Donovan Group Insights

After ESSER: How to Engage the Community

When the pandemic shut down classrooms, many school districts’ budgets took a direct hit. Superintendents breathed a collective sigh of relief when the U.S. Department of Education announced the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. ESSER provided school and district leaders with the resources that helped them continue to meet students’ needs during the pandemic and address potential learning losses resulting from pandemic-related disruptions.

But with ESSER wrapping up, superintendents are left wondering what’s next for their districts. While this source of funding is going away, the strong ties you formed with stakeholders during the pandemic are a good starting point for boosting funds in the school years to come.

Celebrate what your district has accomplished

The U.S. Department of Education has finished awarding ESSER funds to state educational agencies across the country. This has prompted superintendents to revisit district budgets heading into the future. But first, it’s important to take a moment to acknowledge the amazing work your community has done these past two and a half years. Navigating a pandemic is no small feat, and your school district made it through to the other side.

Your schools continued to deliver quality education through the collaborative efforts of students, staff and families. By working together, stakeholders successfully transitioned from traditional to virtual classrooms. Distance learning highlighted the importance of solid communication, and while students attended class from their respective homes, the school community rallied together stronger than ever before.

Think of how much your school district accomplished through the ESSER program. Federal relief made it possible for students to access vital resources at the height of the pandemic, especially those who are underserved or living with a disability. You were able to provide tools that enabled virtual learning, and the additional funds strengthened communication efforts at a time when unity was of the utmost importance.

Earn community engagement through transparency

Naturally, superintendents want to know where they go from here. The key to attracting positive community engagement is going to be showing stakeholders how district leadership is advancing the schools according to strategic priorities, including meeting the needs of students in the aftermath of the pandemic.

As you communicate with stakeholders, remember that transparency remains a top priority. Be honest about the district’s priorities, and explain how you’re taking steps and allocating funds to boost the quality of education in your schools. Stakeholders are more likely to stay engaged if they feel you’re being transparent, honest and sincere in the actions you’re taking to achieve desired outcomes for students and for the district as a whole.

ESSER was the push your district needed to help the school community thrive during the pandemic. Federal relief was instrumental in distance learning and enhanced communication efforts. Now, with ESSER behind us, it’s time to engage the community as you continue to strive toward meeting your district’s strategic priorities.

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