Shortly after the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board this week agreed to close down Cottonwood Elementary School and later reinvent portions of it as an early childhood development center, a Facebook post characterized C-OC School Superintendent Steve King as “an education genius.”
That’s a pretty lofty title for Mr. King to now live up to, but one thing that cannot be denied is that he is a master of effective public relations.
We’ve seen school superintendents go down the road of wanting to close down school campuses before, and they’ve typically been met with disastrous results. Former C-OC boss Barb U’Ren was viciously maligned a few years ago when she advocated closing down either Cornville’s Oak Creek School or the former Tavasci School (now Mountain View Prep) in Verde Village. Likewise, Sedona-Red Rock Superintendent David Lykins created a firestorm when the prospect of closing the Big Park School in the Village of Oak Creek was broached as part of a down-sizing of district schools.
In King’s case, he took the chance of skating on such precariously thin ice because of the obvious inefficiencies of having 35 empty classrooms among his district’s five campuses.
Despite the political risks of closing down one school and creating four K-8 campuses, King came out on the other end unscathed and kept the dialogue civil and solution-focused.
And the manner in which he did this should serve as a tutorial for any government administrator faced with such a challenge.
First, King was on the front end of this problem very quickly. He made it public, and got the community involved, long before the rumor mill could unload with its version of the facts.
Second, King clearly and thoroughly explained the problem confronting Cottonwood-Oak Creek and why something must be done. Further, he clearly spelled out a potential solution to the problem.
Third, King has made it exceedingly clear that he wanted the community’s ideas and help in finding a solution. He has left no doubt that the community would be involved in the ultimate solution to this problem.
Finally, it obviously played to his favor that King has an uncanny calming influence about him. His very demeanor is such that he can ease tension simply by walking into a room.
It was a masterful job of community public relations.