Community & Public Relations - Challenge Map
Challenge Map

Systems Change

Community & Public Relations

The Challenge

Schools belong to the communities they serve and districts strive to build and earn community buy-in around initiatives and goals, and work hard to communicate how stakeholders – including local businesses, service providers, and individual community members – can get involved. They face several public relations challenges, including changing societal perceptions about education (e.g. classrooms don’t have to have rows of desks and textbooks, or an agrarian schedule) and keeping messages positive in an era when social media criticism of public education and district performance is common. Some districts also face challenges with trying to engage the community through feedback loops, partnership opportunities, and collaborative decision-making.

In the Words of District Leaders

With the community, part of it is getting them to envision how they can play a role, and then getting past some of the assumptions: ‘You can't teach out of a classroom,’ or ‘You can only teach within a 45 minute bell schedule.’ ‘You can only have students doing this or that.’ And that's just not true….A lot of times, business people will worry about the maturity level of the student, and they are blown away once they get them in their work environment.

“I think we’ve had a harder sell with the idea that kids are going to need some different skills in the workplace, believe it or not. I think that because we’re in a pretty high achieving area, they want to see the high SAT and ACT scores…. They seem to understand robotics and that kind of thing, but the idea that our kids need to be able to think critically, and collaborate well, and work across cultures? We had a recent community engagement program and that was one of my aha’s is they hadn’t totally bought into that yet.”

“Everybody knows everyone and I think that our challenge with communicating and contacting folks is that there’s so much information so you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t, what’s rumor and what’s conjecture. So, our effort is really more about keeping our messages straight and making sure they don’t get skewed by someone who has a different point of view or thought process.”

Ideas from the Field

  • Various forms of community conversations, community forums, town halls, and student conversations are regularly held across many districts. Meaningfully, districts seem invested in asking questions that matter and using the information to make decisions.
  • Partnerships are increasingly important to community engagement – not just keeping local businesses, churches, post-secondary institutions, and non-profits in the loop, but truly including them in the process of improving educational outcomes. Some example of partnerships underway include a technology platform to bring more community resources to the classroom, building a system of vetting partners, working with mental health partners who have separate grant funding for community mental health work, internship programs, research efforts that match high school students with graduate-level researchers, and more.

Resources

Check out the following research-based resources for more information about community and public relations:

Communication E-Kit for Superintendents – In this practical toolkit from the National School Public Relations Association, superintendents can quickly peruse tips to ensure their district is at the forefront of successful communication.

School-Community Partnerships – This case study from the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development discusses the role community partners can play in supporting children’s learning in collaboration with schools.

Strong School–Community Partnerships in Inclusive Schools Are “Part of the Fabric of the School.…We Count on Them” – This study investigates the kinds of community partnerships that successful schools develop and the factors that support the development of strong community partnerships in these schools.

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