Academic journal article School Community Journal

Recognizing Community Voice and a Youth-Led School-Community Partnership in the School Climate Improvement Process

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Recognizing Community Voice and a Youth-Led School-Community Partnership in the School Climate Improvement Process

Article excerpt

Introduction

Students in K-12 schools and their teachers need parents/guardians and even community members to be partners in the process of supporting students' healthy development and capacity to learn socially, emotionally, and civically as well as intellectually (Fullan, 2011; Henderson, Mapp, Johnson, & Davies, 2007; Patrikakou, Weissberg, Redding, & Walberg, 2005). School leaders generally appreciate that school-community partnerships provide an essential foundation for school life and student learning, but this is rarely a central goal for improvement efforts today (Epstein et al., 2008). School-community partnerships tend to be talked about more than practiced in American K-12 public education for many reasons. Often, the importance of establishing school- community partnerships is overlooked, as district leaders and principals are faced with enormous pressure to meet academic standards (Renée & McAlister, 2011). Many school leaders are unclear about how to practically achieve this goal (Cohen, 2014). More importantly, school leaders are unclear about how to foster a long-lasting relationship with the community.

School climate reform has been described as a process that ideally engages the "whole village" to support the "whole child" (Cohen, 2011). School climate evaluations allow principals to let students, parents, and school personnel know that their perception of the school's strengths and needs and their goals for the school are valued. A growing body of school improvement research suggests that engaging all members of the community to be intrinsically motivated co-learners and co-leaders creates the essential foundation for successful school improvement efforts (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Luppescu, & Easton, 2010; Fullan, 2011, 2014; Mourshed, Chijioke, & Barber, 2010; Tucker, 2011). School climate survey evaluations serve as an engagement strategy as well as a means of establishing baseline and outcome measures of a school's strengths and needs: socially, emotionally, civically, and intellectually (Cohen, 2012).

Current school climate surveys identify student, parent/guardian, and school personnel voice but not the voice of community members. The Community Scale and School-Community Partnership Process recognize the perspective of community members by seeking their outlook on school-community partnership and on school climate with the goal of using these results to spark development of such partnerships. The process also develops secondary students' leadership, civic, and research skills by having them administer a short survey to various sectors of the larger school community, including political leaders, artists, and public safety officers (Cohen & Dary, 2012). This short survey asks community members about their perceptions of the local school- community partnership and to what extent they would be interested in learning about and supporting the school's improvement goals. It also asks them to share their perceptions of the school's overall climate. This paper describes one school's experience in using the Community Scale and School-Community Partnership Process to build meaningful bridges between their school and the larger school community. This school was chosen because of their administration of a school climate survey to students, parents, and staff annually. Due to the superintendent's strong commitment to school climate reform and the district's clearly defined community borders, this school was expected to serve as a good example of the School-Community Partnership Process. Before we detail the development of this scale and explain the process, we would like to summarize research on school climate reform in general and school-community partnership in particular.

Trends in School Climate Reform

School climate refers to the quality and character of school life1 (National School Climate Council, 2007). An effective school climate improvement process engages students, parents/guardians, school personnel, and even community members in a meaningful, democratically informed process of learning, co-leadership, and school improvement (see Appendix A for a more detailed definition of school climate improvement process). …

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