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Dance: 3 keys to stronger community engagement

Dance School Community relations
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S. Dallas Dance

Of the many hats superintendents must wear, Chief External Relations Officer is one of the most important.

That’s according to Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Superintendent S. Dallas Dance. Dance explained his reasoning in a recent edition of Doug Eadie’s Board Savvy Superintendent podcast.

BCPS serves more than 112,000 students with some 20,000 employees. To manage the expectations and the progress of such a large school system requires strong communication and a commitment to community engagement. The best school leaders leverage their position to build awareness and have conversations about their district, Dance says:

“I believe that this individual [the superintendent], through an extreme mouthpiece and megaphone, really has the opportunity to set the stage for what the organization wants to achieve and how you can rally community input and support in order to achieve those goals.”

But good communication isn’t merely about broadcasting important announcements, Dance says. It’s having an ongoing dialogue with students, their families, and with other constituents.

You can listen to the full podcast below:

Want the highlights? Dance offers three communications tips to help your school district build stronger relationships and engage its community.

1. Your school community extends beyond students and families

Baltimore County has more than 800,000 residents, but only 112,000 students. That means more than half of these residents don’t have a direct connection to area schools. But, these residents are still vital to the work of the district, Dance says.

Dance works to connect with all community groups, whether it’s parents of current students, parents of district graduates, or other taxpayers. He also looks for ways to communicate with groups not regularly linked to schools, such as homeowners associations, community activists, county centers for aging, and others.

For more on engaging your community read How poor schools use community engagement to close the achievement gap

Dance wants to “make sure that those individuals who may not have school-aged children, but are connecting with various agencies within our school system and county know what’s happening within our school system.”

Dance says this kind of outreach has paid off in the form of a record number of school volunteers and fewer school-related tax disputes.

2. Community relations needs to be a major part of any superintendent’s work

Dance estimates that more than half his time is devoted to community and external relations.

It’s imperative that school leaders take the lead when it comes to building and maintaining the district’s brand, he says:

“People want to hear the message of what’s happening in the school system. And, there’s no better person to communicate that message like the superintendent. As a matter of fact, if you don’t communicate that message, someone else will and more than likely it’s not going to be communicated in a manner in which you want it to be communicated.”

It starts with parents. Dance doesn’t just want parents involved in the work of his schools, he wants them engaged.

Parent University is one example of Dance’s focus on parent engagement. The monthly program features educational seminars and provides practical resources for parents to support their children’s learning.

3. Community relations is the responsibility of everyone on your staff

As much as a superintendent must lead their district’s community relations efforts, Dance says everyone in the school system has a responsibility to contribute to engagement.

This is especially true in today’s fast-moving environment, where social media makes it possible for rumors to quickly spread.

“Creating a culture in your organization where communication in your schools is everyone’s responsibility, goes a long way in terms of making sure people feel connected to what the system is doing.”

What do you think of Dance’s approach to school community engagement? How is your district working to engage external stakeholders? Tell us in the comments.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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