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In Conversation With ... Jared Revlett

Jared Revlett

Kentucky School Advocate
January 2023

In Conversation With features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate.

Jared Revlett returned to his hometown five years ago to become public information officer for Owensboro Independent. He spent more than five years as a broadcaster for several sports teams and worked for a public relations firm in Louisville. He’s been recognized for his professional leadership with a national award and is currently president of the Kentucky School Public Relations Association.

Q. Your communications career began in sports. Why and how did you make the shift to school public relations?

A. 
When I was at Hanover College, I did sports radio there and for area high schools and covered auto racing. After I graduated in 2012, I worked for Lipscomb University in Nashville, an independent baseball team in Illinois and a minor-league team in Lynchburg, Va. In 2015, at 26, I was still the number two broadcaster in Lynchburg, making $750 a month and living with a host family, so I got a job with Tandem Public Relations in Louisville, representing clients like the Louisville Slugger Museum and the Kentucky Center for the Arts. Two years later, my sister sent a description for this job. I was hesitant to apply. The last place I thought I would want to come back to was Owensboro, my hometown.

Q. But you did. What made you give it a shot?

A. 
I had visited and realized how far Owensboro had come since I’d left, with the riverfront and other development and many more people my age coming here to live. I had moved like 12 times in eight years and was ready to set some roots down. At the interview, I knew most of the people in the room from my time in Daviess County schools. I felt like I was coming into a group that knew me, believed I could do the job and was going to trust me to do my thing. It’s been a good five years.

Q. Matthew Constant, who is now superintendent, was your principal in high school. What’s it like to work with your former principal?

A. 
I was a thorn in his side back then; I was loud and rowdy. Now we work closely together every day. It is interesting to work side by side with somebody who I gave such a hard time in high school. When I came on, Nick Brake was superintendent. He told me this position is basically the superintendent’s chief of staff, and you have to make sure the messaging reflects him and the district.

Q. You’re president of the Kentucky School Public Relations Association (KYSPRA), which had dwindled but is thriving again. How did you and other members bring it back?

A. 
A lot of KYSPRA members were approaching retirement or had retired, so younger members got involved on the board and as officers. We looked at what we were providing members and what we were spending money on. We realized we needed to provide more educational content. The organization was struggling financially, so we began having our conferences at central offices and got quality speakers who were free. KDE and Commissioner Glass helped by creating a listserv, which allowed our members to connect and share information. We revamped our board. Each of our seven members is responsible for a region and talks to districts in the region about our organization and its value. Our educational co-ops can now be members. We’re looking at the possibility of dual membership with the Public Relations Society of America. I feel you can always learn from others in the field, even if they don’t work directly in education. A lot of the skills I gained working for Tandem transferred to my work in education. I’m in my second year as president; our board changed the bylaws last year so a president can serve longer. It helps create a sense of stability.

Q. Membership has grown in the past two years to 122. What types of annual memberships are offered?

A. 
Individual membership, aimed at a district’s communications person, is $40. A $100 institutional membership allows a district to have up to three staff as members. Our $75 associate memberships are for those with a connection to education, like a communication consulting firm. There are student memberships for districts that might have interns from area colleges. They are $25.

Q. Why is it so important for PR professionals to connect with other district PR people?

Kentucky School Public Relations Association board members at the association’s fall conference in Lexington. From left, Caryn Lewis, Hillary Wright-Kaufman, Candace Gibson, Leslie McCoy, Megan Mortis, Toni Konz-Tatman, Molly Barnett, Jared Revlett, Jason Simpson and Carla Kersey. (Provided by KYSPRA) 

 

A. 
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s something new that pops up. PR people want to be able to talk to somebody they trust who has been there before. Some of this is shared on the listserv, but it is also shared by building relationships with those in your profession. The pandemic was hard on everybody because things were always changing. You felt like you couldn’t communicate without offending somebody. During COVID, our association saw a lot of growth because people just didn’t know which way to turn. Everybody bounced ideas off each other and used each other’s templates and press releases. At the two conferences KYSPRA has each year, we’ve put together strong speakers who provide good tools, and we also are getting sponsors for evening social events at conferences so everybody can get out and get to know one another.

Q. You were named one of the top 35 school PR professionals under 35 for 2020-21. How did that feel?

A. 
That was a rough year. We were the first district in the state that had a staff member test positive. I couldn’t reach out and say, “Hey, who’s got a template?” So whatever we put together, I shared on the listserv and on the Facebook school PR group. I told them, “You are going to need this; tweak it however you want.” KDE even used some of our templates. The award kind of put a bow on all the hard work that everybody did across the state.

Q. January is School Board Recognition Month. Describe some ways you promote your school board to the media and the community during that month.

A.
In Owensboro, there are two districts, Owensboro Independent, and Daviess County, so my counterpart at Daviess County and I put together a letter to the editor for the local newspaper that thanks both school boards. Our schools usually do thank you notes and other recognitions for school board members. But we don’t have to do a lot to praise our school board because they do such a good job of getting out and being in the community. Ever since she started serving, our board chair has volunteered almost every day in the schools. Our members walk the walk.

Q. There’s much talk about “failing public schools.” Do you have tips on how board members can help combat that narrative in their communities?

A. 
When people say schools are failing, they are often just repeating talking points that they’ve read or heard. I would ask them, “When was the last time you came to a parent meeting or attended an event at school or attended a school board meeting?” Encourage them to be involved, to get out and see for themselves. Otherwise, it’s easy to fall into that trap of reading something online and taking it as gospel.

Q. Why is it important for school board members and school administrators to have a PR professional like you working for the district?

A. 
Since March 2020, more school districts have realized they need a full-time communications person. The pandemic opened eyes to the fact we need somebody who can craft messaging, without all the fluffy acronyms, and let people know what is going on, on a level that is easy for everyone to understand and by methods that reach different people. Not everyone has Facebook or a smartphone. We also build relationships with the media. And when, God forbid, something traumatic happens, you want somebody who has experience in crisis communications.

Q. In addition to your day job, you are on the board of Girls Incorporated. Tell us about that.

A.
It is a national organization that has been in Owensboro for decades and inspires young women to be strong, smart and bold. The program is for all girls, but a lot of them are from low-income families. Most of the girls served come from our school district so I help bridge the gap between the schools and the organization. We do a lot of partnerships with them on programming to provide experiences that girls wouldn't necessarily always have, like talks by a local caterer or a female judge. Also, Girls Incorporated wants its facility to be safe, so I’ve connected them with our school safety resources. We start each board meeting with a success story. A recent one was about a former participant who is now finishing her doctorate.

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