator from the Waukee Community School District, will walk through how they started their individual podcasts.
Topics will include an overview of podcasting, equipment, workflow, promotion, and evaluation.

About Eric Smidt and AJ Ellingson
Eric Smidt, Ames CSD and AJ Ellingson, Waukee CSD are experts in the field of communications. Both have expanded their district’s audiences by launching a district-wide podcast. Learn the how and ways to accomplish this for your district.

Session #6 Talk Shop

  • 2:00-2:30 – Branding/Re-Branding Your District – Tiffany Redman – Norwalk CSD
  • 2:30-3:00 p.m. Group Discussion – Connect, ask questions, debrief

Questions? Email Amy Varcoe, ISPRA Vice President and Conference Chair,