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PenSPRA Annual Symposium

Save the date for the 2024 PenSPRA Symposium!

Join fellow communication professionals at the annual Symposium on Thursday, March 7, 2024, and Friday, March 8, 2024, at The Penn Stater Hotel & Conference Center in State College, PA!

Symposium Speakers

Keynote Speakers

Sondra Whalen, Director of Student Programs & Communications at Vernon Verona Sherrill Central School District

Presentation Title: Profile Your Audience Like an FBI Agent: Five Psychological Concepts to Take Your Communications to the Next Level

Presentation Overview: You know the art of communication, but do you know the cognitive psychology behind the concepts? Increase your PR expertise by learning the science of communicating and forging true connections with your audience. Attendees will walk away with the knowledge to sharpen their messaging, overcome invisible cognitive barriers, speak with authority on best practices and incorporate psychological considerations into their strategic communications.

Rebecca Bultsma, Artificial Intelligence (AI) Speaker, Trainer & Consultant and Director of Communications at Westwind School Division

Presentation Title: The One With ChatGPT: Making Friends with AI

Presentation Overview: Step into the future of School PR, where ethical AI use isn't just an option; it's essential. This session is your gateway to mastering AI in a way that upholds your values and the trust of your school community. We'll cover how AI can not only boost your School PR efforts but also align with the highest ethical standards.

Key topics include:

  • Ten Wow-Factor AI Uses in School PR: Discover groundbreaking AI applications for your every day work that go far beyond writing.
  • Ethical AI: Navigating the Minefield: Dive into the heart of AI's ethical challenges with current, real-life case studies. These aren't hypotheticals; they're the very issues shaping our field right now.
  • 'AI Adoption Playbook': Learn best practices for integrating AI into your workflow, ensuring transparency, and maintaining accountability.
Join us to not just stay current with AI trends, but to lead the way in responsible AI usage in School PR. Whether you're an experienced professional or new to AI, this session will provide you with a fresh, ethically-focused perspective on AI applications.

Additional Symposium Speakers

Mellissa Braham, Associate Director at NSPRA

Presentation Title: How School PR Can Meet the Employee Recruitment Challenge

Presentation Overview: The staffing situation is bleak for many school districts due to widespread competition for quality employees and their dissatisfaction with compensation and job expectations. Learn how school districts nationwide are responding to the crisis and what school communicators can do to help their districts tackle the employee recruitment challenge. In this hands-on session, you’ll learn how to create a research-backed  Employee Value Proposition that will elevate your recruitment messages and make your district’s employment opportunities stand out from the crowd.

Amy Buckman, Director of School & Community Relations at Lower Merion School District

Shawanna James-Coles, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at Lower Merion School District

Presentation Title: Building Blocks of Belonging

Presentation Overview: Learn about the strategic multi-pronged approach developed by the Lower Merion School District’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion and director of school and community relations to further the goals of the District’s Equity Policy and build a sense of belonging for all students and families. By sharing stories and messages about student and staff accomplishments and activities, the #LMSDBuildingBelonging campaign calls out how DEI concepts are embedded in all that the District does, knowing that children flourish when they feel a sense of safety and belonging. 

Mark Walz, Attorney and Partner at Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams LLP

Mark Cheramie Walz dedicates his work to the use of technology in education and advising practical solutions that reduce liability while harnessing the benefits of new technology. Mark frequently presents to school administrators, parents and students on the safe use of social networking and modern technology both in school and at home.

Mark has gained unique insight into computer and mobile phone forensics, social networking and the pitfalls of modern technologies.

Presentation Overview: Through this presentation, attendees will learn about social media, free speech and school communication, right to know and website accessibility.

Melissa Smith, Assistant Director of Communications, Marketing and Engagement at the Chester County Intermediate Unit  

Kevin Kaufman, Director of Communications and Development, Cheltenham School District

Presentation Title: Cheltenham School District: Crafting an Authentic Community Brand

Presentation Overview: Discover how Cheltenham School District is defining its identity under the leadership of a new superintendent and the support of an innovative strategic plan. Learn how community-led development of an authentic brand promise and messaging are creating a heartfelt brand narrative that resonates with the diverse voices and values within the Cheltenham community.

Panel Discussion

Moderator: Melissa Reese, Communications Manager at Allentown School District

Panelist 1:  Amy Buckman, Director of School & Community Relations at Lower Merion School District 

Panelist 2: Monique Braxton, Deputy Chief Communications at Philadelphia School District

Panelist 3Ashli Giles-Perkins, Staff Attorney at Education Law Center 

Topic: What Happens When the Crisis Goes National

Overview: What happens when your district goes national for the wrong reasons? Building great relationships with local media outlets comes naturally to many of us in this profession, but what happens when CNN, the New York Times or Netflix is at your doorstep? Learn how former media personalities and current PR professionals can navigate controversial topics such as book banning, famous alumni and more.

Gold Mine Sessions

Melissa Reese, Communications Manager at Allentown School District

Topic: Create Reels That Reach

Overview: Overwhelmed at the thought of Instagram Reels? You shouldn’t be! Learn how Allentown School District has incorporated an IG Reel strategy to catapult its student engagement and reach. These short-form videos are fun, engaging and will grow your followers. You’ll have the opportunity to create your first reel, observe different examples of school content and view the data that shows the significant reach that they create. Be ready to confidently take on this platform in 2024!

Jennifer Chicosky, Marketing & Community Engagement Manager at the Chester County Intermediate Unit

Topic: Leveraging Thinglink for Interactive Experiences

Overview: The session will guide participants on leveraging ThingLink to create interactive experiences that enhance engagement with processes or content. Additionally, attendees will learn how to utilize tracking analytics provided by ThingLink to gather insights and make informed enhancements for future iterations.

Nicole Mehta McGalla, Director of Communications and Community Engagement at Parkland School District

Topic: Engaging Faith Leaders for Cultural Diversity Training

Overview: For 13 years, Parkland School District has fostered multicultural awareness through a dedicated committee. This initiative has strengthened relationships with a diverse student body. Engaging faith leaders, the district hosts sessions such as "Everything You Want to Know about (insert faith), but Were Afraid to Ask." Recently, the district expanded collaborations to include a local religious studies program, launching an "Understanding our Neighbors" series of elementary books. Attend to learn how Parkland celebrates cultural and religious diversity, and share your community's resonating practices.

Kyle Wierks, Senior Account Executive at ThoughtExchange

Topic: Scaling Community Engagement

Overview: Learn more about how ThoughtExchange provides AI tools to analyze qualitative data and visualization tools to work with mass amounts of quantitative data from school engagements. Come have a conversation around how a tool like ThoughtExchange can make a difference in your district.

Chuck Paynter, Regional Sales Director at ParentSquare

Topic: How Many Tools Do Your Families Navigate to Stay Informed?

Overview: Explore initiatives undertaken by US school districts to enhance engagement. Discover the transformative impact of a unified communication platform in fostering stronger connections between schools and homes. This discussion will illuminate innovative strategies and emphasize the crucial role technology plays in bridging the gap between education stakeholders.

Kaitlin Ford, Account Executive at Finalsite

Nick Hall, Account Executive at Finalsite

Topic: AI Tools for Schools: Saving Time and increasing Efficiency for School Communications Professionals

Overview: Generative AI offers a lifeline to school PR staff investing substantial time in weekly updates, content editing and revisions and can be a true lifesaver for busy school PR professionals. This session will explore the future of AI in school marketing and communications.

    For Questions, Contact: 

    Christa Fazio, PenSPRA Executive Director

    Director of Communications, Marketing and Engagement

    Chester County Intermediate Unit

    455 Boot Road

    Downingtown, PA 19335 

    484-237-5171 | penspra@cciu.org 


    The Penn Stater Hotel & Conference Center

    215 Innovation Blvd

    State College, PA 16803


    Event Agenda: 

    Click here to view the Symposium agenda.


    Room cost: $119 per night (guests are responsible for reserving and paying for their own rooms)

    Attendees should contact the hotel's Central Reservations Department by Monday, February 5, 2024, to make their guest room reservations. Guests can either contact Central Reservations by calling 1-800-233-7505 and referencing Group Code PENS24A or by going to their secure website. Individuals will guarantee their guest room reservations by providing credit card information at time of reservation. 


    Register today!

    CANCELLATION POLICYCancellations prior to February 29, 2024, will receive a 100% refund. If cancelling after February 29, 2024, a refund will not be issued and payment will still be expected.

    Thank You to our Sponsors!


    c/o Chester County Intermediate Unit

    Downingtown, PA 19335

    Phone: 484-237-5171

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