have just learned that your local school board is crafting a comprehensive
plan proposing major reforms. The plan is far-reaching and the implications
are great. School board members are eager to gather community input
and they want your help. How will you engage all segments of your
community in the conversation? Where will you begin?
Knowing your community is critical. Your efforts to engage all
segments of your community should be just as far-reaching as the
"proposed" reform agenda. But too often organizers limit their outreach
efforts to schools, churches, governmental agencies or youth groups.
This is a good start, but organizers are missing a bigger opportunity
to cast a wider net. Experienced organizers start with these leads
to identify less visible community groups that have a deeper reach
into culturally diverse and minority neighborhoods. True community
engagement begins here.
For example, many business and community groups are affiliated
with minority and ethnic organizations. The local Chamber of Commerce
typically has ties to the Asian, Hispanic or Native American Chambers
of Commerce. National advocacy groups will help put you in touch
with local affiliates or leaders. Some examples of national groups
include the National Advancement for Colored People, La Raza Unida
(a national advocacy group for the Hispanic community), the Asian
American Arts Alliance or the Native American Cultural Society (a
nonprofit group committed to educating people about the Native American
Another good source is local cultural groups or museums that concentrate
on preserving native language, customs and traditions. Not only
can these groups help recruit parents to discuss school reform efforts,
but they can help break down cultural or language barriers along
the way. Think of them as your cultural expertsknowledgeable
leaders who can deepen your knowledge and increase outreach to members
of different communities.
Community and recreation centers that offer after school tutoring,
English classes, career counseling, job placement or citizenship
classes are another valuable resource. These centers are a good
way to promote upcoming community meetings and attract new participants.
Building community support for increased public involvement requires
legwork and know how. The results, however, are invaluable. Ensuring
parents and community members of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds
participate early in school conversations not only broadens the
diversity of opinion, but cements relationships over time. When
done well, minority parents are an integral part of the decision-making
process affecting public education, not just an afterthought.
attended several Study Circle meetings to gather research for this
publication. While participants and organizers liked the process
and were eager to participate again, they shared candid observations
with SEDL about improving community outreach. These observations
spoke volumes about their commitment to meaningful public engagement.
After one Study Circle session, some expressed concern that only
middle income community members had attended the meeting. Organizers
and participants agreed that they needed to do a better job engaging
participants from other socioeconomic levels. As they brainstormed
ideas, they crafted this checklist of guiding questions:
- Which leaders in our community can best connect
us to groups that work with minority and low income parents, residents
- In what ways will we ensure these leaders and organizations
are involved early on?
- What considerationstime, expense, outreach
effortsmust be made to accommodate participants?