ClassTag Connect / Jun 23, 2023

Educational Leader Insights for 2023: ProfessionalED CommUnity Builders Brent Jaco and Nydia Natividad

Leadership and Communication With Brent Jaco and Nydia Natividad

In education, we value a good pair duo. Pen and paper, lunch and recess, teaching and learning, and nowadays, more than ever, district leadership and communication.

The truth is that in today’s digital age, effective communication and strategic media management are playing a more pivotal role in shaping the success and reputation of educational institutions. 

That’s why we sat down with Brent Jaco, the Superintendent of Schools, and Nydia Natividad, the Director of Media & Communications (both at PECOS-BARSTOW-TOYAH ISD). Together, they are doing an exceptional job in leveraging digital platforms and creating engaging content to enhance the district’s image and engage their community. Their strategic approach to media management and ability to effectively communicate the district’s values and achievements have been instrumental in strengthening the district’s brand and fostering positive relationships in recent years.

In this ClassTag CommUnity chat, Jaco and Natividad discuss how they engage with the community, how communication is transforming their campus, and communication inspirations.

What would you say makes your school community unique? 

Jaco: Our community is over 90% Hispanic. Roughly about 72% of our student body is low socioeconomic. We cover a vast area out here in far West Texas– we’ve consolidated with two other districts over the course of several years, so now we are Pecos Barstow Toya. Barstow and Toya are our neighboring communities. So, we cover a lot of area, not just Pecos, but have to reach different communities as well.

Natividad: Yeah, we’re in an oil field community, so there’s a lot of coming and going. I think that’s what makes us really unique as well. We have oil field workers coming and deciding to bring their families out here for their students to come to school here. Additionally, we also have some people that will immigrate here. It’s a very diverse broad community that spans large reaches of the land. 

What initiatives are you currently working on to build community? 

Natividad: That was a big challenge when I came here– to build that community, because of where we are in far West Texas and the vast populations (and the area) that we cover. Communication’s difficult because we don’t have access to broadband internet very well and so that really limits us and how we communicate, and what we need to do to communicate. 

Telephone service is limited in many parts of our area as well too so it’s created a lot of challenges, but we tried to hit the ground running. We did a lot of communication, whether it was through email or old via snail mail, and tried to find a system that would help us and support us. And you know, ClassTag really, really helped deliver on that and was a big plus for us with regards to their different channels and how they can help support us with making our communication process easier.

That’s great news. Why do you use a metaphor of a three-legged stool for student success?  

Jaco: You know, I really believe we are a three-legged stool in the sense that we have to have strong schools, strong parents, and a strong community that holds up those kids. It takes all of us collectively to support our students and to make our community better and stronger going forward. 

We have to have strong partnerships with our parents and we have to have strong partnerships with our community and we have worked to do that in Pecos and the PBT ISD district. We have really worked hard to partner with not only the Pecos community but also our surrounding communities as well in supporting our students and building partnerships with our parents. 

What is your strategic plan right now when it comes to building community?

Jaco: Well I have learned that it doesn’t really matter how you communicate, somebody always seems to miss the message. And so, or for whatever reason, it may be but with that philosophy or that mindset we work to try to get that message out in multiple ways to close those gaps as much as possible. Nydia has done a great job with some of the programs and things that she has put into place to help us get our message out.

Natividad: So within my few years here, we have implemented a print magazine again, going back to our snail mail here in the Pecos Community. We do have a population that doesn’t have internet or a computer at home. My grandma is 75, and would not even know how to work a computer. That’s what some of our population looks like out here in the greater Pecos Reeves County community. 

So we decided to start printing out an Eagle Insider magazine. It’s a little short 15-page magazine that we send directly out because we want them to know what news is going on if they’re not on the internet. If they’re not on social media, we’re bringing stories directly to their door and on that, I got a lot of great feedback from community members. They enjoyed seeing the full-color, the pictures. If they’re not on social media, again they got to see a full three-page update of the construction projects we had going on this summer. 

Additionally in other digital aspects, we are in a digital world. We have implemented digital newsletters at our campus parent level. We’ve been sending those out bi-weekly. Those are called The Eagle Echo. Additionally, I’m starting to look into doing a community engagement digital newsletter where I will email that out to subscribers within the community who aren’t parents where we get to brag on the amazing stories and things happening here in PBC ISD.  

[We are also creating] other informational things for people to keep them informed. I started a board brief newsletter. Board meetings (we know those meetings are long) can be really information-heavy, so I’ve been summarizing them for community members who can’t make it out to the board meeting so they have a full-fledged summary. That’s exactly line item by agenda item. Additionally, we’re going to start live-streaming our board meetings.

We want there to be an open line of communication and additionally just to open up to be more transparent with the community, you know, it is a small community. Words can travel fast, even if they are incorrect words, and we want to allow people to have the resources to find out information for themselves.

Tell us about the decision to translate the magazine. 

Natividad: Yes, so I did it as a flip book so if you flip it upside down. You’re actually reading the entire English portion exactly the same in Spanish when doing translations… So we did that because we also have a large Spanish-speaking population and parents. We had an open house last month and… I realized they need their needs met as well, along with our English-speaking parents. Just as much [….]

We’ll have another one coming out right before the Christmas holiday break in mid-December we’ll have another one come out and then we’ll have one come out around late March, mid-may mid-April. 

Who do you look to for inspiration in district leadership and communication? 

Jaco: A district that comes to mind is one of my former districts and my mentor, Danny Massey, who’s the superintendent at Brazosport ISD and Clute Lake Jackson, about an hour south of Houston. He has done a phenomenal job of building Community in that District. He’s a master of social media and has done a great job and then out here in West Texas. 

Dr. Scott Murray at Ector County ISD has also done a tremendous job of [ district leadership and communication ] building community up in Nectar County, a challenging place to do so, but he has done a lot of great work up there to build community. Steve Snell who is in Liberty Hill ISD in Central Texas is another person that has done a great job of building a community in a community that is growing fast, which creates a whole other set of challenges.

Natividad: So from a social media standpoint, based on content creation rollout, I have a couple of districts I love looking at for inspiration [ with district leadership and communication ]. One is going to be El Paso ISD, just three hours away from us. 

They have an outstanding social media website involvement– they’re TikTok famous in my book. I love watching magic talks. Another District I enjoy looking at is Garland ISD. Their team there is fantastic. They’re also really social media savvy out there. 

What do you think it means to be a Community Builder in your district? 

Jaco: We recognize that we collect tax dollars and so we have to be understanding of that and go out and support our community. We let them know that the tax dollars that they’re working hard to earn are going to good use and supporting their kids that are part of this community. And that we are being financially responsible that we’re spending the money in the right way and that we’re making good decisions to not only support our students but also support our community as a whole. 

We feel like we’re on the path of doing that with the rebuilding of our campuses with improving academics and supporting our kids. We’re increasing activity opportunities and extracurricular opportunities for our kids– we feel like we’re doing that.

To me, that’s what a Community Builder is. It is somebody that is looking to make our community better. How do we make the youth of the community have a place where they can grow and prosper? And, like Nydia, come back and support this community once they’ve graduated and gotten additional education?

Natividad: You know, I’d say almost the same sentiment. Being a community builder is really being that champion of everyone in the community. Champion of having an open line of communication, champion of being a transparent Communicator, champion of student outcomes and success… just being a champion for everyone. You’re also a cheerleader to everyone, no matter what, you’re going to cheer them on. You’re going to pump them up, you’re going to tell them, “Hey, come here. Our doors are open. Come speak with us…”

For more ProfessionalED CommUnity Builders on district leadership and communication, read and watch Sarah Norman talking about where educational leaders should turn their focus in 2023. 

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