Sokoloff, Harris. “Convening the Community.” American School Board Journal. November 1997.
This article asks the question; why must schools invite the public to join the dialogue on public education? New structures and committees are being erected in communities across the nation to build stronger connections between schools, school boards, and communities. One such structure is a district advisory committee composed of community leaders. Its purpose is to improve the quality of communication between the school district and the community. It looked for ways to increase community ties to the schools, to make residents more aware of what was going on, and to gain community feedback. Though this committee in New Jersey has functioned well and is very supportive, an increasing concern is that divisions within the community might contaminate both the committee and school board. Schools and school boards need better communication from the community to better the efficiency of the schools. Community input plays a vital role in developing school goals.
Students and parents have the most immediate stake in school quality, but the community also has significant interests in the schools. The public, or community, has an important role in public education. Three reasons arise as to why community involvement is essential for a stronger school system. First, only the community can create “public interest.” Without good communication on public interest, elected officials cannot properly determine what is best for both the schools and community. Secondly, only the community can build common ground. Third, only the community can support consistent government for the long run. School board majority shifts from election to election. Certain groups take control over time. Without consistent boards, policies and programs can change, thus losing confidence from the public community.
Community communication plays a vital role in the progression and efficiency of local schools. Communities also change or evolve from time to time. Superintendents and board members need to realize this succession. New people move into a community and want to change the traditional ways of doing things. Parents of school-age children have a better understanding of higher taxes and budgets than those without school-age children. These, along with others, can cause hostility within the community and can disrupt the proper functioning of schools. With better communication, the community can be better informed about why and how schools and school boards make decisions to avoid excessive distractions. Better communication can be achieved through local television airtime and/or local newspapers.
This article is tied into chapter 5, “Administering the Program,” of the textbook in which it discusses community involvement in the school system. It points out the importance of having good communication, relationships, and setting the tone between schools and the community. A school or school system is only as strong as its community and good communication between the two can only strengthen it.
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