Every school leader knows how important it is to engage their communities in school-based decisions that impact their lives—from budget disputes to transportation policy changes to school safety concerns.
But school leaders also can—and should—engage their communities on topics that extend beyond the boundaries of their district. Education is personal; it’s also universal.
Take, for instance, Mendon-Upton Regional School District in Massachusetts. Recently, the district’s superintendent, Dr. Joseph Maruszczak, district administrators, and board members, participated in an online panel discussion with author and education historian Jack Schneider.
The conversation was part of the district’s ongoing online author series, MURSDLeads, in which the district invites district parents, teachers, and educators and advocates from across the state to chat with an education thought leader.
The discussion with Schneider was thoughtful, comprehensive, and wide-ranging. It touched on many of the issues facing today’s K-12 schools and aimed to dispel many of the myths about “failing schools” espoused by school choice advocates.
With this series, Mendon-Upton has created a simple but innovative way to ensure that its community is involved in the national conversation about education.
One intriguing point in the most recent discussion was about how parents choose schools. According to Schneider, word of mouth is one of the top ways parents learn about schools:
“That word of mouth tends to be strongly shaped by status. Folks will hear that there’s a high status school—whether it be public or private—and, without doing a whole lot of further investigation, will trust the people in their social network who have shared this information with them.”
Our own research at K12 Insight revealed a similar trendline about how parents choose their children’s schools. But we also found that negative word of mouth can be just as powerful in affecting parent perceptions.
While word-of-mouth reputations are deeply influenced by state-level district rating systems, Schneider says parents want more than summative ratings. “[Parents] want to know how safe kids are,” Schneider says. “They want to know how much teachers care about kids, and how kids feel around their peers. They want to know how much kids are being challenged, and if they have access to the arts and music, and how much opportunity for play there is. They’ve got a billion questions.”
The discussion also broached important subjects facing school districts—beyond enrollment and school branding. Watch the full discussion here:
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