The National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) has named Cohoes City School District Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Spring a ‘superintendent to watch’ for the 2017-18 school year.
Nationally, 21 superintendents were chosen based on criteria “demonstrating dynamic leadership with a strong emphasis on communication.” Three superintendents were selected from New York state.
“I am extremely humbled to receive this recognition,” said Dr. Spring. “As a new superintendent who was also new to Cohoes, this honor validates the work we’ve been doing to transform our school district into one of the highest achieving in area.”
Since coming to the Cohoes City School District in April 2015, Dr. Spring has worked collaboratively to champion a new mission and vision for the district: to prepare students for success in tomorrow’s world and become one of the highest achieving school districts in the Greater Capital Region.
“When I asked my leadership team, what do we want to be, we all apologetically uttered that we wanted to be one of the best school districts around,” she said. “Admittedly, this was a far cry from the 2015-16 graduation rate, placing Cohoes third lowest in the area.”
One of the first areas Dr. Spring examined was the staggering chronic absenteeism rates in the district. Using a variety of communication tools, from videos to tweets, the district launched the Every Minute Matters attendance campaign to bring awareness to the school community about the importance of attending school regularly.
Through the Every Minute Matters campaign, the district has built community partnerships to mitigate barriers to regular school attendance–including transportation. As a small city school district of only 4 square miles,Cohoes had never provided busing to its students. This has now changed through a new partnership with the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA).
“To gauge community sentiment on the transportation issue, we called on our community for input through an online survey. We pushed the survey out through our existing school communication channels, and had more than 500 people provide feedback,” explained Dr. Spring. “The results indicated overwhelming support for a new public bus shuttle service to provide free bus passes to all of our students in grades 6-12.”
The new shuttle service solved a transportation barrier for many secondary students, including students living on Van Schaick Island who would walk more than two miles to school, crossing Highway 787 to get there.
“More collaborative and open communication has led to important dialogue in our community. It’s helping us build stronger school-family-community relationships that keep students at the center of decision-making,” she added.
Early data indicates that the new partnership with CDTA is working. Hundreds of students are taking advantage of the service and many have quickly become accustomed to taking the bus.
Dr. Spring is a resident of Cohoes and is visibly present in the community, whether at city events, open houses, concerts or athletic contests. Since her first “first day of school” in Cohoes, Dr. Spring has sent district-wide welcome back phone, email and text messages to all students and staff.
“Communication has been key to building a more positive school community and promoting a new mindset and vision for our future. I believe we can be one of the highest achieving school districts in the region by working together and strengthening our collective commitment,” she added.
Since her tenure, the Kindergarten chronic absenteeism rate (missing 18 or more days) has decreased by 5 percentage points, from 27 percent in 2014-15 to 22 percent in 2016-17. The graduation rate also increased by 8 percentage points between 2016 and 2017.