New England School Public Relations Association

Executive Board 

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President

Meghan Baule

Director of Communications

Colchester School District, Vermont

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What I Bring to NESPRA

As with most New England states, Vermont was slow to recognize the necessity and value of a full-time communications professional. When I was hired, I was the first in my district and I believe only the third in the state. Thankfully, I eventually found NSPRA and shortly after that, I started connecting with other school PR professionals in my region. Over the next few years, superintendents and school boards across the state started to understand the advantages of having someone on staff with a communication focus. While our role continues to grow, the accomplishments I’ve made in my district have led me to become a resource to Vermont leaders looking to add communications personnel to their districts. I often provide input on job postings, review applications, and mentor some of the new hires. The more I got involved in the network and mentorship aspect of school communications, the more I became passionate about the benefits of being connected. When the idea was pitched by NSPRA to create a New England Chapter, I knew I wanted to be involved from the start. While I didn’t anticipate taking on a leadership role on the formation committee, that is ultimately where I landed. There was a lot to do over the past six months but with each completed checkmark, we got closer to becoming an official resource for school communication professionals in the Northeast and I could not be more proud of that work. I am incredibly excited to be a part of our next steps. I believe offering timely, well-focused, and intentional professional learning with varied options for networking will serve us all (myself included!) very well in the early stages of our Chapter. Thank you for your consideration in allowing me to lead NESPRA and the fine group of professionals that will contribute to it. 

Professional Experience

Stories have always been a passion of mine, both as a storyteller and as a consumer. I earned my BA in TV Production from Westfield State in MA and spent the first part of my career as a news photog for two NBC affiliates. Working for the media gave me an appreciation and understanding of how stories are identified, created, presented. I spent the next nine years honing my crisis management skills fielding 9-1-1 calls and commanding radio traffic for emergency services as a dispatcher. This adrenaline-filled desk job taught me how to ask probing questions, the importance of filtering out "noise" to recognize important details, and to be hyper-aware of layered scenarios and repercussions. Going into my sixth year as Director of Communications for Colchester Schools, I enjoy sharing my own experiences and resources through mentorships but very much look forward to advancing my knowledge of PR in the near future through APR or a MA in Strategic Communications. 

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Vice President

Dan O'Brien

Chief Communications Officer

Worcester Public Schools, Massachusetts

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What I Bring to NESPRA

I have been eager to join a professional network both for my own benefit of networking and professional development, and to be able to support others in these roles. I have the perspective of serving in both large and small districts, working with both big-city and small-town governments and school boards, along with local and national press; and I have previously worked in the news media.

I am passionate about my work and I am always quick to help other school PR professionals in unique problems and situations. I have been assisted greatly by other colleagues in the past, and I believe in paying it forward. I understand what it is like to work in a small, understaffed communications office in an organization where many colleagues don’t fully understand what we do. I am happy to support anyone who needs it.

I believe in the value of networking, professional development, and recognizing the hard work of school PR colleagues from around the region and the country. If elected to Vice President, I would be energized to work closely with the Executive Board on continuous member recruitment, forming regular professional development opportunities, recognizing the work of colleagues through annual or semi-annual awards, advocating for an increase in school PR positions regionally, and utilizing the national resources of NSPRA.

The desire to work toward these goals is why I became an active member of the Formation Committee that launched the New England School Public Relations Association this fall. I hope that we all can grow professionally and personally by sharing our knowledge and resources with one another around the country.

Professional Experience

I began my career in journalism and transitioned into school public relations in 2012 – first in higher education before moving to PreK-12 public schools. For four years, I was the Press Secretary for Boston Public Schools with one year as Acting Communications Director. Devoting time toward effective, proactive communications amid a constant stream of crises honed my skills to become strategic with my time, opportunities, and relationships. I understand the dynamics of operating communications at a high level and the realities for our school leaders, students, and families on the front lines.

My most satisfying moments were assisting school and district leaders through crises, moving forward district narratives in the media and community, effectively communicating important messages to families, and securing positive media attention for deserving students or staff.

Working in a district with 125 schools in highly diverse areas, I learned about the complex nuances to urban public education; the importance of emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion; and what leads to successful and unsuccessful student outcomes. I grew an interest in Career Technical Education as Boston created a greater number of CTE pathways in low-performing high schools; and I launched the first ever “Career Tech Ed Week” in the district. This interest led me to my current role as Director of Communications for the Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical School District in Lexington, MA. I am a major supporter of CTE while working at one of the best CTE/vocational districts in the country.

I would say my communications “specialty” is PR crisis management and media relations – I am very good at those aspects of this work – but I am more passionate about effective, proactive communications that help the mission of our schools. A challenging aspect of our jobs is assisting district and school staff in showcasing why the work they do is important and why it’s helping students and families succeed. This is what I most enjoy and drives me every day. Finally, I am also very passionate about promoting greater work and visibility of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our schools. In 2019, I was proud to have co-organized the largest group of Boston Public Schools students, parents, and staff (including the outgoing and incoming superintendents) to march at the Boston Pride Parade, which was highlighted in the Boston Globe. When students see themselves reflected in their school community, they do better academically and social-emotionally. I am always happy to answer any questions or chat. Please feel free to contact me at dobrien@minuteman.org. 


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Treasurer

Lisa Steimer

Senior Staff Associate for Professional Development and Communications

CABE (CT Association of Boards of Education), Connecticut

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What I Bring to NESPRA

I was a longtime member of the former CT School Public Relations Association (ConnSPRA) and recognize the need for such an organization. I was happy to participate in the NESPRA formation committee and am very excited that NESPRA has been formed and will now provide networking and professional learning opportunities for those working in school public relations and communications throughout New England. It has been energizing to collaborate with others who are equally as passionate about the need for NESPRA and who wanted to be part of the solution.

As I prepared for the APR exam in 2016-2017, I came to more fully understood what the role of public relations and communications ought to be. The knowledge I gained in the process truly transformed not only how I approach communications but also my broader responsibilities. I find that my work, communications or otherwise, is much more strategic in nature and relies more heavily on research.

I believe that my 20+ years as a non-profit association leader uniquely positions me to serve as NESPRA’s Treasurer as we begin to build the chapter. As NESPRA moves forward, the chapter will need healthy financial resources and systems in place to manage these resources.

My overall goal is for NESPRA to thrive and help its members have the tools to best meet their professional challenges. The need for school communications professionals to have a forum to support one another, share best practices, and engage in professional learning is greater than ever. I firmly believe the time is right for NESPRA to bring together the many talented individuals across New England and Eastern Canada and provide them with a space to further develop their skills all while being supported by those who best understand the demands this profession faces.

Professional Experience

Lisa Steimer is the Senior Staff Associate for Professional Development and Communications for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE). Among her responsibilities is to work with school boards regarding their communications role.

Lisa graduated from Salve Regina University cum laude with a BS in Elementary Education and also earned both an MA in Human Development and M.Ed. from Salve. She is completing her term as President of East Catholic High School’s Advisory Board and is a Past President of the Connecticut Society of Association Executives (CSAE).

Lisa is a member of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and the New England School Public Relations Association (NESPRA). She has earned both the Certified Association Executive (CAE) and Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) designations.

Lisa believes that in order to be successful one must have trust and support, be honest, demonstrate ethical behavior and engage in genuine two-way communication.

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Secretary

Julia Mitchell

Director of Communications

Pinkerton Academy, New Hampshire

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What I Bring to NESPRA

I am running for a seat on the NESPRA Board because I'm really looking forward to the opportunities to connect professionally with others in school communications. It is imperative, especially now, that we all have a community that understands what we all do each day and looks to support each other. I'm thrilled this chapter will help us all in that way. I look forward to learning from everyone.

My goals are to simply help the chapter in any way I can. I want it to be a success, and I want to support it any way that I can. I plan on being an active member regardless of whether I'm elected to the Board. From the start of the formation committee, I have just wanted to be a part of it. I'm excited to see what the future holds and what we can do as an organization. 

Professional Experience

I came to school communications from an English teaching position where I also taught Journalism and Media courses. I believe the best way to share the stories of our schools is to pair the best practices in our field with the ever important charge of knowing your school(s) intimately. To me, relationships are the key to finding the stories that celebrate our schools.

I am currently pursuing a Master's Degree from Webster University in Communications and Media Studies. I am a member of NSPRA, PRSA, and other online groups regarding School Communications. 

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Membership Coordinator

Ben Dickie

Communications Coordinator

Essex Westford School District, Vermont 

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What I Bring to NESPRA

Being one of the veteran school communicators in my state, I have seen the position rapidly grow as the importance and need has risen over time and especially so through crisis and COVID related issues.

I have always strived to serve my district to help it better connect our schools with both our families and the greater communities that we serve. Having spent time in both the worlds of public relations and athletic communications, my experiences have allowed me to be able to bring a different mindset to the position.

I often find that in education, administration and teachers want to try and speak to parents in ‘educator speak.’ Putting on my ‘parent hat,’ I always try to reframe the discussion or communications so that we can connect with those who are not in the field in a language that they can understand. This also carries over to trying to meet our families where they are (online) and keeping our messaging short and to the point whenever possible, knowing that our families are busy and just want to know how their child will be affected.

Having been a member of NSPRA now for a few years and having had the ability to attend one of the national conferences a few years back, I was very excited when the idea was proposed to create a chapter in New England. The chance to connect with others who are in the same position as me, but also in the same geographical region, I believe will be priceless.

Being able to bounce ideas off each other will be so helpful, but also just having that group of colleagues that you can talk with and they know what you are going through will be such a boost professionally and personally. 

Professional Experience

With nearly 20 years of experience working in communications, media relations, and public relations for both nonprofit and for-profit businesses, I bring a unique perspective to the education field. Now in my eighth year in the Essex/Westford school system, I oversee the internal/external communication efforts for the district.

Using strategic and on-brand storytelling, I am able to connect the 10 schools in the district with the families and community members that they serve.

I earned my undergraduate and master’s degrees in business at the University of Vermont, and am currently working on a second master’s degree at Texas Tech University in Strategic Communication & Innovation. I have also earned professional certificates from UVM in digital marketing, social media marketing, advanced social media marketing, and leadership/management.

I wear many hats personally and professionally, as I also coach youth sports and am the webmaster for a local youth hockey league.  

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Communications Coordinator

Jessie Lavorgna

Director of Communications

Middletown Public Schools, Connecticut

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What I Bring to NESPRA

NESPRA is new. And with anything new, there is an inherent opportunity to make small (or big) waves that have ripple effects through time and space. I'm really excited about the idea of the newly created position of Communications Coordinator for the NESPRA Board. In this new position lies the opportunity to make NESPRA known on a wider, more impactful level. It would be an enormous honor to do that.

As with anything, there is a story to be told with the recent creation and growth of NESPRA. Truth be told, I'm not sure what that story is; however, the idea of figuring out what it is and working with the Board to tell it through social media and the website, excites me. This is an opportunity to spread knowledge, help professionals connect, and spark curiosity and joy in others.

Really, the question should be: why would you NOT want to apply for this incredible opportunity?!?

I'm ready to jump in. 

Professional Experience

A well-connected and -informed community will move mountains for their school district. By providing timely, accurate, transparent, and (to the extent possible) two-way communication, school districts allow themselves to become partners with their employees, students, students' families, and the broader community. It is in such a district, the community is able to fully embrace and wrap its arms around each child so that they may grow into their and their families' wildest dreams. This is the power of school communications. This is why I am a school communicator.  

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Connecticut Representative

Patti Renaud

Director of Communications

Glastonbury Public Schools, Connecticut

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What I Bring to NESPRA

I would be delighted to represent the great state of Connecticut on this Board. I look forward to learning more about the roles that everyone plays in their districts. We have so much to learn from each other and I just love a good collaboration. NSPRA has been a reliable and tremendously useful resource for me over the years. I expect NESPRA will be the same but at a more personal and local level.

I look forward to understanding our current membership numbers and connecting with others who may not have joined as of yet. Time is a precious resource for each of us...but time invested in NSPRA, and I imagine NESPRA, will be well worth it.

Professional Experience

I have served as the Communications Coordinator at Glastonbury Public Schools (CT) for almost 14 years. My bachelors degree is in Communications with a Media Analysis concentration from the University of Notre Dame (Go Irish!) and I also have a Masters in Social Work with a Community Organizing concentration from Fordham.

When I started school communications work, I had NO idea how much that MSW degree would come in handy! These last couple of years have certainly elevated the importance of school communications. Our work is critical to the success of our school systems and, ultimately, our students. Our messages must be accurate, informative, and transparent. At the same time, we must reach a variety of audiences and share information and stories that are interesting, relevant, and easy to understand. My favorite challenge is to take complicated information and present it in a way that it can be understood by all.

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Massachusetts Representative

Rochelle Santos

Media and Communications Manager

Framingham Public Schools, Massachusetts

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What I Bring to NESPRA

I was happy to be part of the formation committee for the NESPRA Chapter, enjoyed recruitment and awareness efforts, and before NESPRA was real, I worked closely with my counterpart in a neighboring community to grow K12PRIMA (K12 PR in MA). It was our attempt to offer in-person networking and local PD opportunities, at no cost, to a small but growing group of us in Massachusetts. We had planned 5 meetings per year, hosted in different Districts each time, where there were structured sessions and discussion opportunities, as well as lunch and learn presentations sponsored by K12 Communications vendors. While the pandemic halted our efforts, I am happy to see many of our members now in this group. It would be an honor to represent Massachusetts in this new regional group. My interest and contributions would support Massachusetts recruitment efforts, elevating desired PD interests, offering PD where my experience is relevant, networking, and whatever else the group needed at the statewide level. I guess in some ways, I see this as an extension of the work I was already doing, except now, it's with support from my counterparts in neighboring states. Either way, I look forward to being an active chapter member and know I will benefit from the groups effort even if someone else is selected. 

Professional Experience

After graduating from Northeastern University with a degree in Criminal Justice, I took an odd route to School Communications. Mid-way through college and co-op placements, I found passion promoting a local DJ and declared a minor in Music Industry. My first job was managing a record label (launching albums, running internship programs, marketing, advertising, PR, and event planning). Following that, I worked for Berklee College of Music (product manager and business development), Staples (social media programs), Conventures (social and digital marketing for a Boston-based event agency) and in March of 2018, I became Framingham's first Media and Communications Manager. I love living and working in the community where I grew up and where my kids go to school. Offering clear, accurate, and accessible communication to the community and offering professional development opportunities for school and department leaders. There is so much more to be done and I am energized by this work even today, amidst a global pandemic, and can't wait to see how our story shifts as we progress through it. 

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Maine Representative

Eustaquio Dones

Communications Director

Maine School Administrative District #60, Maine

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What I Bring to NESPRA

I would not have been successful whatsoever this year without the help from my colleagues within NSPRA and NESPRA! Every time I attend a professional development opportunity or engage with our members, I feel reinvigorated and inspired. However, there are some challenges that I encounter specific to Maine, such as regional districts with both rural and suburban communities. I want to increase the amount of NESPRA members from Maine, and showcase the amazing work that school PR professionals are doing. The number of districts with school communicator positions will continue to grow. I want to support people in similar positions in Maine, and show districts how this role can be created and implemented. As an educator, I value being a life-long learner and carry this into my PR responsibilities. I strive to remain at the forefront of school communications and stakeholder engagement, and I will encourage my colleagues to do likewise. I will never have all of the answers, but I will act as a conduit for resources and collaboration. I am excited to continue growing as a member of NESPRA, and am excited to any opportunity to positively contribute to the organization, as well as school communications within New England.  

Professional Experience

Prior to this year, I was a full time elementary school teacher. With the state of our nation and deeply politicized school environments in Maine, I felt increasingly disenfranchised and frustrated with public education and the stakeholders within it. Becoming my school district’s first Communications Director has been challenging yet incredibly empowering; I am able to advocate for all voices in the district, bring in multiple perspectives on various issues, and be a bridge between members of my community. Although there is still much work to be done, we have made great progress fostering positivity and centering our shared humanity through our storytelling. School Communications has the potential to cultivate trust and faith in our school district’s work. Most importantly, it creates a genuine connection built on the best interest of our students.  

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New Hampshire Representative

Andrew Toland

Director of Communications

Manchester School District, New Hampshire

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What I Bring to NESPRA

When I first joined NSPRA, I was a bit surprised that there was no local chapter. Not only that, there was no chapter anywhere nearby. That there wasn't a NH chapter shouldn't have been a surprise – school communications is still not a massive priority in the Live Free or Die state.

It just made sense, then, when I received the message about potentially forming a regional chapter. I got involved from the start, and having met colleagues from around New England, it was clear that forming a chapter could work, but it was something that could help grow the field of school communications here in New Hampshire.

I recognize that growth doesn't come without work, and someone needs to do the work. As I work to build my own communications department, I want to help other districts around the state put greater emphasis on communications. Serving as the New Hampshire representative is an opportunity to reach beyond my own community and help grow this new chapter. I'd be honored for the opportunity to serve.

Professional Experience

After 10 years in the newspaper business, I made the transition to communications for a large nonprofit org. I liked the work but I wanted to do something to contribute to my community. After a failed run for the school board, the Director of Communications job came up at my local school district. For better or for worse, my career goals are now intertwined with my community goals. Building a sustainable communications department will help children now and for years to come – my kids, and maybe their kids, too. Now 20 years into my career, I'm where I'm meant to be. 

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Rhode Island Representative

Jennifer Cowart

Communications Specialist

Cranston Public Schools, Rhode Island

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What I Bring to NESPRA

I am excited to be part of this chapter because I find it to be very inspiring and informative. I briefly feel like I am a department of many when we are together-even if virtually, rather than my department of one. I have used what I have learned at our meetings and events to improve my position and improve our district communications and brand. I am excited to be able to help other people the way this chapter has helped me, and to be able to contribute to the greater good of the group.  

Professional Experience

I have been the Communications Specialist for four years and was the local newspaper's education reporter for 12 years prior to taking this position. My degree is in elementary education. I was the first person in this position, and I work very hard to tell our district's story day to day while improving our branding and helping individual schools share their news as well. Good news needs to be shared and we need to be ready when bad news hits as well.  

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Vermont Representative

Cindy Dunigan 

Outreach Coordinator        

Stafford Technical Center, Vermont

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What I Bring to NESPRA

I want to be more involved, and learn more about how best to educate the public about my school. I know that there are people who have so much to share, and by having this group be active everyone will benefit. 

Professional Experience

I am just learning all the ways to accomplish the goals of communication, so I am the perfect person to be sure that decisions and trainings will impact "newbies"