Dear Jennifer Sprague: Feeding Principals Empty Catchphrases Does Not Count As Communications

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Jennifer Sprague
With the school year underway and Mike Miles' graphically detailed list of all the ways that DISD fails, it's been easy to forget about communication chief Jennifer Sprague's short resume, outlandish salary, and her cringe-worthy performance at her first board meeting this summer.

But lest you forget about Sprague entirely, Matthew Haag brings us a reminder today in the Morning News.

Haag reports:

In recent weeks, DISD communications chief Jennifer Sprague has distributed fliers to principals and assistant principals that coach them on how to best communicate with parents and community members. The multipage brochure recommends "power words," "acknowledgement phrases" and "headlines" in communicating with parents.

Specifically, school administrators should be sure to lard their conversations with phrases like "We are all about improving student performance and the quality of instruction; that is the expectation," and "Destination 2020 will take five to eight years to achieve, but we will make significant progress in one year."

If you think this makes the principals sound like poorly programmed robots, you're right. If it reminds you of a vision of an Orwellian dystopia in which truth and free thought are subverted through the manipulation of language, you're also right. The phrases were crafted with the help of Merrie Spaeth of Spaeth Communications, who helped torpedo John Kerry's campaign with the Swift Boat ads. And finally, if you think its ridiculous that the $185,000-per-year communications director can't come up with a list of anodyne catch phrases, then you're also right.

Creating a positive image of the district is a legitimate goal, but the way to achieve it isn't to feed the community stockpiled bullshit from a poorly written script. DISD should shoot straight with parents. They deserve at least that much.

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42 comments
pizzer
pizzer

its the way the leftists talk down to you

 

plaster on that fake smile and tell you to go away

 

 

teachers can become independent contractors and sign contracts with the parents

 

limiting the class size

agreeing on the agenda taught

 

no more admin middle men to deal with

 

of course that would take parents who actually care about their children

 

I wont hold my breath

lg71050
lg71050

Sam Spade" The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter."

DISDTeacher
DISDTeacher

The surreal quality of DISD reached new and actually entertaining heights with this episode.

It's a creepy, Kim Jong Il-type of approach and now all of Dallas gets to see what parents, kids, and teachers are dealing with.

 

The creepiest comment is the one that says something about how the Dear Leader's plan will bring stability and a clear direction to the district.

 

Really?

Miles has been telling everyone who will listen to expect 30% turnover (3,000 teachers on top of the chemistry teacher Rangel girls already don't have).  How is that stability?

 

I pity the principals who have to tell parents at a school with a drug-ring not to worry...the superintendent's plan will bring stability and a clear direction to the district."

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Her verbiage is the spawn of feminism and political correctness.  Deal with it.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

DISD is implementing a new communications paradigm that will facilitate interfacing between individual administrative units and inflowing stakeholders by establishing essential parameters to enhance the delivering of  mission-critical verbal data in a manner consistent with organizational principles and objectives.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I've got a catchy little diddy for them:

 

Miles to go.

 

Take that how you will.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

I hope this woman can suck-start a Harley, because if she can't, I can't see any other reason for hiring her at all, much less at the salary she's getting.

raymondcrawford
raymondcrawford

This reminds me of when Mike Rawlings/Paula Blackmon had Frank Luntz school the City Council on methods of 're packaging' their words last year. Then last Friday, 'ol Frank shows up on Bill Maher. Watching it just confirmed how dangerous this guy is, and gives me serious pause as to why Mike thinks that he is so great and why he should be paid to speak to the Council.

Watch this:http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2012/10/06/frank_luntz_talks_to_maher_about_polls_debate__focus_groups.html

TitusGroan
TitusGroan

Communications should stress the Holy Trinity - the student, parent, & teacher.  That's the unit that builds a classroom, which builds a school, which builds a district.  Top-down psychobabble is insulting.

WylieH
WylieH

Does she still chew bubble gum (really!!!) when appearing in front of the Board?

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

These principals are incredibly bad at communication. I doubt they even know some basics, probably still drawing on public speaking class in high school. Corporate communications are totally different. You start with the impact you want to make, the message to create that impact, and what key factors that support that message. From my perspective, it looks like she recognizes that Supe communications is not going to get it done. The tier of management that the public sees most often, principals, has to get its act together. The supe is in charge. He sets policy. The principals, in communications, need to demonstrate they undstand his direction and then provide local info on how they will implement. If they disagree with the policy, they better find another job or run for cool board. You may call that direction robotic. I call it getting hired managers in line with policy approved by elected officials.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

I bet she's even less eloquent in her frequent Facebook posts complaining about how hard her job is.

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

If you can't dazzle them with brilliance Baffle them with Bullshit !

jerikjonsson
jerikjonsson

Many years ago, the TEA did a similar thing for classroom teachers.  It published two lists: one was positive reinforcement phrases to use in praise of students who performed well; the other was constructive criticism phrases to help students without hurting their feelings.  I had a brilliant physics teacher who posted both lists on his bulletin board at the front of the room and instead of issuing the prescribed praise or criticism himself, he would send the student to the front of the class to pick out his own praise or criticism to read aloud to the class.  Hilarious.

 

Anyway, you can (and probably should) ridicule such clumsy attempts to improve principals' communication skills, but the reason we see efforts like these is that principals are sometimes so incredibly bad at getting these points across. 

Daniel
Daniel

"Power words" and "acknowledgement phrases"? Jesus Christ, they could just log into some B-list webinar for about $150 and get better communications coaching than that.

observist
observist topcommenter

So in addition to her $185,000 salary, DISD has to pay an external consultant to actually do her work... and poorly at that.  Where is this on Miles' list of DISD fails?

 

Meanwhile, parents of DISD kids are given a list of supplies to purchase in order to stock the classrooms at the beginning of the year.  The school doesn't provide construction paper, pencils, glue, kleenex, paper towels, scissors or much of anything that might be considered standard classroom supplies.

Edward
Edward

It still amazes me that her tone-deaf hiring even happened. Her limited experience wouldn't get her hired anywhere comparable, and certainly not at that salary.

 

It's a shameful decision by the new superintendent, which I think clouds everything else he does. In other words: if he was dumb enough to hire her, then what else is a dumb enough to do?

 

And Spaeth is just an embarrassment to the PR industry as a whole.

Double-O-Joe
Double-O-Joe

 @holmantx 

Her verbiage is the bastard child of corporate buzzword bingo and the desire to use big words that don't have any concrete meaning.  Real communications professionals, who aren't employed as PR hacks or hand puppets, recognize this kind of empty babble and bang their heads on the desk.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

 @FormerDISDparent As if Hinojosa ever shot straight with anyone. Title 1. Signing his kid up for programs intended for low-income students. Test score "improvements." Seriously.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @RTGolden1 She's not my cup of tea, but at least she's not ugly.  When you reflect on Clinton/Monica, you gotta think that dude works hard. 

DISDTeacher
DISDTeacher

 @MikeWestEast The principals are incredibly bad at communication?  And this is an example of GOOD communication?

 

Also, I guess you've never met Anita Hardwick, Brian Lusk, Kyle Richardson, and dozens of other principals.

 

Brian Lusk should have been our superintendent.  

Too bad the trustees pay more attention to vendors, contractors, and campaign contributors than they do to the really exceptional personnel we already have living here, successful, and committed to Dallas.

 

notinademocracy
notinademocracy

 @MikeWestEast 

Jennifer-Here is a small civics lesson for you. The superintendent is not a policy maker. The board of trustees passes policy. This small little detail makes Miles an employee of the district, just like teachers.

Second-the school district is not a corporation. It is run by elected trustees who can be removed from office.

Swift boating the public is not part of Sprague's role. It certainly isn't in the code of conduct for educators in Texas.

Sprague wants to go work for a corporation--she certainly needs to be cut loose. She is a huge liability as is Miles.

notinademocracy
notinademocracy

 @jerikjonsson No, the reason we see these antics is that Miles wants future votes and he is practicing with major league political operatives for his future career moves. He doesn't understand he just stepped in major dookey.

What exact points are principals supposed to communicate to the public? That Herr Leader understands all and knows all. That is indoctrination.

notinademocracy
notinademocracy

 @observist And the young high school women of Rangel have three hours of study hall because the dork hired by Miles doesn't know how to hire teachers.

The entire experiment by the Mayor is one big fail.

ShuTheFfingBrianLusk
ShuTheFfingBrianLusk

 @DISDTeacher  @MikeWestEast

 Brian Lusk a what?? Superintendent? Are you crazy? This man never step foot a low performing high school. Stop posting, Brian Lusk, so egotistical, and so white of you.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

@notinademocracy @MikeWestEast 1. My name is not Jennifer. 2. The supe is the CEO and my definition, creates the policies, subject to board approval, that drive the organization. The fact that many people including senior management do not grasp a fundamental organizational tenet is just one of numerous reasons why DISD has remained a mediocre organization. I have no idea what swift boating has to do with communicating direction within an organization.

Edward
Edward

 @notinademocracy And also the answer to the crossword puzzle question: "Who is more evil than Carol Reed?"

DISDTeacher
DISDTeacher

 @nonsense  @MikeWestEast  @notinademocracy The board is elected and it is supposed to reflect what parents and taxpayers want--not what Mike Miles or any other hit-and-run, politician wannabe thinks policy should be.  The board is supposed to set policy.  

 

The superintendent works for me.  Dallas taxpayers currently finance whatever his lame ideas are, but that's bc the trustees have completely sold out the kids of this city.

 

Did it never occur to you that DISD bureaucrats understand your "tenet" of organization all too well and that's what's caused all the problems?

 

How many more superintendents and how many more decades of failure will have to pass before this ludicrous "tenet" (an excuse to loot tax dollars) is seen for what it is?

nonsense
nonsense

 @MikeWestEast  @notinademocracy   .

No one gives a rat's ass about your definitions. The board is elected and makes policy. Miles is supposed to obey board policy. This is a school board, not a corporate board, idiot. DISD has remained mediocre because the Dallas bidness community thinks it is an open check book for vendors and corrupt board members.

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