3 What is public engagement and why is it important to education?

Summer 2006
A special report on improving community engagement in your district.
What is public engagement and why is it important to
What is public engagement?
If you ask five different people in
different communities you will likely
get five different answers. There is
no one definition and no one way to
go about it. As school systems and
communities search for ways to address
challenges facing them, the process
of public engagement is also evolving.
Just as every community is unique,
with needs specific to those who live
there, the process for engaging will
vary in response to those needs.
An engagement revival
The process of involving people in
their government and civil institutions
is not new, and in fact goes back to
the foundations of our democracy.
We are seeing a revival today of the
concept of holding “town halls” to
address a variety of community issues.
Even the president has used the town
hall model to convene meetings on
national issues through the use of
satellite technology.
Public engagement has been used
successfully at government and civic
levels to support movements such as
community revitalization and civic
engagement projects. We are now
beginning to see public engagement
techniques used in education in an
effort to increase and improve on
traditional parent and community
involvement programs. It is a natural
fit for education and has the potential
to engage the public in a new level of
participation in their schools.
Defining public engagement
The Annenberg Institute defines
public engagement as “a purposeful
effort, starting in either the school
system or the community, to build
a collaborative constituency for
change and improvement in the
schools.” They have identified
three characteristics common to
today’s public engagement efforts:
inclusiveness, a focus on change and
Another proponent of public
engagement, says Jerry Bryan, APR,
vice president of communications
for Sverdrup Corporation, has been
instrumental in education reform in
Missouri. He says that “Engaging the
public is not a new and better way of
selling your ideas or enlisting support.
Public engagement is not driven by
more power, but less—not gaining
What is public engagement, continued on page 2
characteristics of
public engagement:
• inclusiveness
• focus on change
• consensus
In this Issue
Key communicator network
Why is community
engagement so important?
Best practices
What research says about good
community relations
Tips and trends
Principles of authentic
community engagement
Media do’s and don’ts
Bond and budget battles
What is public engagement, continued from front page
control, but giving it up.” No matter
how public engagement is defined, its
key components are active listening,
deliberation, collaboration and shared
The goal is creating healthy
Public engagement is more than
just bringing people together to share
their thoughts and ideas. It is about
connectedness and collaboration as a
“village.” Instead of seeking out ways
to get the community to relate to the
schools, educators need to move out
to the citizens. School stakeholders
must first work to create healthy,
functioning communities before they
can focus on school reform. School
issues cannot be treated in isolation
from other community concerns.
see the connections between what is
happening in the community and what
is personally valuable to them. When
we engage our community members
in face-to-face deliberative dialogue
about the things that are important
to them, we begin to create a shared
sense of direction and a willingness to
share responsibility.
If the public isn’t participating in
your schools, if they aren’t voicing
their opinion in the decision making
process, if they aren’t assuming any
responsibility for the success of
education in your community, they
will surely be pointing the finger of
blame when they don’t agree with the
district’s direction.
Annenberg’s report, Reasons for
Hope, Voices for Change (available at
reasons.pdf), demonstrates this clearly
with case studies that show how high
profile issues at the school level can
often mask core community concerns
about values and quality of life.
Face-to-face essentials
The work of the Study Circles
Resource Center, a nonprofit,
nonpartisan foundation in
Connecticut, is based on the belief
that combining dialogue and action
in a respectful, face-to-face setting
has great potential for responding
to the challenges facing American
Developing responsibility
through dialogue
What is implied in all the research
done to date is the importance of faceto-face interaction. Today’s technology
allows us to communicate with
people on the other side of the world
in seconds, yet there is something
impersonal and detached about these
forms of communication. We build
public relationships by helping people
These four reasons are central to
why they believe meeting face-toface is essential: 1) Face-to-face
discussion affects people at a basic
emotional level. It helps to hear and
see others express their feelings. It
makes it difficult to remain indifferent
or disengaged. 2) There is a unique
incentive for people who live in the
same community to listen to each
other. They may be neighbors or work
together; it provides a reason to find
common ground. 3) Face-to-face
groups in a community-based program
can lead to action. Action evolves
naturally. Results can range from task
forces to new policies. 4) Citizens
want to see they are not alone in their
efforts. Many care deeply about social
issues but feel isolated and powerless.
This helps them feel they are part of
something bigger and that they can
make a difference.
Getting started in public
The decision to move from more
traditional communications models to
public engagement is a significant one.
The next logical question is, “Where
do we start?” While there is no one
way to implement public engagement
in a school district, there are some
general guidelines that can be
followed. The most important thing to
remember is that public engagement
is not a quick fix. Like any significant
change, public engagement takes
time, trial and error, practice and
Begin with the right issue.
The difference between public
engagement and other decision making
processes is that the schools and the
community have an equal voice in the
outcome. Schools are viewed as part
of the overall community concern. For
example, a public relations campaign
would address the passage of a bond
referendum; a public engagement model
What is public engagement, continued on page 3
Spring 2006
What is public engagement, continued from page 2
would address community growth.
One place to start is to form a schoolcommunity steering committee to guide
your public engagement project.
Frame the issue
It is important that educators
think “outside the box” in public
engagement. If we want the public
to have a stake in the issue, then
the issue must be examined from all
possible points of view. For example,
a teacher may view community
growth in terms of class size; a
businessperson may view growth in
terms of profitability. Both perceptions
of the issue are valid, but neither
individual may have considered the
other’s viewpoint. One approach to
issues framing is to hold a meeting
where a cross-section of students, staff
and community are represented. The
issue is discussed at length and all
possible solutions are put on the table.
An outcome of the meeting could be
a discussion guide that represents a
variety of points of view. This guide
can be used with group meetings
throughout the public engagement
The structure of the
meeting is important; it is
not a time for the school
board or community
leadership to sit at the
front of the room and
Community Engagement
Create community conversation
The crux of public engagement is
face-to-face dialogue on issues. The
public must be given an opportunity
to study the issue, to discuss pros
and cons, to express the values that
drive their opinions and to arrive at
multiple approaches to addressing
the issue. While educators should
participate, discussions should not
be driven or over–managed by school
personnel. The outcome of the
conversations is that participants see
that everyone has a stake in the issue;
therefore everyone has a responsibility
for the solution. Solutions may be
individual or organizational. For
example, if one outcome of community
growth is less individual attention
for students, a civic club may take
on student mentoring as a project.
Another group may address another
part of the community infrastructure,
such as adequate roads.
Bring stakeholders together
After enough time has passed for
groups to study the issue (several
months), it is a good idea for
the steering committee to host a
community-wide gathering to cap off
the project. All participants in the
community conversations should be
invited and the meeting opened to the
public at large. The structure of the
meeting is important; it is not a time
for the school board or community
leadership to sit at the front of the
room and preside. The gathering
should be a more relaxed affair. It’s a
time for additional conversation on
the issue as well as a time for people
to find out how to get involved in
solutions. Some communities have
found it beneficial to host a “fair”
where all groups addressing the issue
have a table. Meeting participants can
learn more or even sign up to help.
Other public engagement tips
Assure that key leaders are involved.
Like a bond issue, if you don’t have
buy-in from the school board, top
administration and key community
leaders, your efforts are likely to
fail. District employees should be
involved throughout the project
at all levels and represented along
with community members on the
steering committee. Don’t forget
students! They should be encouraged
to participate and can be trained to
moderate conversations. The media
should be invited to participate in the
project as well as to cover it. Media
outlets that are focusing on civic
journalism will want to be involved.
Community conversations often work
best when facilitated. Educators
and others in the community can be
trained to moderate conversations.
Remember, issues are perceived
differently by different stakeholders.
Public engagement is a process that
allows individuals to arrive at their
own solutions to a common concern.
This requires school district leaders
to relinquish some control in order to
gain the power of common ground.
Source: National School Public
Relations Association
Key Communicator Network
Building support for your schools
Personal, face-to-face contact is
the most effective communication
method when building support for
your schools.
ting up an active key communicator
network. Essentially, a key communicator network is a network of opinion
leaders who establish solid two-way
communication between an organizaPeople talk to people... and those
people talk to other people. That, how- tion and its publics. These opinion
ever sophisticated and well-planned a leaders talk to a lot of other people,
and their audiences tend to listen to
school district’s communications program may be, is how a large proportion what they have to say. They agree to
correct misinformation and to disof school news gets around.
seminate accurate information about
One problem is that this communithe school syscation system is unreliable and usutem. They also
ally one-way. Bits of information filter
keep in touch
outward from the schools into the
with school ofcommunity along informal channels
ficials and imwithout regard to accuracy or commediately report
pleteness. Thus, rumors form, spread
and become difficult to counteract.
and inaccuracies
The information that filters back to
before they are
school officials is often too late for a
widely spread.
meaningful response, and sparks that
A key commucould have been quickly snuffed benicator network
come fires of major proportions.
allows a school
School board members and admindistrict to get
istrators from every school district
accurate news out to the staff and
can cite examples of situations where community quickly. It enables school
rapidly spreading rumors have caused officials to deal with potentially harmmisunderstandings to multiply. In
ful rumors before they are blown out
these cases, crises that could have
of proportion. And it costs very little to
been headed off happened so quickly
set up and maintain.
that the usual newsletters and news
releases were useless.
Research shows that people tend to
believe their friends and neighbors
A simple solution to mitigate a seri- more than they believe the media or
ous problem is to control this grapepublications. Marketing research supvine system of communications by set- ports this view by revealing that peo-
ple make major purchases based on
what others tell them about a product
or a service. In fact, Whirlpool found
that people put much more stock in
what friends and neighbors said about
their products than what they placed
in ads. It is reasonable to assume
that people make decisions about
schools in the same way. Thus, school
officials must spend time cultivating
relationships with key employees and
community members, and keeping
them informed if they want to gain understanding and acceptance of their
school programs.
Studies have found that mass communication generally does not change
minds but only reinforces existing
positions, thus activating the opposition as well as supporters. One-on-one
communication, on the other hand, is
quiet and speaks directly to the target
audiences. The aim of one-on-one
Key communicator network, continued on page 5
Spring 2006
Key communicator network, continued from page 4
communication, through a network of
key communicators, is to build support, thus deflecting the effects of
criticism, should it come.
In this regard, it should be noted
that the media rarely launch crusades
of their own. They usually report the
ideas of others. A well-organized, oneon-one campaign targeting opinion
leaders anticipates issues and discourages attacks by going straight to the
people who bring issues to the media.
The late Patrick Jackson, a well-respected public relations practitioner,
says opinion leaders are critical for a
simple, but seldom expressed, reason.
“Publics, or groups, don’t act en masse.
They follow leaders who are pacesetters. These persons jump-start behavior within the group. Left to their own
devices, publics may choose to be led
in any direction. The choice is whether or not to influence this direction.”
Benefits of formalizing a key
communicator network
Being person-to-person in nature,
the program enables school officials to
establish two-way communication and
get a quick pulse of the community.
The program helps to bridge the distance between school officials and the
community—they get to know school
officials as people, not some distant
figureheads in an office or board room.
Regular communications to key opinion leaders offers more opportunities to
convey the many successes of positive
accomplishments in the schools.
A major benefit of the program is rumor control or a controlled grapevine
whereby volatile issues or confrontations are quickly communicated to
these opinion leaders.
Communicating negative news or
problems to this group also establishes
candor and openness and ultimately
will establish credibility and trust between school officials and the citizenry.
Key communicators are adults and
students who talk to and are believed
by a large number of people in the
community. They may or may not be in
positions of authority or officially recognized leaders. In fact, most are not
recognized as being the formal power
structure of the school district or the
They may be barbers, beauticians
and bartenders. They are frequently
dentists, gas station owners, firefighters, post office clerks and news agency
owners. Within a school, they are often
secretaries, lunch ladies or custodians. In one way or another, however,
these opinion leaders have an interest
in the schools of their community.
Interestingly, opinion leaders that
make up a successful key communicator network are seldom the loudmouths who complain at every school
board meeting. They are more likely
to be the people who only speak when
they feel it is important and when they
have a valid statement to make. They
are the people to whom others ask,
“What do you think about ... ?”
Key communicators should represent the many different demographic
segments of the community as well as
the various segments of the school
district staff. Having a good two-way
communication system in place internally is extremely important. Employees resent hearing school information
first from community residents.
Key communicators are everywhere,
but even though they are highly influential, they may not be highly visible.
Their distinguishing characteristics
are that their peers respect them and
other people trust their opinions.
Critics should definitely be invited.
In a group of 10 people, one or two
critics usually add a needed bit of
credibility to the undertaking. Experience has shown that after involvement
in a key communicator process, critics
frequently become supporters without
having a negative effect on others.
The work of key communicators is
carried out at their churches, homes,
businesses, organization meetings,
clubs or schools. Only one initial
meeting of the key communicators is
usually necessary, and should be brief
and to the point. Much of the two-way
communication between a key communicator and school officials is by
phone, brief mailings or in person.
Key communicator network, continued on page 20
Community Engagement
Why is community engagement so important?
Because schools cannot do it alone
America’s public schools can be traced
back to the year 1640 when the Massachusetts Puritans established schools to:
1. Teach basic reading, writing
and arithmetic skills, and
2. Cultivate values that serve a
democratic society (some history and civics implied).
The creators of these first schools assumed that families and churches bore
the major responsibility for raising a
child. The responsibility of the school
was limited and focused.
From 1900 to 1910, we added
• nutrition
• immunization, and
• health to the list of school responsibilities.
From 1920 to 1940, we added
• vocational education
• the practical arts
• business education
• speech and drama
• half-day kindergarten
• physical education – including
organized athletics, and
• school lunch programs (We take
this for granted today. It was,
however, a significant step to
shift to the schools the job of
feeding America’s children onethird of their daily meals.)
In the 1950s, we added
• safety education
• driver’s education
• music and art education
• foreign language requirements
are strengthened, and
• sex education introduced (topics escalate through the ‘90s)
In the 1960s, we added
• advanced placement programs
• consumer education
• career education
• peace education
• leisure education, and
• recreation education
In the 1970s, the breakup of the
American family accelerated, and
we added
• special education (mandated by
federal government)
• Title IX programs (greatly expanded athletics for girls)
• drug/alcohol abuse education
• Head Start
• parent education
• behavior adjustment classes
• character education
• environment education, and
• school breakfast programs appear
(Now, some schools are feeding
America’s children two-thirds of
their daily meals. Sadly, these are
the only decent meals some children receive.)
In the 1980s, the floodgates
opened, and we added
• keyboarding and computer
• global education
• ethnic education
• multicultural/ non-sexist
• English-as-a-second-language
(ESL) and bilingual education
• early childhood education
• Jump Start, Early Start, Even
Start and Prime Start
• full-day kindergarten
• pre-school programs for children
• after school programs for children of working parents
• alternative education in all its
• stranger/danger education
• anti-smoking education
• sexual abuse prevention education
• health and psychological services are expanded, and
• child abuse monitoring becomes
a legal requirement for teachers
In the 1990s, we added
• HIV/AIDS education
• death education
• expanded computer and Internet education
• inclusion
• tech prep and school-to-work
• gang education (in urban centers)
• bus safety education
• bicycle safety education
• gun safety education
Why is community engagement so important, continued on page 7
Spring 2006
Why is community engagement
so important, continued from page 6
In the first years of the 21st
century, we have superimposed
upon everything else
• a layer of high-stakes,
standardized tests
Community engagement is strategic;
transforms schools and community
All of the items added to the list
have merit, and all have their ardent
supporters. They cannot, however, all
be assigned to the schools.
ommunity engagement
is a process of strategic
listening and involvement
that informs, educates and motivates
a community to play a meaningful
role in deciding the future directions
of their schools. For a school district
it’s a whole new way of dealing with
its publics. It transforms both the
schools and the community.
The people of each community must
come together to answer two essential
questions: What do they want their children to know and be able to do when
they graduate, and how can the entire
community be organized to ensure that
all children reach the stated goals?
Community engagement is
a necessary function of public
education today. If school districts
and board of education members
begin to embrace the notion of
public engagement they will reap the
The bottom line is that schools
can’t do it all. Schools can’t raise
America’s children.
Strong, consistent public
engagement results in greater trust,
parent involvement, increased
funding, more impetus for education
reform and responsible media
And in most states we have not
added a single minute to the school
calendar in five decades!
Adapted from: The Burden by Jamie
Vollmer, www.jamievollmer.com.
See Jamie at MASB’s Fall Leadership
Conference, Nov. 9-12, 2006 in
Detroit. Visit www.masb.org.
When schools switch from
communication to engagement
common terms and key words
change. For instance:
public hearing
talk to and tell
protect turf
top down
strategic plan
deliberate with
share and discuss
seek and find
common ground
bottom up
values and vision
A common pitfall of public
engagement is waiting for a crisis or
need to communicate. Community
engagement must be constant and
ongoing. Results take time and
instant gratification is not going to
happen. But what will happen is a
long-lasting, trusting relationship
between the school and the
There are many tools that can be
used to listen to your community.
From community surveys and board
input sessions to focus groups
and community forums—the
main commonalities are two-way
communication and face-to-face.
Community Engagement
2006 Education Excellence community relations winners
Learn from these award-winning best practices
Welcome NICE Babies
NICE Community Schools
Aspen Ridge Elementary Schools
Coordinator: Nancy Langness
906.485.3175 x 259; [email protected]
Breakfast Club
Hartland Consolidated Schools
Hartland High School
Coordinator: David Minsker; 810.746.2212
[email protected]
Cyber Citizens
Southgate Community Schools
Southgate Anderson High School
Coordinator: Theresa Kassuba
734.246.4611; [email protected]
For the past seven years, NICE Community Schools has welcomed each and
every child into their doors beginning
at birth. The NICE Babies Program
reaches out to families in the district
who have a new baby by offering two
home visits from a parent volunteer
who brings age-appropriate gift bags
loaded with information on health, immunizations, education, toys, books,
safety equipment, etc. The visits are
followed by personal invitations to the
Family Resource Institute-sponsored
play groups. Officials in NICE recognize
that many new parents in their community were young and had limited access
to the importance of early literacy,
safety, health-related knowledge and
educational toys.
Hartland High School is using
breakfast as a way to make student
connections. When reaching out to the
community about what’s happening in
schools, students are often overlooked
for their input. Assistant Principal
Dave Minsker recognized that students
have the most to gain from school
improvement. It was developed
to help diminish negativity, allow
communication and earn respect
within the student body. Seniors are
looked to by the rest of the school for
leadership and acceptable behavior.
Business Service Technology (BST)
students at Southgate Anderson High
School have found a way to share
their knowledge about technology
with seniors in the community. Cyber
Citizens provide BST students a
hands-on, real world application for
the material they learn in class. The
students plan lessons to help seniors
at a nearby retirement complex
learn how to use computers and the
Internet as education, communication,
research and entertainment tools.
Students must problem-solve in order
to overcome barriers to learning
encountered by the elderly.
Organizers of the program truly believe it takes a community to raise a
child. Parents who have questions about
child rearing and who need communityrelated support find answers and solace
in the program. Reaching out early on
increases the chance that parents and
children enter the school system willing
to be there and prepared to learn. One
of the most transparent indicators of
the program’s success is that the district’s MEAP scores are higher than the
state average. Given the potential risk
factor of much of the district, this
speaks volumes. How NICE!
The Breakfast Club is a once per
week meeting of juniors to help
them understand the concepts and
responsibility of leadership before
they become the leaders as seniors.
Students are the key ingredient in
a successful school climate. The
Club builds these relationships
and helps create a more positive
school environment. This program
is unique in that it solicits input
directly from the students rather
than one-way communication from
the administration. Since Breakfast
Club began, the incidents of truancy,
insubordination and disrespect have
decreased from 40 to 25 percent.
Students have started feeling better
about their school and it is reflected in
a more respectful school environment.
The success of the program is
measured first by the response of
the seniors. Staff at the retirement
community reports a buzz and
excitement among the residents
on days when students are coming.
Friendships have grown and there
are celebrations throughout the year.
Students are evaluated both for their
classroom learning and assessment
by performance and product in their
teaching skills. Evidence that seniors
are able to perform the technology
skills is in the end products they
create. They’ve learned to download
pictures, e-mail friends and family,
research everything from medication to
vacation and much, much more.
Spring 2006
What research says about good school-community relations
When researchers look at the many
policies and characteristics that point
to effective schools they are reluctant
to identify one single factor that
creates higher achievement from one
school to the next. The Educational
Research Service (ERS), in its review
of the literature on effective schools,
notes that exemplary public school
performance results from many
policies, behaviors and attitudes
that “together shape the learning
Four ERS findings, however, support
the importance and effort associated
with effective school-community
relations: Leadership of the building
principal, school climate, meaningful
parental and volunteer involvement
and proactive community relations.
One researcher described the
building principal as the “straw
that stirs the drink,” the ubiquitous
presence in the school’s hallways and
grounds, the role model who sets an
unignorable example. Such principals
were variously described as taskoriented, well organized, skilled in
working with community groups and in
getting things done inside the school
and with other school constituents.
School climate
Effective principals and their schools
generate key factors in the school
climate, identified as a key element
in student achievement. They find
ways to praise student success and
progress, both in the school and the
community. They create a sense of
Community Engagement
family, helping new people for instance,
and they acknowledge and anticipate
conflict. Such principals build on trust,
communication and closeness to parents
and community. Effective principals
make customer service a top priority.
They invite feedback and consciously
work on customer satisfaction.
Parental, volunteer involvement
A recognition program from the U.S.
Department of Education selected
250 schools that had successful
community-based programs. Research
clearly indicates that children are
more likely to achieve success if
families take an active role in their
Good schools are proactive in
promoting and teaching parenting
and child-rearing skills that support
the parent as a learning-teaching
partner with the school. These schools
also open two-way communications
that value parental feedback and a
partnership approach with the family
and school. Research also supports
community volunteerism as an
approach to effective schools when
such programs are strongly supported
by the principal and staff, are properly
structured and managed, are based
on solid research, and include
meaningful ways to reward and
recognize the efforts of all volunteers.
with its school. One researcher
described an exemplary school: “…it
makes a singular attempt to get its
students and community involved.”
Research indicates that effective schools
“create” a positive, constructive twoway relationship between themselves
and the community, which in turn
relates back to the principal. The
leadership quality of these successful
administrators found they were
comfortable in dealing with parents,
used a variety of communication tools in
dealing with staff and constituents, were
turned into community issues, and took
specific steps to involve the public.
Other research notes that effective
schools share 10 characteristics
that deal with school-community
relations. Effective schools are: 1)
student centered in a 2) supportive
environment, with 3) positive
expectations, that 4) value feedback,
and find ways to 5) reward people,
create 6) sense of family, keep the 7)
school close to the community, practice
8) two-way communications, strive 9)
for achievement and 10) build trust and
respect for one another.
Proactive community relations
When various groups—including
senior citizens—are pulled into the
schools, the community shares the
achievements, needs and vision of that
school. The community reconnects
Tips for writing communication policy
For simplicity’s sake, an effective communication
program can be considered to have four basic elements.
All four must be taken into account if a communication
program is to be effective:
• The board’s concern for an ongoing, open, two-way
communication program.
• The area with which the program will deal.
• The responsibilities of school personnel.
• A specific policy on the media.
• An explanation of how board meetings are run and
how citizens can participate, contribute and make
• A statement on the individual and collective roles of
board members.
• Guidelines for citizen committees and other citizen
advisory groups.
• Guidelines for district publications.
• A policy commitment
• A provision for internal (school) communication.
• A component for external (community)
• A commitment of funds.
A policy commitment is the basis for effective
communication—you need to communicate in
two directions—within the schools and with your
constituents in the community at large. While policies
differ from district to district, a policy statement on
school community and public relations might include:
Source: Illinois Association of School Boards.
Beyond policy: A continuing role
It is important to remember that the board’s role in
effective communication extends well beyond the limits
of its policy book. The board’s continuing role as a
communicator should include:
• Relationships with governmental, educational
and other agencies, other school districts, state
and national associations, civic groups and the
business community.
• Outreach and publicity, including use of
the media, board notices and minutes, action
summaries and other board publications.
• Public participation, including volunteerism,
school organizations and special advisory
• Public activities, involving board members with
staff, students and community organizations.
The size and educational priorities of a school district
will affect the extent to which each of these elements
is emphasized in the board’s policy and the district’s
community relations program. Your district’s total
communication effort will be only as good as you
and your colleagues on the board insist that it be. If
you want effective community relations, then make
communication a matter of policy.
Source: Illinois Association of School Boards.
Spring 2006
Before you communicate, target your audiences
Building public confidence in the
schools is everyone’s job. But if it’s not
organized, it becomes no one’s job and
more than likely doomed to failure.
The public’s perception of what’s
happening in the schools is just as
important as what really goes on each
day. These perceptions often differ
from reality. More than 75 percent
of the average American community
now is comprised of taxpayers
without children. Raising taxes and
maintaining support for public schools
with this group that does not have
direct contact with schools, teachers
and students presents a unique
challenge to local school officials. The
solution: Look inward at two broadbased categories of school audiences
or groups. By analyzing the community
in these two areas, school boards will
realize how diverse their communities
can be. Secondly, one realizes there is
no “best way” to communicate. Rather
various groups may need a variety of
methods to understand the policies of
the district to become better informed
on specific issues. Such vehicles
might take the form of a newsletter,
focus groups, advisory committees,
school visits, faculty meetings,
community outreach programs,
coffee klatches and other “face-toface” communications. The process
is almost endless. But the exercise is
quite revealing for a school board’s
understanding that there is not just
one public it must address. Consider
there are two-groups of people in your
Community Engagement
school district-internal and external
Internal-Those groups within
the family of education or directly
associated with the school system,
or a school building: Principals,
teachers, custodians, secretaries, food
service workers, maintenance staff,
teacher aides, superintendent, school
board members, solicitor, students,
substitute teachers, student teachers,
guidance counselors, central office
administrators, school psychologist,
department chairmen, employee labor
unions, bus drivers, volunteers, home
and school visitor, crossing guards,
librarians, coaches, intermediate unit
personnel, social workers, nurses.
External—Those groups who
are outside of the family or have
indirect relationships with the
school system, or a school building:
Government officials, business and
industry, taxpayers without children,
parents, delivery people, college
recruiters, visiting teams, friends
and neighbors of students, friends
and neighbors of employees, PTAs/
parent groups, media, senior citizens,
police department, fire department,
social and civic organizations,
churches, real estate agents, sales
representatives, visitors, consultants,
advisory committees, nonpublic
schools, preschools, vocationaleducation schools, auditors, doctors
and dentists, barbers, beauticians,
bartenders, booster groups, speakers,
alumni, dropouts, exchange students.
The foregoing lists are only
representative of a typical district or
building. Each community will differ.
But by working through this exercise,
local officials can organize a school
community relations strategy to more
accurately focus on the information
needs of both employees (or internal
groups) and the 75 percent of the
community (external) which is not
directly involved in the day-to-day
operations of the school system.
Source: Illinois Association of
School Boards.
10 principles of authentic community engagement
It’s common for education
stakeholders to assert the need for
community engagement in schools.
In fact, the term “community
engagement” has become something
of a buzzword. But what does it really
mean? How does it work? Authentic
community engagement re-establishes
the connection between schools and
communities, creating more effective
schools and healthier neighborhoods.
Done well, authentic community
engagement leads to schools that are
central to the life and learning of the
entire community and that embody
community values. In addition,
community engagement fosters
community ownership of schools and
education reform, helping to sustain
important school improvements.
Based on the experience of
KnowledgeWorks Foundation and
others, the following 10 guiding
principles are critical to authentic
community engagement.
1. Involves all sectors of the
community. Important stakeholders
come from all segments of the community, including parents, teachers,
students, neighbors, businesses,
community-based organizations and
others. Schools perform best when
all stakeholders are involved.
2. Asks the community to en-
gage on important questions and
acknowledges its views and contributions. It also connects with
and influences official decisions.
Authentic community engagement
is not about getting a community
to “buy-in” to a decision that has
already been made. It is about soliciting community input to inform and
make local decisions.
3. Involves the community early
in the process. In order for community members to
provide input and
become educated
on the subject at
hand, they should be
involved early in the
Community meetings should not
be held solely at schools. There are
numerous places where community
members are already accustomed to
gathering. Potential spaces include
a favorite local restaurant, church,
or community member’s home.
5. Consists of more than one
meeting and allows time in the
process to make informed judgments. While opinions can be developed quickly, it takes time over multiple meetings to form judgments on
significant courses of action that are
based on a community’s value system
and a solid understanding of the
relevant information. Time between
meetings is critical to digesting previous discussions and information in
order to inform future discussions
and decisions.
6. Is driven by aspirations that
communities hold for their future.
Rather than centering on others’
ideas about what will be important
to a community, a community’s values and aspirations should inform
discussion and action.
Authentic community
re-establishes the connection
between schools and
7. Has a learning component
opporcommunities, creating
that helps build community awaretunities for people
and knowledge around the
more effective schools and to gather at conve- ness
subject at hand. Communities can
comforthealthier neighborhoods.
make better decisions if they have
able locations at
a variety of times.
access to current research and local
Spring 2006
8. Allows for sustained involve-
ment by community stakeholders. Authentic community engagement encourages stakeholders to
remain involved in the implementation of decisions and in future
school issues. Authentic community engagement creates a sense
of ownership within a community,
which is a key factor in sustaining
school improvement efforts.
9. Utilizes community partner-
ships and expertise. Communitybased organizations are often
particularly well-suited to assist
schools in leading and facilitating the community engagement
process due to their established
credibility in a community and
ability to engender trust. These
organizations often understand a
community’s unique needs, aspirations and context.
10. Employs clear, open
and consistent communication.
Schools, their partnering community engagement organizations
and community members, must be
open and honest with each other
in order to build trust. The goals
and purposes of the initiative must
be made clear to all. All stakeholders should understand the engagement process, decision steps,
meeting protocols and commonly
used language and terminology.
Community Engagement
How connected is your district
to your community?
A checklist
___ District’s mission/philosophy
includes families and
___ District education provides the
qualities and skills valued by
the business community
___ District goals, standards and
levels of student performance
are in sync with the community
___ Community attracts desirable
business growth
___ You have a method of
collecting data to support
___ General knowledge of district’s
mission, goals, standards,
student performance levels and
accountability by:
___ School system regularly
involves members of the public
in meaningful activities
___ staff
___ Citizens are given real
opportunities to deliberate on
the issues facing education
___ elected officials
___ Community is/was involved in
development of a strategic plan
___ School board is involved in a
results-oriented accountability
system for student achievement
___ School administrators and
staff embrace community
connections and engagement
___ parents
___ students
___ business leaders
___ media
___ Public and private agencies
and organizations address
needs of children in community
___ Work collaboratively with
___ Incorporate or reinforce
student achievement
goals in services they
___ Volunteers are provided
meaningful and
appropriate opportunities
___ School district hosts broad
cross sections of public
___ Business connections are
___ Community involved in civic
and/or school activities
___ Recognition is given
___ A mechanism is in place for
effective, meaningful dialogue
and discussion between the
community and the board of
___ School involved in civic and/or
community activities
___ School facilities viewed as
“community facilities”
Source: Shelley Carr, director of
communications, Olympia (Wash.)
School District
Tips for effectively lobbying your legislator
s school board members you are often called
upon to contact your legislators to let your
views on specific legislation be heard. If a
legislator is not hearing from school board members
about a particular issue he or she will either make a
decision based on personal judgment or will respond
to someone else who does make contact—often public
education’s opposition. These tips will help you make
your voice heard in Lansing.
• Make direct, personal contact with your
• Take time to read. Review as much background
material on the bill or issue as possible.
• Know when and where to contact your legislator.
The best times to find a legislator in the office
are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The
best approach is to call ahead and make an
• Show appreciation for support. It is usually a
waste of time to lobby legislators who are in support
of your position. It does help, however, to let them
know you appreciate their support of your position.
• Save time. Save time by making it clear who you are
and what organization you are working with.
• Keep your cool. Particularly if your legislator
disagrees with you. Try to avoid prolonged or
controversial argument. Allow your legislator to
express doubts, questions or opinions without
interruption. A calm, reasonable attitude and wellprepared reasons for your position may change
Remember, if you need information or assistance,
contact MASB. And be sure to inform MASB staff of your
legislator’s position and reaction to your communications.
• Keep the conversation on the issue.
Keep to the issue at hand and don’t
spend too much time on social
• Be knowledgeable. This goes back to
reading. Be knowledgeable about the
bill you want to discuss, including its
current status in the legislative process.
• Be brief and to the point. If you have
expert knowledge or specific data about
a bill, you can be of great help and very
influential to your legislator. Be sure to
give them the data in writing as well.
• Relate examples. Give your legislator
examples of how legislation will affect
your district and students.
• Be sure to have a clear proposal to
offer. Give substantive reasons for
making changes and factual information
to justify your positions.
Spring 2006
Meeting with a member of the legislature
Requesting a meeting with a member of
the legislature:
• Find your representative or senator and contact
information on the MASB Web site: www.masb.org.
• Send a fax or e-mail to the scheduler requesting a
• Include the date and time of day you would like
to meet with the member
• Offer to meet with staff if the member is not
available (i.e. education legislative assistant)
• Include the name of the legislation or issue you
would like to discuss
• Provide a phone number and/or e-mail address
where the scheduler can reach you
• Follow up with a phone call in one week if you
have not heard back from the office
At the meeting
• Be on time. Staff in most offices are busy and work
on tight schedules. Remember that their time is
• Establish a rapport. After introductions and
handshakes, talk about things you might have
in common. Maybe you have a mutual friend, or
perhaps you both went to the same elementary
school. Remember to be aware of time and the issue
at hand. Thank your senator or representative for
all that he or she does to represent your state or
• State your purpose. For example, you might say,
“Senator Levin, we are here to talk with you about
No Child Left Behind. Our professional associations,
the National School Boards Association and the
Michigan Association of School Boards, would like
to have your support for its recommendations to
improve the No Child Left Behind Act.”
• Make the issue real. Personalize the results of
the legislation. For example, relate your own story
about the legislation to the impact it has on your
students and school district.
• Paint the little picture, as well as the big picture.
After you discuss how the issue has affected you
or someone you serve, provide statistics on how
it affects people in the district, state or country.
Legislators are people; they are sympathetic to
stories about real people.
• Make a clear request. Tell your member of
Congress exactly what you would like him or
her to do, and do not leave without learning the
legislator’s position on your issue. For example,
you might say that you would like your legislator to
vote for legislation that would provide stable school
funding. Then, ask the member or their staff to
outline the legislator’s current position.
• Select a spokesperson. If several people will attend
the meeting, select a spokesperson. If everyone
there will have a role, select one person to move the
meeting along in a timely manner.
Community Engagement
Writing a letter to your legislator
Personal letters from constituents
can be powerful. Personal letters show
that you really care about the issue,
but faxed or e-mailed letters are just
as acceptable. Never underestimate
the power of a constituent’s letter.
To make your letter effective:
• Keep it short. Be concise and
limit your letter to one or two
• Use the appropriate address
and salutation. Use the correct
title, address and salutation,
and remember to proofread after
completing your letter.
For Representative:
The Honorable John Q. Smith
U.S. House of Representatives
City, State, Zip
For Senator:
The Honorable John Q. Smith
U.S. Senate
City, State, Zip
Dear Senator Smith:
Identify yourself. Let your legislator know that you are a constituent,
a school board member and member
of the Michigan Association of School
Boards and/or the National School
Boards Association.
Be polite. Like most of us, legislators
will respond better to positive communication. Start by recognizing their
support on other legislation.
Explain your position. Talk about
how the legislation has affected the
students you serve. Include any MASB
recommendations in your letter.
Dear Representative Smith:
Ask for a response. Be clear about
what you would like your legislator to
do—for example, vote for a piece of
legislation, co-sponsor legislation, or
offer an amendment—and request a
reply to your letter.
Establish yourself as a resource. You
are an expert in your field and can offer to provide additional information
regarding public education, the issue
and the effect of proposed legislation.
Write legibly. Handwritten letters
can be as persuasive as typed letters,
but your handwriting must be legible.
Generally, writing in a professional
capacity related to your employment
lends credibility. If your letter is part
of a letter-writing campaign, a handwritten letter gives the appearance of
a grassroots “ordinary citizen” communication, rather than a communication
from a special interest group.
Tips for writing letters to the editor
1. Length: Always check with the editor or read the editorial page for word limits. Many daily newspapers limit
letters to 250-350 words. Some weeklies have no limits.
If you exceed the limit, your letter will be edited and you
could lose your key points and messages.
2. Message: Don’t ramble. Start with the main point you
want to make. Use subsequent paragraphs to add examples or supporting evidence.
3. Style: Use simple words, short sentences and paragraphs.
Avoid three and four syllable words. Limit sentences to 1520 words max. Paragraph after two sentences.
4. Vocabulary: Don’t use words like ‘utilize’ or ‘employ’
when you really mean use. Write to the level of the average eighth grader. A good example of this type of writing
is found on the front page of the USA Today.
5. Address: Address your letter “To the Editor”—you don’t
need a name for the inside address.
6. Signature/Identity: You MUST sign your letter, then
type or print your name. This authenticates it.
7. Caution: Don’t commit libel—that is, don’t call people
names or accuse them of illegal acts, no matter how angry you are about something. Your letter probably won’t
get printed if you make false allegations, libel someone
or use derogatory words. However, misspellings are often
printed exactly as you wrote them with the term (sic)
behind the misspelled word. (That’s Latin for “as is”).
8. Purpose: If your letter-to-the-editor exceeds 500
words, you probably should consider submitting it as
an “Op-Ed” piece, develop it more and add a couple of
additional points. Op-Eds can be limited to 700 words,
but frequently exceed that.
Spring 2006
Media interview guide; do’s and don’ts
Before you interview:
• Know your local reporters, their deadlines and the
types of stories they cover.
• Know the subject of the interview. Ask the reporter
ahead of time the topic of the story and the kinds of
questions he or she would like to address. Anticipate
probable questions and plan your responses.
• Review any background information and gather information to give to the reporter.
• Know your goal for the interview. Consider the three
major points you’d like to make. These are your key
During the interview:
• Concentrate on communicating your key messages.
• Always speak in plain English. Avoid jargon.
• Speak in “headlines.” Offer conclusions first, briefly
and directly, then back it with facts or details. Don’t
over-answer. Short answers are better.
• Always be honest. Never lie to a reporter.
• Three acceptable responses to a reporter’s question:
I know and I’ll tell you; I don’t know; and I know and
I can’t tell you. When you don’t know, try to find out
and get back to the reporter. The last response—I
know but I can’t tell you—should be used rarely, as
in cases of student confidentiality.
Do’s and don’ts:
• Don’t repeat a reporter’s negative statement. Frame
your reply as a positive statement.
• If you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it. Always
assume that the microphone is on or that the reporter is taking notes, even if you don’t see a notebook.
• Never say “no comment.”
• Relax, stay calm and be yourself. Show enthusiasm
and smile. If you get angry, don’t argue with the
reporter. Count to 10 and calm down. Take time to
think before you answer a question.
• Don’t tell a reporter how to write the story and don’t
ask to see a story before it is printed.
When dealing with a negative news story:
• Don’t try to cover up bad news. Be the first with good
news and bad.
• Use your district spokesperson so the facts are consistently portrayed.
• Don’t lecture the reporter about how this story will
“hurt” education or the school district.
• Don’t say what you don’t know. Stick to the facts.
Don’t inject personal opinion or guess what might
have happened. Say what you know and stop.
• Always explain why you can’t respond.
• Follow the open meetings/public records laws.
preparation + key messages = success
Community Engagement
Bond and budget battles: avoid being defeated
There is no magic formula for passing nity. A bond or millage plan born in ada bond or millage issue, but there are
versity will most likely result in defeat.
some common selling tools that have
You are in trouble if there are old
stood the test of time…and voters.
wounds outstanding in the community
If your board is unable to reach
that have never healed—or at least
been properly addressed.
unanimous agreement on a spending
plan, regroup and develop another apVoters like to send a message. If you
proach before bringing your proposal to have issues that the public is still anthe voters. A board of education must
gry over, often a bond or budget vote,
be united–if not in spirit, at least in
they are used as a way to send a mesvotes–when it comes to matters of the
sage to the board. Anything from sellpocketbook. A unanimous vote is siming or closing a school to eliminating
ply mandatory. A unanimous vote sends transportation and cutting staff and
a strong message to voters that their
programs can outrage voters for years
elected or appointed officials believe in to come.
the spending plan being advanced.
While your board undoubtedly had
Since boards of education usually
sound reasons for doing what it did,
consist of philosophically and socioand had the best interest of the stueconomically diverse individuals, your dents, school system and community
board represents an excellent meter
at heart, one must remember that the
for judging how a particular spending
road to defeat may be paved with the
plan will be received by the communi- best of intentions. In short, if your
community feels mistreated or perceives itself as having been shut out of
the decision-making process, the air
must be cleared and trust be rebuilt
before going to the voters.
It cannot be stressed enough that
a campaign must be citizen-led and
staff supported with a unified, credible
board of education.
ty. If your board is experiencing rough
sledding in trying to reach consensus,
you will most certainly find similar
pockets of resistance in your commu-
Research and public opinion is often overlooked when trying to pass
a spending plan. The district must
gauge the public and understand what
the community wants. The board must
know their community demographics, attitudes and expectations. Once
this is understood, it is much easier
to devise a plan that will actually meet
the needs of the community. And, if the
public knows that the board and administration took the time to validate their
concerns, “yes” votes are more likely.
The main voter influences are economics, perceived need, district trust
and individual interests. The issue
must be reasonable. If economic times
are tough, kids can probably survive
without a new pool or performing arts
center. Every single communication
and correspondence must keep the
kids at the forefront. After all, making
adult-convenient decisions don’t usually benefit kids or achievement.
Every vote counts. We all know that
many school elections result in a low
voter turnout. There are more than 35
Michigan school districts with millage
issues decided by 20 votes or less. It is
crucial to do whatever it takes to get
your voters to the polls. Whether you
provide transportation, baby-sitting or
feeding them dinner, every vote counts!
Marketing a millage or bond
1. Designed to stimulate a specific action (get the “yes” vote out on election day).
2. Targets highly specific audiences
(senior citizens, single parents, realtors, farmers, business owners, etc.).
3. Fills identifiable public needs (employable graduates, responsible
youth, better property values).
4. Uses emotional appeal to get results (neighbors who care, we’re
Bond and budget battles, continued on page 19
Spring 2006
Demographics: know your community
t is virtually impossible to effectively communicate with your community members and voters
without knowing who they are, their expectations,
preferences, interests, etc. School board members and administrators should absolutely know the following specific
demographical information about their community.
• Age
What is the average age of your voter?
• Education
Does the average citizen have a high school diploma, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, more? Education attainment often relates to the expectations
of the community.
• Occupation
What are the major industries and employers in
your community? Do you live in a white-collar or
blue-collar community?
• Ethnic background
Are you communicating and disseminating your
message the same way for different backgrounds?
• Income level
There is often a connection between income level
and participation.
It is also important that board members know and
understand their school demographics such as average
teacher salary, graduation rates, teacher-to-student ratio, number of students eligible for free or reduced-price
lunch, current school district budget, number of students
and school buildings, and community demographics including unemployment rate, largest employer, how many
school-age children live in single-parent homes, how
many residents live at poverty level, etc.
• Lifestyle
How do people live? Do they rent apartments or own
• Behavior and preferences
Is your community conservative or liberal?
Republicans or Democrats?
• Interests
What do community members like to do in their
spare time? What are the major influencers in your
community? Perhaps it’s business, politics, civics,
family, religion?
Bond and budget battles, continued from page 18
counting on you to make a difference, do it for the kids).
How should campaign literature
be used?
• To kickoff a voter canvass effort.
• To keep the millage issue visible to
identified “yes” voters.
• To provide information to undecided voters.
Community Engagement
• To remind “yes” voters just prior to
Election Day.
• To squelch rumors and answer
A brochure is not a millage
A campaign brochure should answer: how much money is needed?;
what will the funds be used for?; what
will happen if the millage/bond does
not pass?; and how much will it cost
the individual voter?
Rule of thumb: Note the number
of times the words kids, children
and students are mentioned. If
kids aren’t the focus of the brochure—rewrite it!
Key communicator network, continued from page 5
To better communicate with their
key communicator network, school officials in the Rockwood Public Schools
in Eureka, MO, set up a telephone
messaging system. When news breaks,
the district can record a 30-second
message relaying the facts of the
situation and telling callers to dial
another number for more information.
If a crisis develops in one school, the
system is customized to allow calls to
the key communicators serving just
that school. The key communicators
can then tell their neighbors about the
news they just heard and they can give
them the number to call to get the
same information. Also remember, with
the prevalence of e-mail, communication can be instant.
A good time to start a key communicator system is in the fall. While key
communicators are most helpful in a
time of trouble or turmoil, you need to
establish mutual trust and credibility
with them before you can depend on
them to call you when they hear a rumor or to set someone straight who’s
spreading misinformation.
Once the key communicators are
identified, it’s critical to communicate
with them regularly on a personal,
one-on-one basis. Their phone calls
to school officials should be returned
immediately, and their requests for information answered promptly. If they
are expected to share good news, they
must have that information in a timely
and understandable fashion.
In addition, school officials should
contact key communicators whenever
there is a need to get information out
quickly in order to counteract rumors
or to defuse a potential crisis. Key
communicators can then make a point
of getting the information out to the
people they meet in the course of their
normal activities.
Key communicators should, in turn,
contact school officials when they
hear rumblings, rumors, questions or
ideas from people in the community.
They provide a quick, informal reading
of the pulse of the community when a
major decision must be made or when
a sensitive issue is about to erupt.
It’s not too difficult to set up a key
communicator system, but it does take
some effort. Here’s a step-by-step guide:
1. Begin by contacting members of
your staff and others from your
community that represent various
churches, clubs, civic associations,
occupations and so on. Be sure to
include all socioeconomic levels.
2. Explain that you are trying to compile a list of people in the community who are not necessarily visible
leaders, but who are respected
and listened to and/or who are in a
position to interact with a number
and variety of other people.
3. Ask them to survey their friends
and neighbors for the names and
addresses of people they feel fit
this description. Chances are, your
identifiers will come up with lots
of names.
4. Tell them to give those names and
addresses to your key communicator organizer who will combine
the lists and determine the names
that appear most often. These are
the people who will become the
nucleus of your key communicator
system. Study the list of names to
be sure that all identifiable groups
are covered. Since students and
employees are prime relayers of
information about the schools, be
sure that the key communicators
from within the schools are part of
this list. In addition, analyze each
key communicator in terms of
overall district impact or specific
school or area impact.
5. Send a letter to each person on
the list to explain the concept and
point out how they can assist the
district. Assure them it will entail
only one meeting and ask them
to attend that brief meeting (at a
specific time and place) to discuss
the program. Point out that you
are not asking them to do anything
that they aren’t already doing but
that you want to be sure they know
some important information about
the schools.
6. Follow up with a personal phone
call. Letters alone attract only
about half of those invited to meetings, but a call by the principal or
superintendent will usually generate a larger turnout.
Key communicator network, continued on page 21
Spring 2006
Key communicator network, continued from page 18
7. Hold the meeting at a school or in
the district office. Keep the agenda and the tone informal. Explain
the key communicator concept
and illustrate how it might work
by sharing specific examples of
things that have happened in your
district. (Most schools and districts already have small, informal
key communicator groups working
for them, and explaining how such
a group has helped your district is
a solid argument for setting up a
slightly more formal system.)
Caution: Don’t structure this
group; never appoint a chairperson or form committees.
8. Emphasize that the key communicator program is built on two-way
communications. You will keep
them informed of what’s going on,
and you would like them to tell you
about rumblings in the community,
questions that seem to be following
a trend or rumors that are flying.
9. Keep them informed. Send them
a monthly letter, background reports, school board agendas and
minutes—anything you can that
will help them help you.
10. Return their calls promptly. Nothing will turn off a key communicator more quickly than not getting
your attention when they have
something to report or a question
that needs answering.
11. As the year progresses jot down
instances when you contact or
hear from your key communicators. This will help you to evaluate
the program. In addition, ask the
key communicators for their assessment of the program, if they
receive enough or too much information, and if they know others
who should be included.
12. Periodically review the list of key
communicators to make sure it continues to represent your community.
Setting up a key communicator program is easy and inexpensive, and, according to Don Bagin, originator of the
concept and publisher of communication briefings, “It has worked wherever
it has been tried.” The key communicators concept simply harnesses an
existing, potentially damaging natural
force—the grapevine —and turns it to
the advantage of the school system.
For more information on community
engagement and setting up a key communicator network, contact Jennifer
Rogers, director of communications
and public relations, 517.327.5908,
[email protected], or register for CBA
106: Community Relations Leadership.
Visit www.masb.org for a complete
CBA course schedule.
Sharing the bad news: Communication strategies for budget cuts and layoffs
• Involve representatives and major stakeholder groups
on the front end, well in advance of any action.
• Have an action plan and communicate it broadly
across the system.
• Avoid speaking in absolutes. Factors beyond your
control change continually.
• Communicate options under consideration,
including worst-case scenarios.
• Set timelines that consider the human toll of
potential actions.
• Keep your frontline managers in the information
loop with current and timely news.
• Be sensitive to the fact that paranoia penetrates a
school system during times like this. Don’t make it
worse by engaging in idle talk that can and probably
will be misconstrued.
Ensure that the school district is the first source of
bad news, not the rumor mill or secondhand sources.
Deliver bad news with compassion and respect. Yes,
we must satisfy the lawyers, but put a face and heart
on all negative announcements.
Consider the impact of cuts and curtailments on
those who remain, from the emotional as well as
workload perspectives.
Exhibit responsible leadership by staying calm and
remaining focused on your ultimate mission—
student learning and achievement.
Remember that “this too shall pass.”
Source: National School PR Association
Community Engagement
Millage and/or bond issue campaign
Calendar and timeline
Assuming school elections are held in May, here is a
sequence of events for a typical election cycle:
— Board announces need for study of possible bond
— Citizens/board panel undertakes study
— School employees and citizens involved with input
to various committees
— Study committees report findings to board
— Hearings held on final recommendations
— Citizens committee for campaign formed
— Voter research/database developed
— Campaign committee forms subcommittees for
— Pre-election survey completed and reported to board
— Board determines ballot issue and establishes
election date
— General information mailed to community
— Finalize voter database
— Recruit volunteers for various tasks
— Establish phone bank
— Fundraising
— Completely inform school staff on campaign and
issues; seek active support
— Brochure development—campaign committee
— Contact media and keep informed
— Fundraising
— First general mailing to target voters by Campaign
— Phone bank for “yes” voter ID
— Absentee Voters
— PTA, PTO, service clubs, boosters, etc. given
information/urged to join campaign
— Undecided voters receive persuasive brochure
— “Yes” voters receive reminder post card
— Challengers trained
— GOTV lists prepared w/script
Election Day:
— Phone bank for “yes” voters
— Rides
— Victory party!
This is not an all inclusive calendar. Rather, the time
lines shown illustrate the need for thorough advance
planning leading up to the last 30 days.
Seven deadly sins of budget communication…and how to repent
1. Pontification—Offer access. Be approachable.
Make messages simple and personal. Keep the focus
local—on students and learning.
2. Puffery—Economize on words first. Ban jargon. Say
“textbooks” and “software” instead of “instructional
3. Insincerity—Be transparent. Talk straight and
forthright. Follow through on warnings of cuts. False
threats return to haunt and destroy credibility.
5. Boredom—Excite people. Paint pictures for them.
Help them visualize what can be.
6. Paralysis—Tap existing strengths. Use key
communicators. Draw on public relations
investments already banked.
7. Complacency—Visualize the future. Engage
people. Commit to public relations and ongoing
Source: National School PR Association
4. Disorder—Create context for messages. Keep it real.
Bring issues home for people and relate on their terms.
Spring 2006
Resources and links
Michigan Association of School Boards
Advocacy Web Page
National School Boards Association
KnowledgeWorks Foundation
National School Public Relations Association
Michigan School Public Relations Association
Jamie Vollmer
Annenberg Institute
Community Engagement Case Studies
can be found at:
• Michigan Association of School Boards,
• New Schools, Better Neighborhoods, www.nsbn.org
• Public Agenda,
Michigan Association of School Boards Community
Engagement Areas of Boardsmanship Classes
• CBA 106: Community Relations Leadership
• CBA: 228: Introduction to Public Speaking
• CBA 246: Advanced Community Relations
• CBA 252: Media Relations
• CBA 259: Creating Trust: A Key Ingredient in
School Improvement
• CBA 260: Public Speaking Skills
• CBA 261: Advocacy Skills for Public Education
• CBA 262: Spokesperson Training
• CBA 264: Shaping Public Opinion About
Public Education
Community Engagement
Publications Available at MASB’s Bookstore,
Confident Communication: Speaking Tips for Educators
By Douglas A. Parker
A sensible, skills-based and humorous approach to the
strategies every school leader or educator needs to develop
as a public speaker. Includes tips on how to gain confidence
and make nervousness work for you. ..............................$24.50
Good News! How to Get the Best Possible Media
Coverage for Your School
By Gail A. Conners
Learn how to manage your schools image before a crisis
hits. This guide shows you step-by-step how to create a
positive public perception of your school. Through real-life
scenarios, you’ll learn easy strategies to create goodwill and
avoid spending time on damage control. .................. $19.95
Communities Count:
A School Board Guide to Public Engagement
This guide takes school board members through the
community engagement process and includes help in
understanding the benefits and concerns of convening
the community. Experience shows that success is based
on some common principles, a good plan and continuous
work. Describes proven engagement methods and steps to
take to be successful. ..................................................... $19.95
The Community Connection:
Case Studies in Public Engagement
Because the stakes are high, it is essential that communities
be involved in determining the quality of their schools and
setting their future direction. How this can be done is the
focus of this publication and is presented in two parts. The
first is an analysis and discussion of the issues, trends and
frameworks that emerged from an examination of district
practices. The second consists of district profiles that are rich
in detail, creative ideas and practical solutions. ...............$8.95
This report is an initiative
from the Communications &
Advocacy Committee.
Chair Brad Baltensperger
Houghton Portage Township Schools
Vice-Chair Michael Thorp
Goodrich Area Schools
Renee Bird
Tawas Area Schools
Henry Hatter
Clio Area Schools
Janice Holz
Huron ISD
Mary Jason
Charlevoix Emmet ISD
Alberta Martin
Lake Fenton Community Schools
Beth Page
Olivet Community Schools
Mary Lou Proefrock
Reed City Area Public Schools
Jennifer Rogers
Director of Communications &
Public Relations
1001 Centennial Way, Ste. 400
Lansing, MI 48917-9279
Building Blocks of High Performing Schools
This special report on community engagement relates to two of the nine
Building Blocks of High Performing Schools presented by MASB.
High levels of Collaboration and
High performing schools encompass a community of learners.
There is strong teamwork among teachers across all grades
and with other staff. All members of the learning community,
including students, parents and members of the community
work together to create a supportive learning environment and
to actively solve problems and create solutions.
High Level of Parent
& Community Involvement
Parents and community members understand and support
the basic mission of the school and have an important role in
achieving that mission.
To learn more about all nine Building Blocks of High Performing Schools,
visit www.masb.org/page.cfm/1080.