1. The Education Gradebook

New marketing campaign puts spotlight on Pinellas school employees

For the children at Lake St. George Elementary, Miss Elena is the lady with the magic pockets.

Before they arrive in the cafeteria, Elena Breitling stocks her apron pockets with spoons, straws and napkins, even a small pair of scissors to open packets of mayonnaise and ketchup. Children "eat ketchup with everything," she says.

Breitling, 48, never planned to work at the school. She was a nurse and longtime volunteer whose children attend Lake St. George. She offered to fill in when she heard the cafeteria was short staffed. Instead, she found herself filling out an application.

That was two years ago. Now she's one of the faces behind a new marketing campaign for the Pinellas County School District. "Words That Inspire," which spotlights district employees in 30-second video segments, started in August. It's part of ongoing efforts to promote Pinellas as "the district of choice for quality teaching, learning and student achievement."

That's straight out of the district's strategic plan, superintendent Mike Grego said.

It's also part of the district's effort to address competition, despite being the biggest education game in town. Many families are opting for private schools, a growing number of charter schools and a quickly expanding state program that gives vouchers to qualifying students, helping them to pay tuition at private schools.

Other district efforts include a free parent engagement app for mobile devices, parent "academies," or classes focused on a specific topic, and increased marketing for district application programs, such as magnet and fundamental schools.

Grego said outreach to families is never finished because "you're always getting new students, new families."

Melanie Marquez Parra, a district spokeswoman, said 11 employees have been interviewed so far for Words That Inspire, with about 37 videos made. The campaign allows employees to "use their own voice to tell the story" of the school district, she said.

Each employee picks a word to describe their job. Breitling's word was "love." Her choice was simple, she said.

"I honestly just love each and every child that comes through those doors," she said.

Joanne Wright, the district's 2013 Teacher of the Year, was featured in another video. Her word was "inspire." Wright is shown in the classroom with students, but she just moved to a new role in professional development. In her video, Wright said she believes inspiration is the "driving force" behind teachers. She loves the new campaign.

"I thought it was a beautiful way to showcase all of the good in our district."

Breitling had a slightly different reaction when she saw her video. "I think I'm fat," she joked. But she said she liked the message about children and love.