Why you should consider rebranding your schools

Refreshing a district's image should be about more than graphic design
By: | February 11, 2020
A new Mission statement and school logo drove the school rebranding process that Desert Sands USD leaders say has helped the community connect more closely with the district.A new Mission statement and school logo drove the school rebranding process that Desert Sands USD leaders say has helped the community connect more closely with the district.

When Desert Sands USD’s mission and school logo became a bit dated, leaders in the Southern California district decided it was time for a fresh round of school branding.

But the process was about more than graphic design.

“Our intent was to reflect on our brand to make it more relevant to today’s world, and to today’s students and families, and to our staff,” says Mary Perry, Desert Sands USD public information officer.

The district, which sits just south of Palm Springs, started by appointing brand ambassadors from each of its 34 schools.

More from DA: How to build a brand that sets your school apart

The group—which comprised principals, building administrators, teachers and other personnel—conducted a survey, asking staff, parents, students and community members two questions: “What three words describe Desert Sands USD” and “What comes to mind when you hear the words Desert Sands USD.”

Words and phrases like “community,” “best teachers,” and “great place to work” came up among the 13,000 responses.

Five focus groups—consisting of brand ambassadors, staff, parents, high school students and industry partners—then formulated the responses for Superintendent Scott Bailey and his leadership team, who catalyzed the final brand with a new mission statement: “To inspire and nurture every student … one opportunity at a time.”

They also created a vision statement: “We will be the district of choice to successfully prepare every student for college, career, and life.”

Desert Sands USD’s new tagline, “The future is here,” inspired a video that revealed the different ways in which the phrase can be expressed—including a toddler who pointed at herself when she recited it.

As for the school logo, the district and its graphic designer selected primary colors, an appropriate palette for education, Perry says. Three concentric circles represent the intersection of cultures, as well as other concepts.

“They can also look like pebbles thrown into a pool, like when you drop an idea in and it spreads—that’s what education is all about,” she says.

The district has kept costs in mind throughout the rebranding process, which was largely funded by community donations.

Administrators aren’t rushing to repaint the fleet and reprint letterheads with the new school logo. Only new vehicles will get the school logo (as older vehicles are replaced), and staff will use up all printed materials with the old logo.

“Every dollar that comes into a school district needs to enhance the student experience,” Perry says. “We don’t want to use funds meant for students for this process.”

School logo goes ‘up and to the right’

The “lamp of learning” that had served as the logo for Fort Wayne Community Schools for decades had lost relevance to the point where most in the Indiana city didn’t know what it meant, Superintendent Wendy Robinson says.

“In an urban district, if your students, parents and community can’t see themselves in your brand, then you become obsolete,” Robinson says.

The logo was developed through a community process in which the district gathered input from various stakeholders.

The new logo, which debuted in 2008, is a colorful row of shapes that resemble rising columns on a growth chart or buildings reaching toward the sky. The colors represent diversity while the uplifting shapes depict progress, Robinson, says.

More from DA: Mascots continue to cause controversy—Here are 3 of them

The district also crafted a new motto—“We Are Your Schools”—that serves a few purposes. One, it counters the growth of vouchers and charter schools in Indiana, and two, it helps the district win support when it brings referendums to voters to raise funds to upgrade facilities, Robinson adds.

“When you look at the latest test results and attendance, we always want to be going up and to the right because urban districts can get the reputation of not progressing or being stagnant,” Robinson says, “That’s not what we want people to connect with us.”

Matt Zalaznick is senior writer. 

DA column: https://districtadministration.com/building-your-school-brand/