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Self-assessment: Are Your Schools the Community Epicenter?

Few assets are more essential to community health and growth than the local public schools.

Schools have the power to ignite innovation in their communities. Thereby, when schools prosper, so do their local communities.

Sadly, too many community members are choosing to leave their local schools. Under the guise of improving school performance, the now defunct No Child Left Behind Act sought to give students the option of transferring outside of “low-performing” schools, primarily based on standardized test results.

The message was clear: If your schools do not have strong test scores and are considered low performing, you have the option to move out. In my work with economically challenged communities, I saw mostly successful students and engaged parents flee their schools and communities.

Moving out of school neighborhoods and communities is not the answer. My position has always been clear on the relationship between schools and communities: Schools are the epicenter of neighborhoods and communities. A strong school contributes to the success of a strong community.

If schools are not working, we need to invest in fixing them, not fleeing them. Schools grow and thrive when the community takes interest and action, and assumes responsibility along with teachers and leaders who work to make them better.

Moving students and families out of local neighborhoods results in communities that do not function, and eventually fail.

How can local schools contribute to community improvement? Generation All, an organization to revitalize neighborhood schools in Chicago, makes clear why schools power vibrant communities.

1.) Strong schools attract families and businesses, which boosts the local economy and drives population growth. Strong neighborhood schools attract families looking for an affordable, top-quality education for their children.

2.) Families build better relationships with other families in their community through their schools, which builds cohesion and trust. Families become interwoven through their strong neighborhood public schools.

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3.) When students attend a school near their home, families can more easily connect with teachers and contribute as school volunteers and leaders. This is due to the school’s accessibility. The closer a student lives to their school, the more access parents and others have to the resources at that school.

4.) More and more, local schools function like community centers, offering opportunities to improve the health and wellbeing of nearby residents. Strong neighborhood schools attract positive attention from all over the community.

Struggling schools only achieve success when leaders understand how the unique assets of their neighborhood and communities support their schools. In our recent book on the emerging role of the superintendent, Dr. Sally Zepeda and I identify how superintendents and school leaders can help lead community involvement.

Take a few minutes to self-assess the vibrancy of your school and its relationship to its community. How does your community fare? Rate yourself (yes or no) on leading your community’s engagement with your schools.

___1) Community members embrace the need to challenge every student, so they have choice once they graduate from high school.

___2) Community members believe that they have a responsibility for youth development so students can navigate social perils.

___3) Community members are involved in student activities outside of the school day to activate their curiosity.

___4) Community members get involved in their school to share their knowledge and wisdom.

___5) Community members support their schools and access community assets to support every student.

___6) Community members see the potential in every child.

___7) Community members engage through modeling expected behaviors as adults.

___8) Community members engage with their school system and understand that educating all children needs to be the mission of their community.

Reflect for a few minutes on this self-assessment.  What is the relationship between your community and your school district or school?

Educational leaders must demonstrate leadership in their communities. Schools and communities are not separate, but rather share a symbiotic relationship. They need each other to be successful, both now and into the future.

For more insight into the emerging role of leaders, read The Emerging Work of Today’s Superintendent: Leading Schools and Communities to Educate All Children. Dr. Philip D. Lanoue and Dr. Sally J. Zepeda’s goal in writing this book published by Rowman & Littlefield, and as a joint publication with AASA, is to engage superintendents and leaders by asking different questions about their roles in leading schools and communities.