It’s pretty difficult to understate the importance of community involvement in schools.
At KIPP, when we talk about “Family and community engagement in school,” we’re talking about schools, families, and other stakeholders in the community sharing knowledge and information with each other. The purpose of that kind of engagement is straightforward: We want to make decisions that improve outcomes for students.
Engaging families in education and building a strong school-community partnership is a strategy that establishes credibility and trust by using consistent two-way messaging. It’s also the only way to actually build a school with the community as opposed to simply building a school in a community.
Communities won’t do business with people they don’t trust, and it’s no different with schools. Trust can’t be manufactured. It isn’t a transactional process. For communities to trust you, they need to be assured that they are dealing with teachers and school leaders who keep the best interests of the students and communities at the heart of what they do.
As you begin the process of starting your school, or building a community engagement strategy for your existing school, here are five ways to build community engagement in schools.
Map Your Strategy
Roadmaps allow for clear articulation of strategy, while providing team members with the destination and steps needed along the way. Here are a few questions to consider when creating your roadmap:
- Where does the community convene, and how can you become a part of that community? Remember, your goal is to become woven into the fabric of the community.
- What is your access to key decision-makers? If you don’t have access, do you have staff or families who might? Analyze the strengths of your team and families to identify who is the most credible messenger for each of your audiences.
- Who has an invested interest in your success? How can you involve them in this process?
- Who is your opposition? What are their arguments? How can you use that to improve your proposals?
- How can you provide benefits to the community? Think of shared community spaces, or partner with community organizations to bring resources to the community.
- What does success look like in one year, three years, five years, 105 years?
Establish a Community Advisory Board
Create an advisory board made up of key community members who can provide ongoing feedback and guidance throughout the school’s development and operations.
- Remember, key community members does not mean elected officials. Some of the most respected members of the community are regular people who may not hold an official title. Make sure you are talking to people in the community to find out who those leaders are.
- The community advisory board should consist of members of the community who are for and some who may oppose the building of the school. You want to make sure you are taking into consideration the views of all members of the community. You may find that some of your biggest allies may be people who were initially against you.
Host a Series of Community Visioning Sessions
Organize meetings within the community where residents can share their opinions and ideas about what the school should be. This will ensure that the school reflects the values and needs of the community. Be mindful, hosting the session is only part of the solution; making sure the community is aware and present is another. When planning your sessions be sure to consider the following:
- Who needs to be at this session? Is the group representative of the community? What steps can we take to ensure the greater community is present?
- What organizations, resident councils, community groups, local businesses, or families can we partner with to drive attention to these sessions?
- What assurances can we provide our families? Hosting several meetings with clear feedback loops is important. Consider using the “This is what we heard…This is what we are doing…What do you think?” model.
Directly Engage Families
When building a school, you want to make sure you’re doing it with the community, not simply in it. One of the easiest ways to gather information about the community’s values and desires is to knock on doors, stand outside grocery stores, or go wherever the community meets and conduct surveys. This information could shape the school’s mission, curriculum, and programs. This will foster effective communication between schools and families.
Collaborate With Community Organizations
Partner with community organizations to bring new resources that everyone can enjoy regardless of whether their child attends the school.
You’ll know you’re succeeding if you hear two people having a conversation like this:
Jessica: “Oh, your child goes to Community School XYZ? My kid doesn’t attend that school, but we go to their farmer’s market almost every Saturday. I really like what they’re doing over there.”
Mark: Me too! I just went to a job fair over there last week. They set it up in the school lunchroom. There must have been 50 local businesses there recruiting.
As you continue to think through ways to build schools with your community, remember to create real community engagement to deepen your relationships with the families and communities you serve. That’s the only way you will become a community school and not just another school in the community.