Meghan Baule had logged hours preparing this year’s kick-off presentation for Colchester School District’s faculty and staff. From short video clips to PowerPoint slides, she thought she had the “opening ceremonies” show planned to the second.
That is, until superintendent Amy Minor called her up on stage from the sound booth at the back of the auditorium to be recognized.
Baule said her face turned red as a tomato as Minor told the assembled group Baule’s 2017 “Report to the Community” had received an award of excellence from the National School Public Relations Association.
“I am absolutely in love with this district,” Baule said from her office last week, glancing out a window that overlooks the high school. “The support has been phenomenal.”
Baule, a Shelburne resident, is the woman behind the district’s social media pages, redesigned websites, aesthetically designed mailings and more. She took her place in the central office last October and has completely revamped the schools’ communications strategy.
Before that, she worked for nine years as an emergency dispatcher for the Burlington Police Department. She first took that job after logging a two-year stint with the local NBC affiliate.
Though she longed to insert more creativity in her day-to-day work, Baule worried it would be difficult to find a job that used her background in both crisis management and television production.
The CSD posting for a hybrid communications director and executive assistant checked both boxes, Baule said.
Minor developed the position shortly after stepping into her new leadership role last year, adding Colchester to the list of schools with dedicated communications staffers.
“I heard loud and clear [from residents] that they wanted a superintendent that was accessible,” Minor said. “You need to have someone focused on getting out what’s going on.”
It’s a far cry from methods practiced in past years, when Baule said most districts stayed far away from social media and promotion efforts.
“[Now], people of all ages are using social media, and that’s where they’re congregating,” Baule said. “You have all these different platforms that need to be communicated and it’s just got to the point where you need someone to be able to manage it and be responsive.”
With an increased presence, the number of followers keeping tabs on the district’s social media pages has skyrocketed, moving from 437 and 106 on Facebook and Twitter, respectively, to 1,095 and 249 as of press time.
Through the sites, Baule can answer parent questions, relay important documents and share photos and short videos she’s produced after visiting classrooms around town.
“People are expecting immediate communication nowadays,” Baule said. “They want someone or a district to be super responsive to their specific question or their specific concern.”
Her most viral clip shows students singing “Happy Birthday” to a CSD food service worker on her 80th birthday last year.
“She is promoting all of us,” Minor said of Baule’s work. “It’s really helping us to tell the story of Colchester, and it’s helping us to tell the story of who we are.”
Baule has put her prior experience to use when updating the district’s crisis communication and safety plans, too. Knowing what emergency personnel and civilians alike will want to know has proven invaluable, she said.
“Schools going into lockdown — we saw it last spring in our area. It’s a real thing, and our administrators, our leadership teams and our first responders need to focus on the investigation,” Baule said. “But at the same time … communicating to the families who have children in our buildings is, I would argue, just as important.”
Though she’s proud of the strides the district has made, Baule acknowledged most of their followers have — or recently had — children in Colchester schools.
That was an especially important realization when prepping for Town Meeting Day, Baule said, and the driving force behind the award-winning Report to the Community.
“The majority of the taxes in Colchester go to the school district,” Baule said. “We have a responsibility to our citizens to be really transparent with them and let them know that their money, they’re investing in our kids who are going to be future members of this community.”
And though the finished product looks incredibly polished, Baule said she worked hard to get up to speed on how schools function behind the scenes, especially how “high stakes” budgets are crafted.
With one successful vote under her belt, Baule said she’s already planning the 2018 report.
That experience is largely why Baule says she can’t wait to complete the first full year of her job: By October, she’ll have seen every school day once.