The New York School Public Relations Association (NYSPRA) is pleased to announce that Ellen Lane, Communications Director at Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES, has been named the 2021 Communicator of the Year.
The Communicator of the Year award, which is being awarded for the sixth year, is meant to recognize school communications professionals who demonstrate a commitment to strengthening relationships between public schools and the students, families and communities they serve. The award honors those who recognize that communication and public relations are a critical component of school leadership.
Since her arrival at PNW BOCES in 2010, Lane, who oversees a team of 18, has embraced and pioneered 21st century communications tools, bringing mobile apps, digital communications, livestream captioning and live production video to BOCES and the districts it serves. She has also broadened the scope of the service turning it into a one-stop shop for all of a school district’s communications needs.
“As a former journalist, I decided long ago that if I worked in public relations, it would have to be for an entity or a cause that I believed in,” Lane said. “As a parent, I could not think of a more important cause than education. I was touched and delighted to receive this award because I have so much respect for my peers and the great work school public relations professionals are doing all across New York.”
Lane arrived at a time when school districts were feeling the effects of the 2008 recession and money was tight. She began by offering free workshops for school leaders with titles like: “How to Communicate on a Shoestring.” Lane met school districts at their level, built relationships and then respectfully led the way to improved communications.
“It’s important to be confident in your expertise and the importance of your role,” Lane said. “School communications professionals should not write curriculum and educators should not write press releases. I believe in being respectful but firm when giving public relations advice.”
She found economical and effective ways to raise a district’s profile and community engagement, but also demonstrated best practices that gave district leaders something to which they could aspire.
“In the Brewster Central School District, Ellen played a major role in branding the strategic plan by identifying the talented professionals to design logos, icons, and materials that supported the district’s plan,” former superintendent Valerie Henning-Piedmonte, Ed.D. said. “In this project, she was able to identify the unique needs of the district and align these needs to industry standards.”
Lane has worked diligently over the years to assemble a strong team with deep, broad expertise. Under her leadership, the team constantly strives to enhance its skills and deepen its understanding of school public relations.
“She has become more than just a supervisor to me,” Laura Belfiore said in her nomination letter. “She has been an inspiration and a mentor. She has assigned me the title of her ‘reverse mentor,’ noting new digital tools, trends and social media best practices she has learned from me. This humility and ability to embrace new methods of communication are additional attributes that do not go unrecognized.”
“We are so fortunate to have so many leaders in school communications around the state of New York, and Ellen is certainly in that category,” NYSPRA president Steve King said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with her over the years and I am thrilled to honor her with this award.”
In addition to her colleagues, several others submitted letters on behalf of Lane. Henrick Hudson Central School District superintendent Joseph E. Hochreiter commended Lane for her ability to lead the communications function.
“I can count on Ellen and the service to ensure that our district follows best practices for school public relations and uses the latest tools to reach our stakeholders. Her demeanor, confidence and resilience has played a large role in my professional success and the increasingly positive reputation of our school district.”
Lane was chosen by a panel of judges who work in school communications outside of New York state.