Sunday, September 26, 2004

Newport schools polishing up

District's combating misperceptions

By Mike Rutledge
Enquirer staff writer

Bill Shamblin (right), the new communications manager for the Newport School District, speaks with Superintendent Michael Brandt.
The Enquirer/ SARAH CONARD
NEWPORT - One of the Mansion Hill parents who founded a group last year to force improvements at the Newport Independent Schools now will be working on the inside.

As the district's new full-time director of communications, Bill Shamblin plans to share some of the pleasant surprises he found when he and others started investigating the school district's bad reputation.

"Basically what we're trying to do is, we have to make up for years of misperceptions," Shamblin said Friday, seven days after he started at the new, $72,000-per-year position. "Ninety percent of our problems would be solved if we could get people to walk through our doors."

For example, outsiders would be surprised how clean the schools are, he said. "Anybody that wants, I'll go in and put a sandwich on the floor and eat it." People interested in touring the schools can call him at (859) 292-3047.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Michael Brandt has a promise for parents: "We will run high academics and programming, and we will have extremely safe and orderly schools."

Shamblin, 42, has marketing and advertising experience with Procter & Gamble and several other local firms. He and other "upscale" parents were pleasantly surprised after they formed the Community Partnership for Newport Independent Schools because they wanted the school system to be one where they felt confident sending their children.

Their other options were to move out of the city - and the homes they loved - or to send their children to private schools.

"I think we're losing out on a lot of good students and a lot of engaged parents," the parent group's president, Ed Hall, said of those who move or choose private schools. "They're not even looking at the district as a viable option."

District and city officials see much promise in the hiring of Brandt. When they hired him, they made clear they wanted also to hire a full-time marketer to help lift the district's reputation, said Tete Turner, school board chairman.

Earlier efforts at public relations using part-time people had been unsuccessful.

"We knew that something had to be done," Turner said, because there was a disconnect between the district and the community. "After having worked with Shamblin over the past six to seven months, I thought it was a good choice, a very wise choice."

Brandt himself "can't be the sole communicator. It takes a professional to get this job done," Turner said.

Already since Brandt's arrival, the formerly cool relationship between the district and city government has warmed.

The city and school district cooperated to spend $30,000 to hire School Match, a Worthington, Ohio, company that will compare the Newport district's achievements against the top 15-20 percent of small public urban districts nationwide. The goal is to show how Newport can join that group.

"We believe the district has a tremendous amount of great things going on, and many of them are not well publicized," Brandt said.


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