Highline Public Schools Does Some Serious Re-Branding, Releases New Logo

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Highline Public Schools recently re-designed their logo and messaging after holding numerous ‘branding committee’ meetings that began in late 2010 and continued through early 2011.

The new logo is quite a departure from the old, 1960s-styled one, and it depicts what appears to be a long road winding over three hills off into the horizon, hinting at iconic concepts like “paths,” “destinations” and possibly “road kill.”

Here’s the brand spankin’ new logo:

For reference, here’s the current/old logo, designed in 1967 to represent:

  • Omega – Greek for “excellence”
  • Evergreen – for suburban locale
  • “Lamp of Learning”

Here’s a video that showcases a PowerPoint-like presentation on the branding project:

And here’s some supporting marketing materials:

Project Summary
In an effort to better gauge the perception of the school district and the effectiveness of its communications with and to parents, community members, school board members, community-based organizations, and school district employees, Highline Public Schools conducted research and work sessions that included a communications audit, an online survey, five focus groups, a planning session with the district Senior Leadership Team and four work sessions with the district’s Brand Advisory team.

The purpose of the research was to obtain a thorough understanding of people’s perceptions of the district – who it is, where it’s going, where it falls short, where it exceeds, etc. Additionally, it was important to understand how people feel about the communications they receive from the district. Is the district effectively communicating the right types of information, at the right time, and in the right ways? What can it do better? What can it keep doing? Are there incremental fixes needed or monumental changes?

The focus was to start broadly with an online survey. From those quantitative findings, we were able to focus in and then glean more qualitative data at the focus group level where we could more deeply discuss topics and issues and draw out valuable input from the participants.

It’s with this comprehensive collection of data that the district moved forward into a branding process with the Brand Advisory Team, aimed at aligning its vision with its messages and visual look (logo) and essentially defining and strengthening its overall brand as a school district.

Key findings from the online survey
The online survey was conducted in late August/early September and took approximately 10 minutes to complete and was offered to 300 individuals that included community members, school board members, community partners, and randomly selected parents and school district employees. A total of 87 individuals took the survey, which equates to a 29 percent rate of return, slightly above the average response rate for a sample of this size.

Key findings from the online survey, along with recommendations:

  • Online and electronic communications emerged as the primary way stakeholders prefer to receive communications. This indicates that a significant portion of the communication department’s time and resources should be focused toward online/electronic communications, including social media tools.
  • While it is important to adopt stakeholders’ preference for online communications, equally important is the need to frequently update information and make it easy to find. A Content Management System would go a long way in streamlining and automating web updates. This would support time savings and reduce the risk of outdated information on the website.
  • Timely, consistent and frequent communications emerged as top priorities for the district’s audiences. This points to today’s information access expectations. The recommendation is to communicate in real time, when possible, keep messaging consistent, and eliminate any significant time gaps between communications.
  • The majority of audiences are clear on the district’s vision of preparing students for college, career and citizenship. The recommendation is to focus on the vision statement and avoid mixing it with additional statements, such as Educate every Student…Expect Excellence.
  • There is understanding and knowledge of the vision but that knowledge does not align with stakeholder’s perception and definition of the existing logo. This points to a strong need for a logo that evokes the same meaning and emotions as do the words of the vision.

Key Focus Group findings:
The focus groups were conducted in November and December. The key findings from the online survey served as the basis for the discussion guide used for these groups in an effort to further define and refine stakeholders’ communications needs and wants. These groups also allowed us to conduct some basic brand and message testing.

PTSA Leadership (11):

  • Want to be a part of the solution.
  • Want more timely information, greater transparency.
  • Value the district’s fiscal responsibility.
  • Want to be asked for input more often.
  • Like to hear good news – helps balance the bad news.
  • Wants more information, not less.
  • Believes the district needs to keep moving forward.
  • About 50% could articulate the district’s vision, but ALL thought it was important for people to understand the vision.

Latino parents (20):

  • Provides sufficient support for bilingual kids.
  • Would like to see email and get phone calls in English/Spanish.
  • Some concerns about school safety, discipline.
  • Believes district does the best it can, shortcomings are not the district’s fault – there is lack of parent involvement.
  • Very little use of the website because it’s not in Spanish.
  • Believes the district is always trying to improve.
  • Some understanding of the district’s vision.

Teachers (11):

  • Find the website difficult to navigate, lacking important information (benefit forms, contact information)
  • Wants transparency in decision making.
  • Wants the ability for two-way communications with the district.
  • Concerns about the word “college” in the vision statement being too limiting.
  • Believe it is important that the community understand the district’s vision.
  • Wants district to not assume all parents have computer access (consider more robo calls, etc.)
  • Wants communications to be timely, brief and succinct.

Students (8):

  • Believe their teachers and the district care about their success.
  • Have an understanding that the district’s vision is about making sure they succeed.
  • Thinks that the district isn’t at fault for their problems; it’s kids’ individual choices.
  • Concerned about the impacts of the budget cuts (e.g. eliminating advisors).

White Center CDA (8):

  • Knowledge of the vision. Felt there were too many and/or competing messages.
  • They want a voice – to be a part of decision making.
  • Want better follow-through from the district.
  • They want to be a partner – they are available to help.
  • Feel communications could be improved – often don’t know where to get info, don’t know what’s important.
  • Website isn’t user friendly.
  • Want it easier for other community organizations to partner with the district – remove barriers. District can’t do it alone.
  • They believe the district is moving forward.
  • Believe district needs to promote the kinds of communications parents offer.
  • Believe the district’sintentions are good, but the implementation and follow-through is lacking.

Overall key findings:
Clearly communicating the district’s vision is important. Each group had some understanding of the vision, and all groups believed it was essential for stakeholders to understand the vision.

Some improvements are needed in the district’s communications. All groups identified the website as a tool that needed improvements, making content easier to find, the right types of information available and clarity of message. Many were not familiar with the various communications tools the district uses.

There is universal acknowledgement that the district is moving forward and trying to improve.

All groups identified transparency in decision-making as something they want more of from the district.

All groups want better follow-through from the district, and pointed to the focus group findings and how the information is used as something they wanted communicated back to them.

Parents want to be viewed more as a resource and district partner. They want to be asked more for their opinions, asked to help find solutions, etc.

The Branding Process
Though the word “brand” is most often associated with commercial enterprises, every organization has a brand. The organization must work to define that brand or it will be defined by others. Through a defined branding process, the district is deliberately redefining its brand to best reflect who it is, what it stands for and where it’s going.

The district identified a group of 13 individuals to serve as its brand advisory team. The team included representatives from business, community organizations and district staff. Five team members are also parents in the district. The role of the team was to provide constructive input and support the district’s forward movement in improving its messaging and communications. The group met four times to review and cull all the data collected and evolve it into a refined brand that includes key messages, a new logo, new tagline and recommended actions aimed at improving district communications and overall district perception among stakeholders.

The group process boiled down the district’s brand by using a 3P process – personality, position and promise. The 3Ps were developed based on the research and served as the basis for defining who the district is and how the district defines itself among its stakeholders.

  • Personality – (Human traits that are reflective of the district) Tenacious, Innovative, Dedicated
  • Position – (As it relates to surrounding districts and/or private schools)
  • Highline Public Schools is a learning community strengthened by its diversity.
  • Promise – (What we will make true every day)
  • Highline Public Schools will prepare every student for college, career, and citizenship.

Developing a new logo and tagline
One very clear piece of data gleaned from the research was that the district’s logo did not reflect the district’s vision and there was minimal to no understanding of the visual representation of the logo or what it actually was. It was clear that as a part of this rebranding process, focused on improving perceptions of the district and improving overall communications, it needed to include the creation of a new logo and tagline.

Development of a new logo was based on the research and the defined brand. The logo needs to reflect the district’s personality, its position and its promise. The chosen logo visually shows diversity in an image that depicts three different paths of varying shades. This not only represents cultural diversity, but the diverse learning options offered to students and the varied paths students can take toward success.

The tagline reinforces the visual and can be used with or without the logo. It does not replace the vision statement, but when paired with the logo creates a strong visual image reinforced with words.

Key Messages
Developing key messages that support the district’s vision is another critical component in an overall branding process. While key messages are not necessarily articulated word-for-word when spoken or written, the goal is to ensure everyone in the district, including its employees and board members, are focused and clear on how they talk about the district, who it is, what it stands for, and its direction. Essentially, the messages are a way to say, “This is who we are and what we do every day.” The key messages below were developed based on all research conducted for this project. Normally, organizations have no more than three key messages. It’s not unusual to have supporting points that reinforce each, but a maximum of three is highly recommended.

Highline Public Schools embraces its community and believes our diversity is an asset that enriches each and every student’s learning experience.

There is a path to success for every student, and Highline Public Schools is committed to helping each student find his or her path by preparing him or her for college, career, and citizenship.

Highline Public Schools innovates and improves every day to best serve our students, families and community.

Next Steps
Implementing a brand is as critical as defining a brand. For most organizations, implementing a brand does not happen overnight, particularly when it involves a new visual look. The district will take a phased approach. In light of the current budget landscape, implementation will be cost-neutral. Materials and signage will be replaced as necessary. This means the old and new logos will have to co-exist for a period of time.

Electronic communication will reflect the new brand and logo at the start of the 2011-12 school year, since this can be implemented with little to no cost.

The district is developing a new website that will be easier to navigate, and it will have a more intuitive URL: www.highlineschools.org.

So, with all that said, what do YOU think of their new logo? Please take our Poll or leave a Comment below…

Do you like the new Highline School District logo?

View Results

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6 Responses to “Highline Public Schools Does Some Serious Re-Branding, Releases New Logo”
  1. Jack says:

    That is the path leading over to the Eastside schools.

  2. Racer_Rex says:

    All I want is to have them bring up the test score & challenge my kid. Is That too much to ask? Can’t polish a sneaker !!

  3. Courtney says:

    Yawn…. how does this change the way my children our taught? Will the new logo encourage the teachers to set higher standards for their students, without district reprisal? How much did this new tagline (and ugly logo) cost our struggling district?

  4. Burienite says:

    Hate to say it, but if you want a high quality education around here, you’ll probably have to go private. There are 3-4 HSD grade schools that are pretty good, but even they have issues. The HSD is completely bogged-down with ELL and other underachieving students who are placed in mainstream classes too soon.

    I’ve heard from friends who have kids in public schools mention that parental involvement is seriously lacking as well.

    Not sure what the long-term solution is, but changing the logo is merely fluff and will do little to help the students achieve.

  5. Burienite says:

    Also, why is the CDA a stakeholder in the visioning process??? Why not other community organizations from other areas, like in Des Moines, Burien, Seatac, etc.???


    • Coverofnight says:

      Agree…..why does White Center CDA want so much input in decision-making? They have to wait until we annex them, then they can have their say in our affairs….;)

      I feel there is too much focus by this school district on culture and diversity and not enough on academics! I found it very interesting that “Latino Parents” are a key focus group, and want all these changes to accommodate them in Spanish…is HSD going to stand for Hispanic School District and not Highline School District? Sorry people, but English is the international language of business and the official (or at least should be) language of this country. Learn it or get someone to translate for you. We’re not doing our future leaders any favors with so much stressing of diversity over academics.

      Putting this much importance and analysis into a liberal-looking “peace/love” type logo has me echoing what the first 3 comments shared. I want to see substantial progress and accountability for the success of the students and not a “fresh paint job” on an image. We were all deceived before with an interesting logo touting “hope and change”; these kids are too important to pull those shenanigans again.

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