New policy brief spotlights strong community engagement

New policy brief spotlights strong community engagement

(Calif.) While improving stakeholder engagement has been difficult for many schools to achieve, researchers from the Policy Analysis for California Education said there are a handful of local educational agencies and organizations that can serve as examples of best practices.

In a brief released last week, authors highlighted a few instances where panelists at PACE’s annual conference in February shared how their organizations are engaging a broad and diverse set of stakeholders, as well as how they are building stakeholder capacity to better engage with school officials.

As a condition of receiving funding under the state’s Local Control Funding Formula, districts are required to consult with stakeholders over how to best allocate resources. Districts are also required to develop a Local Control and Accountability Plan with meaningful local community engagement of parents, community members, students and educators.

“Meaningful stakeholder engagement is a critical aspect of California’s current approach to the local governance of public schools,” according to authors of the report. “Community engagement remains one of the most challenging expectations of California’s Local Control Funding Formula, so much so that state leaders have funded an initiative to support regional networks focused on engagement.”

School districts serving more diverse communities often face distinct challenges in local engagement.

For example, Palmdale School District–one of the LEAs highlighted in the brief–serves about 19,000 students. About 87 percent of district students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and 26 percent are English learners. Approximately 75 percent of students districtwide are Latino.

Authors of the report noted that while the district convenes both a parent and English learner advisory committee consistent with LCFF requirements, those formal groups represent only a small part of the district’s engagement approach.

School officials also reach out to the community by working with the Chamber of Commerce and attending community-wide events, while the superintendent holds a breakfast at each school site to engage with parents. The districts also places a parent community liaison at each site to provide outreach to families, and surveys are conducted to make sure all parents have the opportunity to express their opinions even if they can’t make it to a meeting or other event.

The breadth of effort allowed district leaders to find common concerns among a variety of stakeholders. The topic of student social-emotional health and the need to provide support for students often came up, for instance, and the district was able to then develop different activities and services to address those issues as a response.

Another highlighted organization, Californians for Justice, was commended for its efforts to help leverage student voices in school decision-making. The statewide racial justice advocacy group works predominantly in Oakland, San Jose, Fresno and Long Beach.

To help empower students to participate in discussions regarding school governance, the organization focused on building the leadership skills of historically marginalized students, and advocated for students to participate in and contribute district budget processes, according to the group’s organizing director, Geordee Mae Corpuz.

The San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools is the lead agency for the state’s Community Engagement Initiative, which aims to develop expertise and resources to help school districts improve their ability to meaningfully engage stakeholders.

Beth Higbee, assistant superintendent in San Bernardino County, said that one of the objectives of the initiative is to build the capacity of communities and districts to have difficult conversations with each other and build trust, but that involves giving stakeholders the tools to participate.

Efforts like those included in the brief should serve as examples for other districts, Higbee said, noting that “stakeholders need to be able to build their advocacy and their comfort about having deep conversations, so they don’t feel at a disadvantage or that they somehow don’t have the full knowledge they need.”

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