PR shop helps Hillsborough publicize its Gates plans
TAMPA – Yes, it’s summer reading season. And if you’re looking for something light on school reform, the Hillsborough County school district has just the thing: a new “e-magazine” devoted to its seven-year partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The first issue, recently posted on the district’s web site, features a few of the veteran teachers who have been hired to mentor and evaluate their colleagues beginning this fall. There’s also an interview with Charlotte Danielson, the national evaluation expert who helped design the district’s new system.
And who wrote this magazine? Well, let’s just say there are multiple authors.
“Hill & Knowlton,” said district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe. “They arrange the content, we provide it. I know they’ve got someone who’s out taking pictures and things like that.”
In March the school board chose Hill & Knowlton to help publicize and explain the Gates reforms. The 18-month contract, worth $375,000, comes from the district’s $100 million grant from the foundation.
Harry Costello, general manager for the firm's Tampa office, said the electronic magazine would be published on a quarterly basis.
"Clearly, our focus is to continue to broaden the communication throughout the school system, specifically to the teachers and broadly to the community, so there’s clear understanding of what the program represents and what the benefits are," he told the St. Petersburg Times.
"I think teachers have to be the priority because they’re the focus of the program," Costello added. "And clearly parents are concerned and will be concerned, because they want to make sure their kids are getting the best education by the best teachers."
He said two staffers are assigned to the Hillsborough Schools account on a day-to-day basis. "It's a good-sized job for this office."
But while the firm might help the district strategize on communications problems, it won't be wading into the fray if school board candidates start saying nasty things about the Gates grant, he said. That's a job for the district's three-person communications staff.
"We don't do political campaigns," Costello said.
-- Tom Marshall, Times Staff Writer