Branding Beyond Walls
You know that nightmare you have, where you suddenly realize you’ve gone to school in only your underwear? That’s how I imagine it feels to be the superintendent of a small, rural school district.
Stop for a coffee, and you might high-five a junior who had a great soccer game. Or, you might hear from a community member who’s still upset about something from 15 years ago. But Wendy Wyman, superintendent of Lake County School District in Leadville, Colo., takes the close-knit nature of her community in stride — and sees it as a strength. “We are so fortunate to have such strong support from our community,” Wendy says. “There’s no way we could be successful in our work to create opportunities for every student without it.”
But in a town of fewer than 2,700 people, there is little that the school district undertakes that doesn’t include reaching out to engage and inform the entire community. Including, articulating the district’s brand for the first time.
Why focus on the district’s brand? Interest in Lake County schools — and enrollment — had been declining. Student test scores had been dropping, and several schools had been put on the state’s turnaround clock. In recent years, however, the district had worked hard to improve, experiencing significant gains in many areas. But the narrative in parts of the community lagged far behind the progress.
Wendy and chief financial officer, Kate Bartlett, knew that they needed to work on their story if they hoped to convince families and other stakeholders to take a second look at Lake County schools. They engaged Springboard Communications to shape their messaging and their visual identity to reflect the amazing work happening in the schools, and the exceptional qualities that made the schools and the community special. And we knew that this process could only be successful if we engaged the community at every step along the way.
A brand is actually a story that exists in the hearts and minds of your stakeholders.
That’s our philosophy, and it’s why we began the process of discovering the Lake County story by engaging in extensive market research. A series of interviews and focus groups helped us understand what parents envisioned for their children’s lives after graduation, why staff returned to work hard year after year, why some community members stood by the schools when it felt like no one else did.
The insights we derived from these conversations allowed us to hone in on what makes Lake County schools distinctive. And we discovered that it was a belief — supported by a growing body of evidence — that, in Lake County schools, there are no limits to what students can achieve.
We captured that sense of limitless possibility in the tagline “Learning Beyond Walls.”
Get ready for a leadership moment.
Stakeholder engagement became even more important — and even more challenging to achieve — when it came time to illustrate the new narrative concepts in the form of a logo. We developed a wide range of innovative designs that captured Leadville’s spirit and legacy, as well as the breakthroughs happening in the schools every day. Wendy and Kate knew that the community needed to love the new logo as much as they did if the rebranding effort was going to be successful. And, as with every other phase of the project, we shared the options widely among teachers, parents and community members.
The feedback Wendy and Kate received wasn’t always easy to take. “We realized that what we were experiencing was a leadership moment. We had to find a way to be responsive to the community, while moving forward with the direction we believed reflected the work we were collectively engaged in and what was possible for our kids,” says Kate.
And be ready to launch.
We were eager to incorporate the community’s perspective into the final logo, and at last the district was ready to reveal the new brand. And the hard work turned out to be perfect preparation for a watershed moment in the school district’s story. Just as Lake County schools was about to launch the new brand, they learned that they’d also be announcing that their middle school and the district had gone from being on the turnaround clock in 2015 to receiving one of the state’s highest ratings just two years later.
Kate acknowledges that the timing of these things coming together was, in part, luck. We call it being prepared to seize the moment when it arises. We couldn’t be more happy that the story of the amazing work happening in Lake County School District has finally made it beyond the school walls.
If you want to get ready to seize your moment, say hello today!