Does Your School Make the Grade on Community Engagement?

Good community engagement is tricky. That is to say, there is not a single color-by-numbers approach that works for every school district.

Every school and school district has its own set of challenges—its own pain points. Some change from year to year. Some change from week to week. Some change by the day, the minute.

With so many different audiences and variables in play, it’s often tough to gauge how good your district is at listening to and understanding the needs of its community. But that’s no excuse.

If we can evaluate school districts on other merits—be it student achievement, teacher performance, or school climate—is there a reason why family and community engagement should not also factor into that equation?

California-based education advocacy group Families in Schools says parent engagement should be measured—and it recently released a rubric to help the state’s schools do just that. The initiative was created in response to California’s Local Control Funding Formula, which requires schools to seek input from parents and community members ahead of important program and policy decisions.

The requirement has been in place since 2013, but Families in Schools and others contend that educators can do a better job tying community engagement to actual outcomes. Reaching out to parents and including community members in important decisions is well and good, but how does that translate into higher performance in the classroom, for example.

The rubric includes 16 different measures of effectiveness, including how many parents take part in assessment surveys, how complaints are received and handled in schools, and whether parents feel that their input is valued or respected. Schools are deemed to be either emerging, developing, or achieving based on how well they perform in these categories.

Drawing from its work, the organization offers several ideas for how to improve community engagement. Here are just a few:

Reach beyond the ‘usual suspects’
It’s easy to reach out to the parents who participate in every school activity or are in constant contact with your school. It’s much harder to find those parents who want to engage, but don’t know how or who prefer different channels of communications. School districts need to actively seek these voices out, pull them into the conversation, and show them that their voices count.

Ask for help
Most school districts want to improve their community engagement, but many hit a wall when it comes to resource allocation. That logjam is starting to move again, thanks to technology-based tools and other solutions that help schools manage communication more effectively.

Don’t just listen, use what you hear
Paying lip service to parents and community members is not the same as listening to find a common solution. Find tangible ways to incorporate parents’ suggestions into your future plans and show them how you do it.

Next step: standardization
Families in Schools is urging the state of California to create state-wide standards, based on its rubric, which will be used to award LCFF funding.

This is not the first time an organization has proposed guidelines for assessing parent engagement in schools. The national PTA, for instance, created broad national standards for states and districts to use.

Whether or not California creates binding standards based on the rubric remains to be seen. But, as you consider how to improve community engagement in your district, the tool is worth a look—whether you run schools in California or somewhere else.

How do you engage parents and your community? What more can you do to ensure that parents are invested in their children’s learning? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for an always-on, listening solution to help you bring parents into the conversation?  Let’s Talk!

Author: Todd Kominiak

Todd Kominiak is Managing Editor of TrustED.

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