Communicating Lasting Impressions

Understanding the Power of Community Engagement for Schools

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This week, I was once again reminded of the power of community engagement. Our firm is working with a public school district to gather community input to shape its strategic plan. When you have participants thanking you for the event before it begins, it’s obvious there is a hunger for more community engagement.

community engagement gatheringThe University of Washington defines community engagement as the process by which an organization consults with interested or affected individuals, organizations and government entities before making a decision. It happens via two-way communication.

While there are numerous ways to engage the community, this occasion was a face-to-face encounter between 75 community members and facilitators, most of whom are district administrators. Attendees represented a cross-section of parents and staff from all school campuses. They also included a diverse, randomly selected group of individuals from business (including major employers), higher education, social services, Realtors, the religious community and graduates of the district. We had individuals who had lived in the school district their entire lives, while others had only been there a year.

Participants discussed one topic at depth with their fellow table members. The wealth of information received is something the school district can reference many times over. After tables discussed their topics, they shared key points with the larger group.

In-depth discussions at each table revealed many positives, among them:

  • Deep sense of pride in their education system
  • Safe and secure environment for students who are happy
  • Strong teachers who work well together
  • Small schools that can easily adapt

The discussions also showed the need for more

  • Technology
  • Communication
  • Curriculum diversity

Interestingly, a similar exercise we conducted with the school board made no mention of the need for communication and curriculum diversity. That’s okay. The board wanted to see if its views parallel those of the community so this community engagement event has provided them with new insights that will be examined through a formal research study. Additionally, event feedback gave legitimacy to many recommendations of the district’s communications officer.

So why was this community engagement so valuable?

  1. Gave citizens a voice in the decision-making process of their school district
  2. Created awareness and understanding among stakeholders about the challenges faced by the school district and gave them new knowledge to be strong ambassadors in the community
  3. Provides legitimacy to future decisions made by the school district
  4. Builds trust between the community and the school district, and that may be the greatest benefit of all.

If your school district is considering a community engagement program, contact us for a free consultation.