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Superintendent Dallas Dance On Making Stakeholder Relations a Top CEO Priority

March 7, 2017 0 Comments

Dr. Dallas Dance

Public education is under assault these days.  And unfortunately the social media offer the enemies of public education a powerful platform for questioning the effectiveness of our public schools and for aggressively promoting alternatives such as charter schools and student vouchers.  If good works spoke for themselves, the reputation of our public schools wouldn’t be endangered and their financing would be secure.  However, performance, no matter how solid, never has and never will speak for itself.  Therefore, external relations – including image building, public information and education, and stakeholder relations – is one of the most critical district functions and a top superintendent priority.

In this really informative podcast – the first in a series on public school district external relations – Dr. Dallas Dance, Superintendent of the Baltimore County Public Schools, describes how – as BCPS’s “Chief External Relations Officer” – he takes the lead in building and maintaining close, productive partnerships with his district’s key external stakeholders.  Keenly aware that over half of the households in his district don’t include school-age children, Dallas spends more than half his time in the external arena, reaching out to parents, business leaders, elected officials, and a wide variety of civic organizations.  Although he spends a large dollop of his time in face-to-face meetings, Dallas necessarily makes social media – especially Face Book and Twitter – an important element of his stakeholder relations strategy.

In light of their importance to your district’s long-term success, both educationally and financially, a word about stakeholders is in order here.  I define stakeholders very simply as:  any group, organization, or institution in your school district’s environment with which it makes sense for your district’s Strategic Governing Team – the school board, superintendent, and executive staff – to maintain a more or less close relationship.  There are purely internal stakeholders, who are directly involved in leading and managing your district organization, such as your school board, faculty, and other employees.  There are also the stakeholders who are your district’s direct “customers” and beneficiaries – the students and their families – who can be thought of as an external/internal hybrid.  And then there are purely external community stakeholders, such as city and county governments, civic clubs, and chambers of commerce.  Typically, in my experience, school district Strategic Governing Teams pay pretty close attention to their internal stakeholders and the hybrid stakeholders who are direct beneficiaries (your students and their families), but external stakeholder relations management is often neglected, at a potentially steep cost in terms of inadequate community understanding and support for the district.

Your district’s external stakeholders can be divided into three broad categories for the purpose of developing and maintaining relationships.  There are top-tier stakeholders who always require close attention by your district’s Strategic Governing Team because of the consistently high stakes involved:  for example, your state government department responsible for K-12 education; the independent nonprofit education foundation that raises money for special district needs; the chamber of commerce, whose education committee has been actively involved for years in supporting your district’s capital levies; city and county government, whose support for district tax issues is critical; and, last but far from least, the print and broadcast media.  There are second-tier stakeholders which need to be monitored to determine whether the stakes have increased enough to merit closer attention, but which generally do not require explicit management; these are often “sleeping dogs” such as community organizations that might suddenly become energized over a particular educational issue, such as a property-tax increase that might bring out the anti-tax forces.  And there are also ad hoc strategic stakeholders who are critical to your district’s accomplishing particular strategic targets – such as the worker retraining program that your district is pilot testing in partnership with the local community college – but  which may fade in importance after the strategic target has been accomplished.

You’re invited to share what you’ve learned about managing relationships with your districts’ critical stakeholders.

Doug Eadie

President & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company, Inc., Doug Eadie assists superintendents in building rock-solid partnerships with their school boards.
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