Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The importance of branding our schools

(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News)

A couple of years ago, Rep. Mike Kelley, R-Lamar, sponsored a bill to allow school districts to place advertisements on buses as a way to put extra money into education.

While there is no arguing with the importance of putting more money into our schools, the concept of paid advertising being splashed on the sides of the school buses was a bit more problematic. It not only seemed like a cheapening of education, but if those ads are anything more that institutional, they raise the prospect of accidents occurring as passing drivers crane their necks to see the ads.

A recent fad among our public schools, long a practice at colleges and universities, has been to allow businesses and patrons to buy the naming rights for everything from stadiums to  auditoriums to classrooms.

Carthage recently sold the naming rights to its new football stadium, while Joplin, under its former superintendent C. J. Huff, devised a complete strategy for selling naming rights to anything and everything.

The days when people had to accomplish something great, either in connection with the school or community, such as Don Johnston Stadium at East Newton, named for the long time high school principal, are a thing of the past.

Joplin did something else in 2008, the first year of the Huff Administration, that another school district has decided to emulate. About seven and a half years ago, one of the first actions that Huff deemed important as he took the reins of Joplin R-8 was to stop calling it Joplin R-8.

It was important to drop the R-8, the superintendent insisted, because it would be much easier to sell Joplin Schools. In advertising, he said, everything was in the branding. The school board approved that motion by a 7-0 vote, just as it did the other issue that he considered important during his early days in Joplin- preventing teachers from having visible tattoos. At that point, I suppose, everything about the Joplin R-8 School District could be branded except the teachers.

Remembering how much of the next seven years involved placing public relations ahead of everything, I became concerned when I read last week that the Neosho R-5 School District has decided to simply become the Neosho School District.

While I have no problem with the district being called Neosho School District, Neosho R-5, or Neosho Citadel of Learning, I noticed that the subject of "branding" was brought up by Superintendent Dan Decker as he talked of the need for the change.

From the March 4 Neosho Daily News:

With ongoing branding efforts in the schools, Decker said, it makes it more seamless with the shorter district name. "Everything can just say 'Neosho School District' and you don't have to worry about it."

People were worried about this?

With all of the problems we face in our everyday life, people are suffering sleepless nights because they don't know what to call the Neosho schools?

Decker explained that people didn't know whether to put Neosho R-5 or spell it with a Roman numeral as Neosho R-V.

Now it all makes sense.

It even gets worse, Board President Brett Day said. "Some people call us the Neosho R-V District," pronouncing it as the abbreviation for recreational vehicles.

Now there is an idea, buy some of those and slap that Neosho R-V logo on them and you wouldn't have to change a thing.

I miss the good old days when school boards actually talked about education.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been in all the new buildings in Joplin numerous times. I haven't seen anyone's name plastered over anything yet. Guess that was another bad idea the former Board and Huff came up with. Didn't they hire a bunch of people to sell the naming rights so they could fix the financial mess the district was in? I wonder how many tax dollars were wasted on that enterprise.