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A lesson in great communication: Mariemont school superintendent places premium on touching base

Social media, podcasts, app -- he embraces it all
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Posted at 7:00 AM, Oct 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-26 07:46:34-04

MARIEMONT, Ohio -- Communication is an ingredient for success in any school district, but for Mariemont City Schools Superintendent Steven Estepp, it’s paramount. From podcasts to coffee shop meetings, the district’s leader is constantly looking for ways to reach community members.

“He’s really passionate about … making sure everyone’s in the loop and that we communicate as quickly and transparently as possible,” said Josephine McKenrick, director of communications for Mariemont City Schools.

When he took over as superintendent a little more than three years ago, one of the first things Estepp did was make sure district representatives were keeping up in the world of social media.

“He was very keen on making sure that we were appropriately on Facebook,” said Mariemont school board President Bill Flynn. “He immediately saw the communications process districtwide as an integrated tool.”

Since then, Estepp has kept in touch with the community through his own Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, as well as those maintained by McKenrick for the district. He takes advantage of other communication tools, too, like blogs and video updates on the district, dubbed “The Mariemont Minute.”

He recently added podcasts to the mix. The audio recordings, which are about 10 to 15 minutes long and are available on SoundCloud, feature topics such as collaborative learning environments and the district’s quality profile report.

Estepp also encourages building administrators and other staff members to explore various avenues of connecting with the community via digital platforms.

“We have invested a lot of time increasing our presence on social media,” he said.

Even with all the digital platforms already being utilized, he continues to look for more platforms to share the district’s story. District officials currently are working to revise Mariemont City Schools’ app, which they plan to launch in 2017. The new app will allow more opportunities to interact and offer feedback to the district’s leaders.

“We are always looking for, you know, ways to improve our communication efforts as well as to reach more people,” Estepp said.

His innovative communication efforts stood out so much he recently was selected by the National School Public Relations Association as a Superintendent to Watch, thanks to a nomination from McKenrick.

The association recognizes up to 25 superintendents who use “dynamic, fast-paced leadership with strong communication at its core.” Estepp was one of 24 superintendents selected this year for the recognition and one of only two in Ohio to make the list.

“I think it reflects on him because Steve has this drive and this passion for education that transcends just data,” McKenrick said.

“He really is passionate about bringing everybody in and making sure everyone is part of communication about what’s going on in our schools,” she said.

While his innovative approach to digital communication was the primary reason for his nomination and selection, he also emphasizes and excels at face-to-face communication.

“His most effective outreach communitywide is still one-on-one in person,” Flynn said.

“My effort really has been to try to amplify both our digital communication and our face-to-face communication,” Estepp said.

It’s not uncommon for him to engage with community members outside of the usual setting of a school board meeting.

He holds informal school chats at school buildings, coffee shops and restaurants, during which there is no agenda, and community members can approach him with questions or concerns. He sometimes does in-home chats with individuals as well, to discuss more specific topics in detail.

“We want our community to feel like they are an important part of our district,” McKenrick said.

Estepp is particularly proud of his community outreach efforts through the Warrior Club, which aims to engage older community members who don’t have children in the district. Members receive newsletters with district updates and free admission to athletic and performing arts events in the district. They also are invited to an annual breakfast, where they get to hear about what’s going on in the district.

“It also says a lot about our community because it’s a community that wants to be engaged with us,” Estepp said.

Regardless of the platform, the audience or the setting, he is articulate, engaging and excited to share the district’s story, Flynn said.

“It really is a brilliant use of all the tools and all the strategies,” he said.