Kelly Wachel can feel the pressure to craft the perfect snow-day recorded message already. And when that first layer of the white stuff hits, she’ll be ready.
Wachel, the new Lee’s Summit R-7 School District executive director of communications, has a lot in front of her as she takes the reigns from Janice Phelan, who left in June after 30 years with the district.
District communications. Social media. Video work. Coordination. Collaboration. And, weighing most on the minds of the R-7 parents and community, that inevitable day to come this winter when schools close for a day.
“I’m still thinking of a good tagline,” Wachel acknowledges, letting out a laugh as she discusses the community memes and near-famous social media nature of Phelan’s snow-day announcements.
Regardless of how she delivers the message that 17,000-plus students want to hear on snow days, Wachel is tasked with distributing a message that 17,000-plus students, parents, teachers and community members need to hear on a daily basis.
Coming from 13 years at the Center School District, Wachel is no stranger to public school communications work. And taking over for a veteran like Phelan allowed her to learn from one of the best in Missouri.
“Janice is a legend and she is a true mentor,” Wachel said. “I’ve learned how trusted and valued she is and I hope to honor that as I take the baton and continue serving our schools and community.”
Communicating strategically and powerfully to the vast populace of R-7 is certainly at the top of the priority list, as it should be. As the incoming president of the Missouri School Public Relations Association (the same organization, MoSPRA, that awarded Phelan its Professional of the Year in April) Wachel certainly has the communicative chops and experience to continue to deliver high-level, quality and focused messages, stories, social media and video to the entire district.
“The reputation in Lee’s Summit, the approach to education, is something I felt could be part of my missionary work,” Wachel said of her decision to apply for the job. “Continuing to serve students on a much bigger scale, the opportunity to come to Lee’s Summit, working with professionals and colleagues that understand performance, innovations and equity to serve all children was very desirable.”
Wachel’s initial impressions of Lee’s Summit are not unlike other newcomers that accept large-responsibility roles here — noticing the vibrant downtown, attending Chamber and Economic Development Council events, meeting influencers and city leaders.
But like any developed communicator, Wachel also recognizes the need to hear other voices.
“I’m interested in the voices I haven’t met yet but will encounter, finding spaces I haven’t been in yet,” she said. “Getting to listen, meet folks in this community who have a real stake in education is important to me.”
Wachel kicked off her tenure with some inspiring stories inside our schools that received media attention. And taking the lead on a back-to-school video, “On the Pulse of Morning,” that featured several R-7 students.
“I cherish working with kids and having their voices conveyed to our public.”
Over the summer and into the school year has been a whirlwind of communication planning, strategic messaging, meeting teachers and students and getting inside nearly every building — from Greenwood and Lee’s Summit Elementary to Lee’s Summit West.
A twice published author — she’s penned “Having an Impact on Learning” and “Parents and Schools Together” — Wachel (married with three young children) grew up in Jefferson City, is a University of Kansas graduate (with a nod to Mizzou, as her brother played football there) and enjoys a round of golf. You’ll also see her around downtown at Fourth Fridays, the upcoming Summit Art Festival and at area football games this fall.
To her, it’s all personal.
“PR means personal relationships,” she said. “The quality and care people have for our community and how much our members support and are involved in our schools, it’s been tremendous to see. You can really see personality in schools and feel the vibes, relationships and inclusiveness.”
And while she has a momentous task ahead of her in the snow-day messaging, Wachel also said she knows where she looks forward to what she will have done come next May.
“Increase engagement on social media; continue to highlight student stories; hope I know the kids’ names that are walking across the stage, but also know the kindergarteners; develop trust; grow the programming and perception of Lee’s Summit.”
With her endless energy and experience — coupled with the foundation Phelan left behind — there seems to be a lot to look forward to for the future of our R-7 communications.
Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.