Communications director, El Dorado County Office of Education
It started with “The American President.” Dina Gentry watched that 1995 movie for the first time as a child, and when Michael Douglas’ character, President Andrew Shepherd, gave his rousing speech at the end, she thought to herself, “I want to be a speech writer for the president of the United States.”
Gentry might not work in the White House, but she followed her dream of helping others find their voice and craft their message. Since 2014, the Sacramento native has served as the communications director for the El Dorado County Office of Education, a role that impacts thousands of students and families across 15 school districts.
“I actually work with educators who used to be my school teachers,” says Gentry, 37, who grew up in Auburn. “It’s such a blessing to be able to help the community that raised me.” After graduating from Sacramento State with a bachelor’s degree in public relations, she stayed in the capital to work on political campaigns, knocked out an MBA from the University of Phoenix in the evenings, and after thriving at EDCOE she was named one of the “35 Under 35” leaders by the National School Public Relations Association.
“I actually work with educators who used to be my school teachers. It’s such a blessing to be able to help the community that raised me.”
Even in a “normal” year, her job means quarterbacking a dizzying amount of communications across a web of schools — strategic planning, media relations, nonprofit fundraising, grant writing, social media, and on and on. Then came the pandemic. “It was an ever-shifting landscape,” she says, as the health and school guidelines constantly changed, threatening confusion at every turn. “We had no playbook for this.”
Crisp communication became essential. “I made it a mission to try to fill any communication void that people might be experiencing during that period of isolation,” says Gentry. They whipped up COVID-19 signage that could be displayed in schools, created pandemic resources for the website and coordinated with the county’s Department of Public Health to ensure their statements were accurate.
The chaotic time meant not just working long nights and weekends, but also delivering tough and even unwelcome messages. On a Sunday in March 2020, for example, Gentry was tasked with framing and delivering the grim news that schools would switch to remote learning. Her strategy for conveying tough news? “It’s always best practice to remain concise, to the point and transparent,” Gentry says. “We stayed true to that during the entire process.”
And her optimism is infectious. “During the beginning of the pandemic, I decided to ground myself in positivity and making an impact to help people,” Gentry says. As president of the Placerville Kiwanis Club, she led service projects such as bringing people food. She consoled those who were grieving. She injected positivity into the internal communications at EDCOE, like launching a “team member spotlight,” where she regularly interviews one of the organization’s 600 employees to highlight both their contributions and fun personal tidbits — one spotlight revealed that an IT worker, for example, was also an accomplished chef, delighting the department and boosting morale.
It’s these small, human moments that keep an organization humming. “I think it’s important for people to feel that connection, to feel that consistent touchpoint,” Gentry says. “And I’m passionate about connecting people.”
President Andrew Shepherd would approve.
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