Mehlville School District officials fill new communications post

‘Too many stories to get out for one person,’ communications director says

By BURKE WASSON

To improve its community outreach, Mehlville School District officials have filled the newly created position of communications coordinator.

Superintendent Terry Noble said the Board of Education was scheduled to consider $40,000 in annual compensation for new Communications Coordinator Robin Anderson when it meets today — Jan. 15.

Anderson was scheduled to begin work at Mehlville on Monday, Jan. 12, according to Communications Director Emily McFarland, who said Anderson was the top pick of 150 applicants — roughly half of whom were qualified for the post.

The district advertised the position beginning Nov. 25 on the Public Relations Society of America’s Web site and set an application deadline of Dec. 5.

McFarland said Anderson has had several internships, most recently a six-month internship with the communications firm Standing Partnership.

Anderson is a 2008 graduate of Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where she received a bachelor’s degree in public-relations communications.

Her experience as an intern includes stints at the Alton (Ill.) Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Peoria (Ill.) Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, KETC Channel 9 in St. Louis, the Chicago (Ill.) Automobile Trade Association, the W.D. Boyce Council for the Boy Scouts of America and the Standing Partnership.

McFarland said Anderson has “a strong writing background” and will enable the district to publish more press releases and new stories in the district newsletter, the Mehlville Messenger.

“She’ll be going out to the schools a little more often than I have been able to do in the last couple months and getting some of those more positive, smaller stories out there,” McFarland said.

The Communications Department now will consist of McFarland as communications director, Anderson as communications coordinator and a secretarial position already filled.

Noble said the district needed to fill the void left when Jennifer Rolwes Volk of consulting firm UNICOM•ARC left Mehlville when her contract with the district expired Dec. 31.

“We’re just back to where we really were with two people in the department back when (former Director of School/Community Relations Patrick Wallace) was here and (former assistant) Kathy Smith was here,” he said.

“And they didn’t have a secretary, so what we did was we added a secretary first and we contracted with UNICOM to kind of fill the role of that other position. And as (Volk) is on her way out, we’re bringing in this other staff position.”

With Anderson’s hire, the district also is following through on recommendations from a communications audit of Mehlville completed last spring by UNICOM.

UNICOM’s communications audit recommended that the district hire a chief communications officer, community relations coordinator, communications and publications coordinator and communications new media coordinator.

With McFarland hired in 2008 as communications director, Noble said the district felt an obligation to hire an additional employee in the Communications Department and noted that most local school districts have five to six employees in a Communications Department.

The superintendent noted that Anderson would fill roles of three recommended positions as she will be writing press releases and news stories along with assisting in school Web sites’ updates.

“Communication will be more frequent and more thorough just because we’ve got more people to do it,” Noble said. “… We were anxious to get this next person. While it’s still not ideal, we think we’re a whole lot better today than we were a couple years ago having the staff that we’re going to have now.”

McFarland added that the communications-coordinator position is needed now because the district has “too many stories” for only herself to handle.

“The position is needed now because there’s just too many stories to get out for one person,” McFarland said. “Essentially, not counting the secretary, there’s just too many stories and too many communications that are needed to get out that one person, myself, couldn’t do. And the Web sites are not being maintained.

“… We want to try to get something on our Web sites and out every single day. And she’s going to be able to really help with that so I can focus more of my attention on more strategic public relations and positive news stories and going to committee meetings with our directors. It’ll be better to have a three-person department than a two-person department. So it’s really getting more of the positive news stories about Mehlville out.”

McFarland said this would result in increased communication and more training for school Web site coordinators. She said the Web sites currently do not have “a consistent look” and could use updates.

“Our Web site is not cutting edge in any way, shape or form,” McFarland said. “It needs to be updated, and we need to stay on our schools to update it. That’s where our parents go for information.

“I know when I’m searching for information about where to eat or anything, I go to the Web site first. So it’s my impression that the parents are probably doing the same thing for the schools. I would really like either myself or Robin to take that on as far as helping our schools stay updated with their Web site and hopefully sooner rather than later completely overhauling our Web site.”

Noble said the three “biggest concerns” he has heard since he started work in 2007 as Mehlville superintendent are a lack of resources, an inability to communicate and school/community relations.

With this in mind, Noble believes the position is needed as the district still could use improvement in communicating with the public.

“We have a responsibility and a need to be in constant and consistent two-way communication with our public,” Noble said. “It’s not good to go to the public just when we need something and then try to beef up communications.

“We need to be in that mode on a regular basis. And quite frankly, the more informed our public is, I think the more supportive they will be of our school district. So it builds on itself.”