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Rising superintendents agree: Collaboration is the key to success.

It’s an exciting time to be a school leader.

New classroom innovations, emerging forms of community engagement, and legislative changes, such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), have school leaders looking to the future.

To stay competitive, every school leader needs to be innovative, adaptable, and quick-thinking. Technology has a role to play. But it isn’t the only factor in the drive for change. In many cases, the impetus for innovation will come beyond the classroom—in the relationships that school leaders keep with their school community.

To encourage forward-thinking leadership, the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) is honoring 25 Superintendents to Watch. To be named among this prestigious list of up-and-comers, candidates must be five years or fewer into their journey as a school superintendent and demonstrate an ability to use traditional and new communications in innovative ways.

Here’s a look at some of the school leaders on this year’s watch-list.

Dr. Ehren Jarrett, Rockford Public School District #205, Rockford, Ill.
Dr. Ehren Jarrett embraces the power of collaboration to increase school attendance, reduce transportation and facilities costs, and improve teacher and school district relations in the 28,000-student district northwest of Chicago. To Jarrett, there is no success without community.

“None of this can be done until we are ready to collaborate,” he told attendees at a Rockford Chamber of Commerce Luncheon in 2014. “We have to reject the leader-follower model. We have to pull leadership out of everybody to get great things to happen.”

Jarrett says collaboration comes in many forms—and not just among staff. True collaboration means engaging your community, be it parents, students, or others, to make smarter decisions. And it means partnering with local businesses and foundations to push programs forward. Just last month, the Joyce Foundation chose Rockford as a regional partner to expand access to high-quality college and career training, a sign that Jarrett’s emphasis on collaboration continues to pay dividends for the district.

Dr. Michael Lubelfeld, Deerfield Public Schools District, 109 Deerfield, Ill.
Dr. Michael Lubelfeld is another school leader who leverages partnerships to help his district innovate. Writes Lubelfeld on his district blog, “innovation has many forms,” including the school district’s ability to engage its community.

Lubelfeld and his team recently launched a 24-7 listening solution called Let’s Talk! to ensure that every person in the district has a way to provide feedback on critical district issues. School leaders use the information they receive from those conversations to make more informed decisions.

Lubelfeld also uses social media to engage his community. For instance, he is co-manager of the Twitter hashtag #suptchat, which allows K12 superintendents to find inspiration from colleagues across the country. For more on Lubelfeld’s work with social media, download The School Leader’s Definitive Guide to Navigating Social Media.

Dr. Jamie Wilson, Denton Independent School District, Denton, Texas
Dr. Jamie Wilson is a huge proponent of throwing the rule book out the window and dreaming big. But it’s not his dreams he prioritizes, it’s his community’s.

In 2015, Wilson and his team undertook a massive survey project to better understand the needs of the community. That result was What We Value, a comprehensive report detailing strict parameters by which the district’s schools are accountable to the people they serve.

As Wilson writes in the report: “Through this self-examination and measurement, we hope to create a swell of powerful momentum of continual improvement. We may come from a multitude of backgrounds and experiences, we can all come together in support of our community’s most valuable resource—the education of our children.”

Impressed yet? Check out NSPRA’s full list for more inspiring stories of school leaders committed to community collaboration.

Have any innovative ideas for how to engage your community? Tell us in the comments.