Flossmoor, District 161 will split new communications post

Flossmoor School District 161 and the Village of Flossmoor have agreed on an arrangement to share a full-time communications manager. The employee, who should be hired in the next several weeks, will technically be employed by the village but will split his or her time equally to support the two agencies.

Flossmoor Village Manager Bridget Wachtel said the village has been working to figure out a solution for its marketing and communications needs. Up until now, the work has been done by a part-time employee, a position Wachtel said has seen significant employee churn. The professional job has attracted top candidates, but they move on once they find full-time employment.

An idea evolved to collaborate with District 161 to share one full-time communications employee. District 161 was also struggling with ways to keep up with all the fun and important news it wants and needs to impart to the community, according to Superintendent Dana Smith.

Without a communications professional, Smith said principals, teachers and district office employees pitch in to generate newsletters and get word out about events. Smith liked the idea of the new shared position.

“It soon became obvious that we had a shared goal with the Village of Flossmoor of increasing the volume and quality of our communication,” he said.

The employee’s official desk will be at Flossmoor Village Hall, but it’s expected the person will regularly travel to school buildings. The job is a somewhat unique idea, Watchel said. Though villages and school districts, respectively, sometimes share resources with one another, it’s uncommon for a village and school district to collaborate this way.

“We do feel this is an innovative idea and we’re seeing if it works. We have very high hopes that it will work,” Wachtel said. “We’re constantly being challenged to do more and have it cost less. This is an opportunity when we think we’ll get a better product and share these expenses.”

Within District 161, Smith said the employee’s first task will be conducting a community survey to review aspects of its current communication practices. With this feedback in hand, the person will move forward with the school board and administration to create a communications program.

Over at the village, marketing is a headline issue for the new employee to address. However, Wachtel said she’s also looking forward to having a professional help the village develop many different types of communications, including resident correspondence, newsletters, the village website and social media posts.

The communications manager must balance the volumes and differences they’ll encounter working in village government and school environments. Wachtel said it’s important for the new employee to be someone adept at collaborating with many different stakeholders, a person who can appreciate different points of view and be able to meet different needs.

“There’s a lot that we do across the two agencies. Some of it is very technical and some is more warm and fuzzy,” Wachtel said. “To be able to work in both of those environments is going to take a talented individual.”

Some of the work will overlap, since the village often touts its schools within marketing materials and campaigns. It will be a challenge for the person to balance duties at times, Watchel said, but she added the two agencies are committed to working together to help the employee do so.

Smith said the school district will closely honor the 50-50 arrangement, especially because it’s in everyone’s best interest for the position to be successful. He is encouraged by the collaboration he has already had with Wachtel and Flossmoor Assistant Village Manager Allison Dietch.

“Bridget and Allison are true professionals and we work well together, so we will have clear plans for the communications manager and communicate often to make sure we are achieving our goals,” Smith said. “There may be other opportunities for us to work together in the future and if it benefits our community members and taxpayers, everyone wins.”

District 161 serves students in Flossmoor and portions of Homewood, Hazel Crest, Olympia Fields and Chicago Heights. Four of the district's five schools are located in Flossmoor. The fifth, Serena Hills School, is in Chicago Heights.

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