City of Fairfax Schools: PR Mission
Hope Katz Gibbs
Director of Communications
City of Fairfax Schools
November 2002 to present
Challenge: When I went in for my interview for a job as the Director of Communications for the City of Fairfax Schools in the fall of 2002, Superintendent George Stepp asked one question.
“We want to rebuild Lanier Middle School and Fairfax High in two years, and we need to pass an $86 million bond. Eight percent of the 14,000 City residents don’t have children in the schools, however. How are we going to show them all the good work we’re doing—and why we need to pass this bond to reconstruct these aging schools.”
Solution: My immediate response was to give residents—and parents, too—an inside look into what goes on in the schools. The School Board had started a newsletter the year before, and it was the perfect vehicle to get the word out. So I proposed the following:
“In the 8-pages of the newsletter we’ll tell the story bimonthly of what goes on K-12,” I said. “We’ll highlight important issues in education—such as the SOLs and the No Child Left Behind legislation. We’ll show people the great things that teachers and students are accomplishing—the things they normally wouldn’t have access to.”
We put out the next issue of Close-Up in November 2002 [see below]. The cover story illustrated Mr. Stepp’s ideal of “Great Expectations“—his contagious goal.
Results: Since then, the $86 million bond was passed. Fairfax High’s renovation was completed in the fall of 2007. The new Lanier Middle School will be complete in May 2008.
Close-Up has won about half a dozen awards, including two first place “Awards of Excellence” for Publications from the National Schools Public Relations Association.
BELOW you’ll find examples of some of my favorite issues that our editorial team has produced since 2002. Cover story topics have ranged from the SOLs and NCLB to the school’s fine arts and music programs, what it means to be “smart” in terms of Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences—and Colin Powell was the graduation speaker at Fairfax High’s 2006 ceremony.
I am most proud of the four-part series we created in 2007, “Building Blocks: What your child needs to know by the end of 12th grade.” I worked on these cover stories with George Stepp and his team of educators: Jan Mulvaney, Carole Kihm, the City School principals (Joy Hanbury, Kathy Mullenix, Scott Poole, and Scott Brabrand) and School Board Chairman Janice Miller.
We spoke to teachers from k-12 about what kids need to know by the end of each grade level—and what their parents need to know, too.
Mr. Stepp retired just after the last issue went to press, but confided that this cover series got to the heart of the message he was trying to convey to parents and the community when we started on our journey back in 2002.
Superintendent Ann Monday—another educator with decades of experience and insight—has taken over the helm at the City Schools. The issues created under her tutelage appear at the top of the list of the City Schools Close-Up, in the Newslettter section of the website.
I invite you to keep checking back for regular updates on what we’re up to in the City Schools.
Below, for nostalgia sake, is that first cover story I wrote with Mr. Stepp …
by Hope Katz Gibbs
Editor / City School Close-Up
Cover story, November-December 2002
“If, as parents and educators, we expect greatness from our kids, I am confident they will expect greatness from themselves.” — George Stepp, Superintendent, City of Fairfax Schools
STUDENTS POURED INTO FAIRFAX CITY Schools on Sept. 3 with book bags filled with new packages of crayons, markers, pens and notebooks symbols of the infinite potential of the new school year. Anything seemed possible, and indeed it is, says City Schools Superintendent George Stepp.
He and the City of Fairfax School Board, principals and teachers are determined that students from kindergarten through grade 12 strive for the highest academic achievements.
“I believe children are amazingly intelligent and can learn much more than adults sometimes expect,” Mr. Stepp explains. “However, I also believe children will only achieve their maximum potential if parents are involved in the education process.”
That’s where the Close-Up newsletter plays a part. Under the guidance of Mr. Stepp and the School Board, we’ll annually publish six newsletters to explain the importance of the subjects students are learning and how, as parents and guardians, you can best guide your children through the education process.
“As a parent myself, I know how important it is to stay on top of what is going on at your child’s school,” says Janice Miller, School Board Chairman. “With the help of Close-Up, we’ll explain what you can do to help your children succeed.”
Paula Johnson, the Fairfax City Schools/George Mason University coordinator of field relations, believes every student attending Fairfax City Schools has the potential to be an academic superstar.
“Our goal is to ensure students have the opportunity to take algebra and a language in the 8th grade, advanced placement courses in high school, among other academic opportunities,” Johnson says.
So join us as we bring you inside the City of Fairfax Schools. Hopefully, we’ll all learn something.—Hope Katz Gibbs, editor, City School Close-Up