Jerry Almendarez has embraced the power of social media as a leader of influence, creating a positive ripple-down effect among his brand ambassadors, staff members and teachers, students, families, the greater community, and even neighboring school districts. As the superintendent for Santa Ana Unified School District in California, a district of 41,000 students, Jerry is the perfect example of leading by example.
In today’s blog, we’re talking about Jerry’s journey on social media, his unique Brand Ambassador program at SAUSD, and what social media has helped his district accomplish. If you are skeptical about social media for your district, this blog is a must-read!
Listen to my full conversation with Jerry on Mastering Social Media for Schools – Episode 135:
Social Media as a School Leader
Before starting at SAUSD in late 2019, Jerry’s career took him from accounting to classroom teaching to school administration. He had 10 years of superintendent experience under his belt when he took the role at SAUSD.
My goal was really just to enhance and to show off the credible work that our teachers were doing, and to show off the excitement of our community members and our parents when they were engaging in student activities. I wanted to highlight students and showcase their talents in a variety of different ways – whether it was athletic, academic, or performing arts. That intentional reflection really aligned with our board priorities and policies.
Takeaway: As a school leader, social media is an incredibly powerful tool at your disposal. You can lead by example on your personal platform(s) by simply shining a spotlight on all the incredible things happening inside and outside of the classroom!
Social Media as a Community Leader
With the pandemic turning the world – and his district – upside down, Jerry turned to social media to help communicate and connect with the greater school community. He shared stories of how staff and teachers were working hard to keep students safe and educated, during the long months of school closure. Using social media, he provided much-needed stability and reassurance.
At this point, Jerry’s personal social media profiles shifted into, in his own words, “leading with social influence.” He recognized his responsibility as a leader in the community and tried to use his platforms to lead the district through its most challenging days.
In order for the cultures of schools to thrive, you have to have a level of trust. There has to be a good relationship between the district and the community, but also a level of trust. And I think that social media provides that opportunity. It really benefits both the community and the district when parents feel comfortable about what’s happening in the classrooms or at a school site.
Takeaway: As a school leader, your social media presence allows you to be transparent and accessible to your district community. This is a great way you can build trusting relationships among families and staff!
Social Media Ambassadors
Jerry credits his former executive assistant, Lynnette White, with the idea for the Social Media Ambassador program. It involves 80+ volunteers from across the district who have received personalized social media training from yours truly.
Each volunteer has an eye for finding good stories. They each work to fill their own school or program’s social media channels with photos and videos highlighting academic success, community partnerships, and parent engagement.
Our monthly training sessions kicked off with a live event and are continuing throughout the school year with virtual meetings allow these storytellers to be effective and efficient! The communications department has helped coordinate this program, but they weren’t equipped to offer all the training themselves. Partnering with #SocialSchool4EDU was the perfect solution.
With so many enthusiastic social media delegates spread across the district, the impact has been incredible! Jerry is proud of the ripple effect this has created and how it’s gaining traction and attention in the wide community and is even catching the attention of other districts.
Takeaway: As a school leader, when you empower your staff with the right tools and training, they can amplify your district’s stories in powerful ways!
Social Media Buy-in at All Levels
According to Jerry,
The biggest challenge is helping people really understand the value of a social media presence. I remember when I first started, I was a little concerned and a little worried because there were so many unknowns. Over time, I gained the courage to begin to start posting and to start creating the content. I can’t tell you how many wonderful relationships have been a result of my social media presence!
If you’re reading this and you work at a school that has yet to really embrace social media – what are you waiting for? Jerry is living proof that it’s never too late to get started or to really lean into the power of what social media can create in your district community.
You can’t assume that “everyone knows” what’s going on at your school. The public needs every opportunity to see and celebrate all the great stories in your district. And because such a large percentage of adults are active on social media and use it to get their news, schools and districts need to meet them where they are spending their time.
As Jerry says, “If we’re not on social media telling our story, then we’re missing 85% of our target market. I guarantee, somebody’s telling a story and it may not always be the best version.”
Takeaway: As a school leader, when you encourage an active social media presence, you are helping your district tell its own stories instead of letting a few negative voices control the narrative.
Thank you, Jerry, for all your insights! If you’d like to see firsthand what Jerry and the ambassadors are creating, follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, and the SAUSD on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!