Engage Stakeholders with School Community Councils 

by | Feb 14, 2016 | Community Building, School Climate, Student Engagement

In today’s conversations about education and schools there is a common them based on the need to engage all stakeholders in decision-making.  Over the years, I have advocated that this is not just a nice thing to do — but a necessary component of high-quality education and thus excited to hear that many others agree.

I had the privilege with my colleagues to co-facilitate a series of workshops for the Hawaii Department of Education engaging School Community Council members.  In Hawaii, each school is required to create and support a School Community Council, as they play a vital role in Hawaii’s education system.

The policies were developed by the Hawaii State Board of Education and Hawaii State Department of Education to implement School Community Councils in 2004 and are based on three common-sense principles:

  1. Individuals closest to the students should be more involved in making significant decisions affecting the instructional program of the school.
  2. A school plan to improve student academic achievement receives more support when people understand and help create that plan.
  3. When families participate in a variety of ways in their children’s education, including decision-making, their children and the school are more successful.

They are part of the leadership structure at each school and enable shared-decision making among principals, teachers, school staff, parents, students and community members to improve student achievement.

School Community Councils are:

  • A group of people who are elected by their peers to advise the principal on matters that affect student achievement and school improvement. Their primary role is to participate in the process that ensures that the needs of all students are addressed in the school’s Academic Plan.
  • Forums for open discussion and problem-solving related to student achievement. Research suggests that the collaborative process contributes to improved school culture, classroom practices and student learning, and the development of a strong professional community of educators.
  • A means to involve the community in the discussion of educational issues and help schools identify and respond to the educational needs of the community.

Among the benefits to members of School Community Councils:

  • Learning about educational research and factors that impact student achievement;
  • Being an important partner in the education system, whose views are valued;
  • Contributing to the shared goal of improving student achievement;
  • Having a vehicle through which to express opinions and share ideas; and
  • Being informed about what is happening at the school.

One of the additional benefits is the shared leadership opportunity, especially for students who in some of the School Community Councils were selected as formal leaders.

I frequently recall during one of our sessions that School Community Council members from a school from the Island of Lanai made the following statement:

Our greatest concern is that we want our schools to fully prepare each student to be successful on the mainland or any other place but at the same time feel a commitment to return to Lanai and contribute to our communities.

I feel this concern is not unique to Lanai or to Hawaii but in schools throughout the world. We all want our graduates to be able to navigate a world outside of their home area as well as desire to contribute long-term to their local communities.

The session participants shared their experiences, understanding, insights, strategies and resources as well as asked clarifying questions to their Lanai colleagues.  The deliberations were dynamic, informative and engaged everyone in the room: basically an example of shared deliberation and decision-making.

As we the deliberations led the Lanai School Community Council members to decisions, strategies and options each of their college from other schools and communities shared how beneficial it was for them to be part of this process and each identified a number of steps they would take with their school.

Among the strategies and options identified by the School Community Council member participants were:

  1. Integrating and sustaining service-learning programs to engage students with others in the community and demonstrate their capacity to contribute to community development.
  2. Creating additional leadership opportunities for students so that more students gain leadership knowledge and skills.
  3. Establishing mentoring programing connection community members and leaders with each high school student to assist them in academic, social, civic and career development.
  4. Assisting each teacher to ensure students see and understand the relevance of coursework to their daily lives and the community.
  5. Developing an alumni association that frequently connects graduates to the school and community.
  6. Focusing classes on fiscal literacy and economic development so that students gain corresponding knowledge and skills.

It is not enough to create a school-based council. It is important to connect with councils across schools to share and learn from each other.

Terry Pickeral
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Terry Pickeral

Terry Pickeral, has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations, evaluation and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.
Terry Pickeral
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