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    NCSPRA presents inaugural School Communicator of the Year Award

    The North Carolina School Public Relations Association (NCSPRA) proudly presented its inaugural School Communicator of the Year award to Les Atkins of the Alamance-Burlington School District. The presentation took place during NCSPRA’s annual Blue Ribbon Awards ceremony in High Point on February 9, 2024.

    This is the first year that the NCSPRA School Communicator of the Year Award has been presented. It recognizes one NCSPRA member each year for excellence in the field of school communications.

    Les Atkins, Public Information Officer for the Alamance-Burlington School System, was honored for the exemplary way that he handled multiple crises during the 2022-2023 school year that put the Alamance-Burlington School System in a national spotlight. He also was recognized for his continuing emphasis on transparency and open communication to all stakeholders as well as his community involvement.

    Atkins received multiple nominations from NCSPRA members. They praised him as a “true professional in the area of communications.” During the 2022-2023 school year, the Alamance-Burlington School System (ABSS) faced a mold crisis that delayed the opening of almost three quarters of the district’s schools. Les Atkins insisted on open communication that quickly put parents and the community at ease. “His unique approach to keeping families informed ensured that they understood the issue and the importance that student safety played with our leadership team as decisions were made,” said Lowell Rogers, Deputy Superintendent of the Alamance-Burlington School System. “He also ensured that the local media understood the “why” behind the story.” ABSS Digital Media Coordinator, James Shuler, said, “When dangerous mold forced delayed school openings, Les Atkins kept all stakeholders informed with factual, detailed updates on the scope of the issues, remediation plans, and schedule changes. His steady, transparent communication style during this incredibly stressful period was invaluable in easing confusion within our community.”

    Atkins also displayed his commitment to transparency during other crises that put ABSS in the national spotlight. During the 2022-2023 school year, multiple ABSS employees were arrested. In another incident, the district prohibited several students who were involved in dangerous campus pranks from taking part in graduation ceremonies. Both crises received national attention. However, Atkins’ open and professional response earned praise from across the community. As James Shuler noted, “During the employee arrest crisis, Les Atkins upheld the delicate balance of promptly conveying essential information to the public while respecting employee privacy rights. He coordinated cross-departmental efforts to deliver updates in ethical and responsible ways across all channels. Later, when seniors were involved in campus pranks and were withheld from walking at graduation, he communicated policies while genuinely hearing and responding to community concerns.”

    Atkins gives back to his community by volunteering in several areas including park beautification projects and stuffing backpacks to help children in need. All nominees for the NCSPRA School Communicator of the Year award are evaluated based on outstanding performance in the areas of Leadership, Communication, Professionalism, and Community Involvement. The judges agreed that Les Atkins excels in all of these areas.

    NCSPRA president, Valerie Newton, agrees that Les Atkins is a wonderful example of an outstanding school communicator. “Les’ commitment to transparency is the model of great public relations.NCSPRA promotes open, honest communication with all stakeholders, and Les demonstrates that in his work every day. We are extremely proud of Les, and he is most deserving of our School Communicator of the Year award.”

    Les Atkins will now be considered for the National School Communicator of the Year Award, which will be presented by the National School Public Relations Association during its national seminar in Seattle in July.