Some districts excelling in stakeholder engagement efforts

Some districts excelling in stakeholder engagement efforts

(Calif.) Meaningful stakeholder engagement has proven a difficult process for many districts, but a recent report from the Policy Analysis for California Education highlights three districts that should serve as a positive example of how to actively include families and community members in school decision-making.

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 required to develop a Local Control and Accountability Plan with meaningful local community engagement of parents, community members, students and educators.

According to PACE’s Local Control Funding Formula Research Collaborative, a key difficulty among many school leaders was simply determining the meaning of “meaningful engagement.”

“As the LCFF was formulated and rolled out, it was not always clear what was meant by meaningful engagement,” authors of the report wrote. “Districts we examined appear to be learning from their experience and experimenting with new approaches to meaningful engagement–they viewed engagement as central to their overall improvement strategy rather than separate from it.”

The report highlighted three districts: Palmdale Elementary School District in Los Angeles County, Anaheim Union High School District, and San Mateo-Foster City School District. Researchers examined each district’s LCAP, its strategic plan, its budget, and its outcome data. Additionally, authors of the report conducted two- to three- day site visits to each district to interview district officials, principals, union representatives, school board members and community members.

In Palmdale, researchers concluded that meaningful stakeholder engagement is viewed by officials as vital to the district’s planning and implementation of its LCAP. What distinguishes the district’s improvement efforts from most other districts, they found, was the strong commitment to engaging and educating teachers, administrators, students and the wider community to become active members of the LCAP planning and oversight process.

Officials have increased transparency around school and district activities, even going so far as to train school and district leaders on how to share positive and negative data, and to publicly acknowledge when they have no answers or have made mistakes. The district also hosts ongoing community engagement trainings, meetings and feedback sessions with school and community stakeholders around the city in both formal and informal settings.

In San Mateo schools, researchers pointed to the district’s resource allocation strategy which aims to balance school priorities and needs with district-set priorities as an example of how to meaningfully include school-based stakeholders including teachers, school site councils and parent-teacher associations.

School principals were trained and tasked with explaining to local stakeholders the LCAP development process, sharing district and school-level data, and using a set of guiding questions with stakeholder groups–which researchers concluded resulted in schools establishing their own resource priorities, and educators feeling that they had a real say in the decision-making process.

Meanwhile, in Anaheim Union, researchers found that standards implementation and instructional improvement are at the center of all of the district’s work, and that intensive stakeholder engagement efforts appear to have resulted in a consistent understanding of the district’s instructional vision among all stakeholder groups.

For instance, district officials have sought to build parents’ understanding of the standards and related instructional shifts in their home languages with the help of family and community engagement specialists and support from California State University, Fullerton. According to the report, hundreds of parents now show up to LCAP planning meetings with an ability to understand the data and meaningfully partner with each other and with district leaders and school personnel to set district priorities.

Researchers note that although it is too soon to determine if such outreach methods will pay off for students, the three district’s engagement efforts are important in that they are central to the overall improvement strategy of each district, rather than being separate from it.

“Meaningful engagement for these districts served as a mechanism to refine, modify, and advance their improvement strategy, to promote understanding and establish common goals, and to give all stakeholders a real stake in the success of the district and its schools and classrooms,” authors wrote. “It is too early to tell if the districts’ commitment to meaningful engagement will pay dividends for students, but these districts have demonstrated how carefully thought out, comprehensive engagement strategies can enhance general district improvement strategies.”

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