Friday, June 27, 2008

Community Engagement and The Strategic Plan

When the Board approved and adopted the Strategic Plan, the Community Engagement elements were incomplete - the document said as much. Those elements, when written, should also be subject to Board review. The Superintendent should bring those elements to the Board for approval and adoption or the Board should insist upon reviewing them - either way.

And when the Community Engagement part comes back to the Board, it should not be the jumble it is now. There are no less than six or seven separate missions included under that umbrella, and, although they are associated, they are each distinct and indepedent. They should each have a fully developed rationale, metric, assessment, benchmark, goal, and person responsible for meeting that goal.

Media Relations is the public relations effort to make the District look good in the press. This is the primary function of the Communications office.

Public Information is the effort to inform the public about the District and how to negotiate the District's processes. These efforts include the web site and the wealth of information on it, the Enrollment Guides, the effort to keep the public informed about BEX III, and a variety of other publications. Some of this work is done in the Communications office, but much of it is distributed. This is distinguished from public engagement or input in that the communication is one-way and comes AFTER the decisions are made.

Family Involvement is the effort to encourage student families to support their children's education at home and in the school. There's a department that is supposed to support this work. This effort includes home visits, school events, math curriculum / how-to-help-your-student-with-homework workshops, and volunteering in the school.

Public Engagement means seeking, gathering, accepting, and seriously considering public input on decisions BEFORE the decision is made. It requires at least the recognition of the public as a stakeholder if not a partner. There's a lot of talk about shared decision-making, but almost none of it in real life. This effort requires two-way communication in which the District listens to the community as a stakeholder. This is the District's greatest challenge and greatest weakness but it could be their greatest strength. The fundamental problem at the root of all of the District's other problems is fact that they are not responsive to the needs of the community they ostensibly serve. This is a cultural disability, and the culture is going to have to change. If the District could make this change, a lot of the District's other problems would evaporate.

Internal Stakeholder Engagement happens when decision makers in the District invite and seriously consider input from internal stakeholders. There is precious little of this. I always tell people not to take it personally when they are shut out of discussions and decisions - the District staff do that to other District staff as well. This is the silo culture that must be demolished.

Customer Service is, oddly, housed in the Communications Department. This is where the District responds to complaints. This office needs to be invested with more authority and needs to be made more accessible - they don't have an email address. This is a critical element in the feedback loop for communication and needs to be strengthened. Is anyone counting or following up on complaints? Where is the responsiveness?

Fundraising is another form of community engagement. It done at the school level and the District level. It is critical to the District's success, yet it is almost completely unmanaged. Who is looking for grants? Who is offering organizational support to PTAs? Who is working with the Alliance? Who is working with other philanthropic organizations and individuals? A director of development can generate revenue a hundred times his or her salary.

Most important of all, the District needs to recognize each of these separate efforts as just that - separate. They cannot continue to pretend that Family Involvement is public engagement or that public information is public engagement. Taking complaints is not the same as taking input. The review of the Communications department made it very clear that media relations and public engagement are two separate efforts and that they should never be confused. Yet the District continues to confuse them - I think intentionally because they like to substitue the one they are willing to do for the one they are not willing to do.

2 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

As I mentioned previously, staff did NOT do a good job on announcing the Student Learning Committee meeting (which only meets quarterly now) or the Budget hearing sandwiched in the middle (which, to state the obvious, is what our district runs on so there is a great deal of importance to it).

Staff only cares about doing what is "legally" required, not making sure that the public has notice about meetings and materials.

At the SLC meeting, the Special Education portion was moved from one time to another. The reason given was because Michelle Corker-Curry's daughter is getting married today and she had a dinner that night to attend. I get that, I appreciate that but this is a public meeting with a published agenda. Colleen Stump could have handled the meeting. I noticed some parents coming in, getting the news and looking very disappointed. These are parents who get a lot of runaround from the district and this can just be another instance added to the list.

You're absolutely right, Charlie, about there needing to be some coherence in which department handles what process but when it comes to information and its dissemination I'm not sure any reconfiguration is going to change the mindset at the district. And that is, "parents/general public, you are on a need to know basis. We (the staff) will tell you what we think you need to know when we think you need to know it." (quotes mine)

And that, my friends, is exactly why I blog. Because if I can find out information sooner or get it to you sooner, you'll be able to help your child or get it out to your community sooner.

P.S. It's about day 32 of the News and Calendar section of the website - basically the Bulletin around of the website - remaining the same. It is hard for me to believe that I can point this out to the Board, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and Don Kennedy and still no one has bothered to update it at all. No link to the budget, no links to reading programs at the libraries for summer reading, nothing.

dan dempsey said...

Melissa,

This says it all...

T Friedman in the NY Times 6-29-2008

My fellow Americans: We are a country in debt and in decline — not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline. Our political system seems incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities. We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working.

.... And Tom Friedman does not even live in Seattle.

Melissa said: It is hard for me to believe that I can point this out to the Board, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and Don Kennedy and still no one has bothered to update it at all. No link to the budget, no links to reading programs at the libraries for summer reading, nothing.

Dan says: It is getting a lot easier for me to believe