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Won't You Be My Neighbor? How Districts Build Stronger Communities
Janet Civitelli

Students and communities thrive when their public school districts are central components of their local population. Schools serve as a key component of social infrastructure, but they alone cannot provide all the services children need to learn and excel. When schools connect and collaborate with community partners, districts can leverage resources and assist students in achieving positive outcomes for learning and as future contributors to society.

Students benefit from school-community partnerships; they lead to stronger social and emotional skills, enhanced student engagement that decreases absenteeism, and improved academic outcomes such as higher test scores, better grades, and higher graduation rates.

Strong community relationships with schools benefit the larger community, too. When schools are strong, the surrounding community groups enjoy stable or increasing property values, lower crime rates, and fewer needs for social aid.

In this digital age, a school’s online presence is a type of digital town square where district websites can reach and engage with community partners. Here are strategies schools can use to build and maintain productive and rewarding relationships with their community partners.

Welcome visitors to the district

San Domenico School in San Anselmo, CA hosts a variety of events throughout the year, to which they welcome all members of the surrounding community. Their website says, “Come join us on campus - our doors are open to all.” Community members are invited to a wide variety of events including music recitals, theater performances, sports competitions, and speakers on topics of interest to the community.

screenshot of San Domenico community page

Facilitate adult education

As part of its mission, the St. Anthony-New Brighton School District aims to educate, prepare, and inspire a community of lifelong learners. Choices in community adult education classes have included topics in cooking, finance, dog obedience, language instruction, arts, self-defense, and fitness.

Screenshot of St. Anthony-New Brighton School District community page

Through a dedicated Community Service page, St. Anthony highlights its facilities available for public use and shares educational opportunities they host with community partners. St. Anthony welcomes the greater community to participate in community service events and register for adult education opportunities. Looking for the latest roundup of community news and event recaps? The district uses Finalsite’s Posts module to share the latest stories and community service announcements in one central location.

Share information about community events

Recognizing the important role that local nonprofit and community organizations play in providing educational and cultural programs for students during non-school hours, the Issaquah School District (ISD) allows non-profit, charitable, and civic organizations, and businesses to distribute information to students and families via digital flyers. ISD vets the information and then sends information of interest to parents and community members through a community bulletin board.

Screenshot of Mequon-Thiensville School District community page

Similarly, the Mequon-Thiensville School District website provides a centralized digital bulletin board for community organizations to advertise events and other information. Examples include a call to organize safe, off-road bike and pedestrian paths, pop-up events by the Girl Scouts, a holiday run/walk race, and restaurant promotions where a percentage of sales benefit the school district.

Fundraise to support educational needs

Through fundraising and collecting donations, the Calvert County School Foundation provides supplemental funding for the district. Donors make tax-deductible gifts to enable the foundation to enable projects that prioritize equity, student outcomes, school climate and culture, the workforce, and community engagement. In 2022, eight proposals were funded, including the development of a rock garden, book club, and food truck.

Encourage volunteering

Ferndale School District invites volunteers to partner with the district by joining an advisory committee or parent/teacher organization, attend school board meetings, make a financial contribution, or help with a community project.

Screenshot of St. Ferndale School District 502 community page

Examples of community projects include food banks to distribute meals to community members in need, Boys’ & Girls’ Clubs of America for after-school programming, and Head Start programs for school readiness.

Boost sports and school spirit

Edina Public Schools features an entire “Get Involved” section in its main navigation, highlighting the volunteer opportunities, district partners, committees and councils, as well as its booster clubs that work to create a positive, rewarding, and fulfilling experience for 1,600 student-athletes and coaches across 32 high school teams. Edina Athletic Boosters have funded scoreboards, website enhancements, high school trophy cases, and athletic equipment.

Screenshot of Edina Public School District community page

Launching a community program for your school

When planning a school-community program, there are some best practices to keep in mind to develop community relationships and ensure a smooth and successful partnership.

Strategize and plan ahead

Depending on the complexity of the programming, allow two to six months of preparation time before the launch of an ongoing program or an event. You’ll want to collaborate with community leaders about how the program is advertised, what’s needed from your district, and how to communicate the purpose of your program.

Designate leadership

School-community partnerships work best when there is a designated coordinator from the school to be the main point of contact regarding any specific partnership. Coordinators facilitate effective communication and collaboration among the school’s leadership team, school staff, parents, families, and members of the community.

Communicate frequently

Establish frequent check-ins with the community partner at predictable milestone intervals. This ensures everyone is on the same page about expectations and enables sufficient time to problem-solve if obstacles arise (as they often do!).

Use your school website as a communication tool

Use technology as a convenient and accessible online space to communicate your program’s mission, serve as a single centralized location for news updates, create volunteer registration with a branded and easy-to-use form embedded on your school website, and highlight partnerships and the positive contributions they make to the local community.

Measure the program’s success

In a strong collaboration, partners can work together to evaluate processes, demonstrate the impact of programs, and fine-tune efforts to achieve optimal outcomes in future projects. Successful programs increase community participation and engagement, creating increased school loyalty and retention for existing students and families while attracting prospective new students and families.

Key takeaway

Whether they are focused on educational goals, the arts, sports, or community service, school-community partnerships benefit students and the larger community. By collecting your efforts in one, central location on your school’s website to showcase successful school-community partnerships, your school or district can amplify your influence to accomplish your unique mission.

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Janet Civitelli headshot

Janet Civitelli is a communications consultant and copywriter with extensive experience working with educators and school systems. Trained as a psychologist, Janet uses her understanding of human behavior and persuasion to help organizations with strategy, storytelling, and marketing. Janet lives with her husband and two children in Austin, Texas.

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