2016 ISPRA Award Results: Phil Roeder Named ISPRA Communicator of the Year at Annual Communications Contest Awards Banquet

Phil Roeder, director of communications and public affairs for Des Moines Public Schools

Phil Roeder, director of communications and public affairs for Des Moines Public Schools

Phil Roeder, director of communications and public affairs for Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) was named the Iowa School Public Relations Association’s (ISPRA) Communicator of the Year at the Annual ISPRA Communications Contest Awards Banquet on April 7.

Roeder not only has a reputation for performing well in his position, but he is also a news media preferred interviewee because of his poise and deep knowledge on a variety of issues and current events.

“Mr. Roeder has a comprehensive approach to his work, utilizing his talented staff very effectively. Under his leadership, we have made tremendous strides in building our brand,” said Thomas Ahart, superintendent of DMPS.

The ISPRA Communicator of the Year Award recognizes the exemplary leadership of Iowa’s outstanding communications professionals for demonstrated commitment to the enhancement of communication and relationships between their school systems and the families of the communities they serve. The award honors those who recognize that communication is a critical component of leadership.

“This was really a team award. I’m lucky enough to have a great staff that is dedicated to making sure these stories get told,” said Roeder.

Awards were also presented to 20 different school districts for their outstanding work in the field of school public relations at the annual banquet.

ISPRA’s Communications Contest awards school public relations professionals throughout the state for their outstanding work. School districts can submit projects for 20 different categories. Each entry is judged by a school public relations association from another state. This year, Colorado School Public Relations Associations judged over 80 entries using rubrics that assigned points for design/appearance, clarity/focus, quality in writing, overall effect and evaluation.

Scoring is on a scale of one to 10 for each set of judging criteria and then the total is divided by five. An average score of 6-7.9 points receives an Award of Merit and an average score of 8-10 receives an Award of Excellence.

A Blue & Gold Award is given for best in category. 2016 Blue & Gold Awards went to:

See the full awards list here:

Category School District Entry Title
Annual Report West Des Moines CSD WDMCS Community Education Annual Update
App Johnston CSD Johnston Schools Mobile App
Blog West Des Moines CSD WDMCS Community Education
Bond/Finance Campaign Fort Dodge CSD Duncombe Elementary, Senior High & Security School Bond
Branding/Image Package Waukee CSD APEX Style Guide
Comprehensive/Strategic Communication Plans Waukee CSD Comprehensive Boundary Process – Communication Plan
E-Newsletter West Des Moines CSD We Are WDMCS
Excellence in Writing Iowa School for the Deaf Serious Learning on the Playground
Marketing Materials Iowa School for the Deaf The Language-Rich Experience
Photography Woodward Academy “We Own the Knight” State Basketball Photography
Public Engagement/Parent & Community Involvement Programs &Initiatives Ames CSD Ames Community and Media Relations
Social Media Waterloo CSD Connie Abben
Special Purpose Publications Iowa School for the Deaf Summer Camps
Special Purpose Publications Muscatine CSD Virtual Backpack
Video Woodward Academy “I’m Am Building Woodward Academy” Video Series
Website Ankeny CSD ACSD Website

Event Slide Show

January 8, 2016 Lunch Time Learning Opportunity

Friday Lunch Time Learning Events
Join us for NSPRA’s PR Power Hour and ISPRA lunch time learning opportunities in the Des Moines metro area and eastern Iowa. Come for the event and join your peers for lunch and networking. The lunch time learning events begin at 11 a.m. They are free for members and $10 for non-members.

January 8
ISPRA – Round Table Conference Call – Discuss Hot Topics or Issues


  • Will be offered via Zoom
  • Urbandale CSD, 11152 Aurora Avenue, Urbandale, IA 50322
    Host: Dena Soenke – 515-868-1879
  • Iowa City Community School District ‐ 1725 North Dodge St.
    Host: Kristin Pedersen – 319-688-1000 

Fall Conference – Friday, October 16, 2015

Raccoon River Park Nature Lodge, 2500 Grande Avenue, West Des Moines, IA
$75 members | $100 non-members

Register Online


  • 8:00-8:45 a.m. Registration and Continental Breakfast
  • 8:45 a.m. Welcome
  • 9:00-10:30 a.m. Session 1 – Courageous Conversations: Addressing Diversity and Equity in the School Environment. Facilitator: Stephen Nichols.
  • Break
  • 10:45-11:45 a.m. Session 2 – Exploring Creativity: Using art and expression in our work. Facilitator: Chris Bergman.
  • 11:45-1 p.m. Lunch (provided)
  • 1:00-1:30 p.m. Roundtable discussion on popular topics in school communications
  • 1:30-3:30 p.m. Session 3 – Mobile Video Tools Workshop. Facilitator: Chris Snider. This is a hands-on learning session – please bring your phone/mobile device to work with.
  • 3:30-4:00 p.m. Sharing our learning and conference closure

Session Descriptions

Courageous Conversations: Addressing Diversity and Equity in the School Environment
Stephen Nichols, NSPRA vice president of Diversity Engagement

The events that took place in Ferguson, MO last fall – and in cities across the nation since – impacted communities and school districts of all sizes, igniting a passionate response and highlighting the need for a new conversation about racial equity and the gaps that affect social entities, including education. Stephen Nichols will address the need for school communicators to learn how to tackle courageous conversations surrounding race and equity issues within our schools and communities. Come prepared to share your school’s experience with these issues and how it’s being handled. We encourage school communicators to invite their Superintendents and Human Resource personnel to attend this conversation.

Exploring Creativity: Using art and expression in our work
Chris Bergman, Johnston Community School District Executive Director of Teaching, Learning, and Innovation

When’s the last time you took a few minutes or an hour to let your creative juices flow? Further, what role does creativity and expression play in our work as school communicators? Chris will lead us in some hands-on exercises and activities that will get us all thinking outside the box about our work.

Mobile Video Tools Workshop
Chris Snider, Drake University assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication

This hands-on workshop will teach you how to create and edit high quality video with your phone. We’ll introduce you to tools for stabilizing your video, adding external lights, adding external lenses and getting clear audio (and a few tools to add creativity to your videos). We’ll also discuss the best apps for shooting and editing on your phone. You’ll work in a small group (with a kit of add-ons for your phone) to create and edit videos. So bring your phone and be ready to shoot.

Round Table Discussions/Sharing Our Learning

One of the best parts of an ISPRA conference discussing success and issues with your peers. We will spend this time sharing takeaways from today’s learning, ideas, and brainstorming about the future of public relations in an educational setting.

Odds and Ends

As school communicators, we are attached to our work whether we’re in the office, at home, or at a conference. And we also understand that incidents and unforeseen situations happen when we least expect them to, such as during a professional learning opportunity. If your work calls you away from the learning sessions, please have the courtesy to our speakers and colleagues to take your phone calls outside of the main room. If you need to be on your computer for matters unrelated to the conference, we ask you also do this in an adjacent room. Thank you.

Register Online Now

Save the Date
Spring Conference and Awards Night – Thursday, April 7, 2016 and Friday, April 8, 2016

Nicole Lawrence One of NSPRA’s 35 Under 35

Many new leaders in school PR are young professionals who are proving that strategic school communication is timeless and translates easily to the next generation. NSPRA recognizes members age 35 or younger who are making a difference in school districts across the country.


Nicole Lawrence receiving her NSPRA’s 35 Under 35 certificate at the National Conference in Nashville, July 12. 2015.

Nicole Lawrence
Communications Coordinator
Waukee (Iowa) Community School District

Nicole Lawrence is her district’s first communications coordinator. When she began in November 2011, she started building the foundation for a strong communication department. She has since developed and implemented a communication system for the entire district, focused on social media, print materials, e-marketing and updated website content. In 2014, Nicole created a bond referendum communication plan which resulted in an unprecedented 92% approval.

Since the district did not have a previous communication department, Nicole has worked with teachers and administrators to educate and support them on communication matters through a staff-only blog called Communication Resource Center. The blog hosts video tutorials and step-by-step instructions on topics such as FERPA, media relations protocols, directions for updating school websites and more. She also conducts in-person trainings for every new teacher and building secretary.

ISPRA Honored with Mark of Distinction – Chapter Awards

ISPRA was selected to receive NSPRA’s 2015 Mark of Distinction as an Exemplary Chapter in two special focus areas: Professional Development/PR Skill Building for its year-round programming, and Membership Building Efforts.

“ISPRA’s comprehensive year-long program and continued efforts to provide quality professional development and support for members are notable and the judges were especially impressed with the dedicated effort to increase membership in a planned, strategic fashion.”

ISPRA will receive the following recognition incentives for its Professional Development/PR Skill Building Program:

  • A $200 discount certificate for one 2016 Chicago Seminar registration
  • One PR Power Hour in 2015-16
  • One copy of NSPRA’s Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures benchmarking resource

For Membership Building Efforts, ISPRA will receive:

  • Two additional PR Power Hours in 2015-16
  • A copy of Making Communication Work for You and Your Schools

The awards were accepted on Sunday, July 12 by ISPRA President Jamie Evans and Secretary Nicole Lawrence at the NSPRA Annual Meeting and Celebration of Achievement at the Renaissance Nashville Hotel.