Crisis Management, Media Relations, Rebranding & Image Management

Thornton Township High School District 205 Board of Education is composed of three high schools, all located in different villages throughout Thornton Township. Thornton Township High School District 205 Board of Education sets policy for the school district (Thornridge High School, Thornton Township High School and Thornwood High School), in accordance with state and federal laws, in order to ensure the educational results for all District students. The seven members are elected at large by District 205 residents and serve unpaid, four-year terms.

On September 26, 2013 Thornton Township District 205 found themselves at the center of breaking news across all the local news outlets. A fighting incident had occurred between two female students, during this same incident a security guard died; the news stories reported the security guard was killed attempting to break up a fight at Thornwood High School.

Obviously, the story was moving fast and everyone (students, parents, facility, community stakeholders and the general public) was seeking information and District leadership needed an immediate strategy. TGG was contacted to develop an immediate response, control the media, and develop a crisis response action plan.

It was clear from the onset we needed to quickly change the narrative of the story, control the media, provide talking points to maintain a single voice internally and externally, inform the public, but most importantly protect the integrity of all parties involved in the matter. A plan was developed to stabilize the environment while effectively and efficiently communicating the truth, respecting the privacy of all parties and keeping the students, staff of District 205 and general public well informed.

TGG was able to quickly gather District leadership to prepare them for the initial media frenzy, craft an immediate response and start to calm the news buzz. The initial plan had to focus on the wellbeing of the students, the consideration for the deceased and family, the dissemination of information to parents, while also keeping the public informed. We organized the education, faithbased, and local communities along with school alumni and the family of the deceased to come together and use the situation as a teachable moment, by celebrating the life of a former District family member and comfort each other and heal. Grief counselors where called in to assist the students, faculty, and District family to cope with the loss. Ongoing media training was implemented for District leadership and the message quickly changed from the school security officers being killed… to the unfortunate accident of the school security officer suffering a heart attack, unrelated to the fighting incident.

We were obviously working very fast and strategically, with several moving parts so we needed to change the news cycle, move pass the tragedy and shame, onto the healing and celebrating the memory of a family member’s life. On October 2, 2013 we implemented a “Hands Across District 205 Candle Lighting Memorial Celebration”, which enabled the community as a whole (including the family of the deceased) to publicly stand together and show they were moving pass the unfortunate incident.

Following the vigil, we began to rebuild the image and brand of the school, as well as the District in an effort to regain the trust of the community. The strategy was to focus on the high number of honor roll students, District Institute Day, the International Baccalaureate program, students winning the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, community involvement and athletic achievements.