Matters of promotion and marketing are, at most, a mere marginal note in a strategic plan that the Alamance-Burlington school system has recently developed.
But the way that the schools present themselves to the world has nevertheless leapt to the forefront this week as the school system’s superintendent began making the rounds to share the new strategic vision with the community.
During his presentations to local officials, superintendent Bruce Benson has bookended his pitch on the strategic plan with some remarks about the school system’s need to spiff up its “brand.” Benson also used the opportunity to float a proposed name change that would rechristen the 25-year-old institution from the “Alamance-Burlington School System” to “Alamance-Burlington Public Schools.”
Benson’s closing remarks ultimately attracted more interest than his account of the strategic plan when he appeared before Burlington’s city council on Monday. The superintendent’s marketing suggestions also generated more than their share of conversation later that evening when Benson unveiled the school system’s new plan to Alamance County’s board of commissioners.
During each of these public appearances, Benson devoted the lion’s share of his time to an explanation of the strategic plan’s “framework.” To this end, the superintendent presented his audience with a veritable solar system of “values,” “goals,” and “priorities” that circled a binary star formed by the school system’s “vision” and “mission.”
Benson insisted that the Ptolemaic cosmology at the heart of the strategic plan is meant to drive real world improvements in things like student performance. He went on to boast of one milestone that has already occurred in the past year when, for the first time ever, the school system saw its high school graduation rate surpass the state average.
Benson went on to lay out the various areas where the school system hopes to see future improvement. These four categories – or “goals” in the strategic plan’s terminology – consist of student achievement, the recruitment and retention of teachers and faculty, the school system’s “stewardship” of resources and funds, and its communication with the wider world outside of the classroom.
The plan’s emphasis on communication provided the superintendent with a natural segue to his concluding remarks about the school system’s brand. In fact, Benson insisted that this marketing consideration is ultimately intertwined with the school system’s need to share its strategic plan with the broader community.
“This is the next step,” he said during his appearance before the city council, “taking our strategic plan and who we are, where we see our in the future, and communicating it in a way that is really a promise to our community about what they can expect.”
Benson went on to commend Burlington’s city officials for their own branding initiative, which has strived to fashion a unified theme for the hodgepodge of promotional efforts by the city’s departments and programs. Benson added that he would like to see the school system go through a similar makeover.
“It’s a presentation of who you are as an organization,” he added, “and some people would say that’s not something school systems should spend any time on. But I think it’s important that we do. I think it’s important to our community – for our parents to know what our promise is. I think it’s important for people who want to relocate to our community…I think you want a public school system that has a strong brand and is delivering on the promises that that brand brings [to mind].”
Benson went on to zero in on the school system’s logo – a five-pointed star juxtaposed with the initials ABSS that lies within a circle of text, studded with small stars that symbolize the system’s constituent schools. The superintendent told the council that this logo is effectively obsolete now that the school system has launched a new “virtual school” and broken ground on an new brick-and-mortar high school that has been in the offing for years.
Benson made much this same point to the county’s board of commissioners before he suggested that it may be high time for the school system to graduate to an entirely new logo.
“There’s some refresh here that really has to occur,” he assured the county’s governing board. “I’ve shared this with a few focus groups, and the feedback I get is that it’s dated. It doesn’t look modern; it doesn’t have a promise.
“It seems somewhat inconsequential to add two more stars to the ring and call it a day,” he added. “So we’re going to look at this.”
Benson ultimately asked both the board of commissioners and the city council to reflect on the school system’s name. He pointed out that the handle “Alamance-Burlington” dates back to the school system’s formation 25 years ago in a merger between Alamance County’s erstwhile school system and a similarly independent system that once served the city of Burlington.
The superintendent didn’t try to muck with the first part of the school system’s name, which he stressed has been effectively enshrined by an act of the General Assembly. Benson nevertheless suggested replacing the words “school system,” which currently follow “Alamance-Burlington,” with the phrase “public schools.”
Benson noted that, from what he can gather, this prospective name change would require the buy-in of both the city council and the county commissioners as well as some legislative action from the county’s delegates to the General Assembly. He added, however, that the suggested revision would ultimately highlight a crucial component of the school system’s identity.
“The notion that we are proud to be public – that we are a public school system,” he said. “It’s just something to think about at this point.”
It didn’t take long for the members of Burlington’s city council to acclimate to the school system’s proposed name change.
“I like the idea of the ‘public schools’ a lot,” councilman Harold Owen effused in response to the superintendent’s proposal.
“I’m very much in favor of the name change,” agreed councilman Bob Ward. “It tells who you are and I’m really supportive.”
The school system’s proposed name change didn’t receive the same immediate welcome from Burlington’s mayor pro tem Kathy Hykes, who insisted that the initials ABPS “don’t roll off your tongue” as easily “as ABSS does.” But the mayor pro tem’s observation posed no major hurdle for councilman Jim Butler, who also doffed his figurative cap to the school system’s potential rechristening.
“I do believe it’s an important piece [of a rebranding plan],” Butler told the rest of the council. “Kathy’s right; it might not roll off [the tongue] the same, but it’s a good statement.”
The response to the superintendent’s proposal was somewhat more muted among the members of Alamance County’s governing board.
John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, recalled the fractious debate that had raged two and a half decades ago before the city and county settled on the school system’s current sobriquet.
Meanwhile, commissioner Pam Thompson recalled the crusade she had waged in her previous role as a member of the Alamance-Burlington school board to have the word “Burlington” dropped from the school system’s name.
“Before you came here, and we talked about the name,” she told the superintendent, “I asked why it couldn’t just be Alamance County instead of Alamance-Burlington.”
In the meantime, Benson’s desire for a new logo prompted commissioner Bill Lashley to recommend that the school system ought to invite students to submit their proposed designs for a new trademark. Benson conceded that he once solicited student submissions during a rebranding campaign at another school system he headed. He added, however, that his former school system eventually selected a logo that was a composite of several different ideas.
“The thing that’s important in the process,” he added, “is to see what resonates with folks.”
Read editorial page comment on the superintendent’s presentations to county commissioners, Burlington city council: https://alamancenews.com/situation-normal-school-system-wastes-time-effort-and-money/
Other ABSS-related news:
School board reverses last week’s vote, approves $1.3M contract it had rejected previous week: https://alamancenews.com/school-board-votes-4-2-to-extend-1-3m-contract-for-sanitation-specialists/
School board members concerned over lack of administration’s plans for providing instruction to students who are quarantined out of school classrooms: https://alamancenews.com/some-school-board-members-concerned-that-quarantined-students-have-received-no-instruction-since-school-started/