Donovan Group Insights

Building Bridges to Engage the 80%

When you think of who your district communicates with the most, parents, students, and staff are probably the first individuals who come to mind. While they’re the most involved in your schools, these stakeholders comprise a small fraction of the entire school community. The remaining 80% has the power to make big decisions in your district—and not always in the way you might hope—but also the potential to become strong advocates for public education.

Here’s a closer look at how engaging the 80% can have a powerful impact on your school district.

Who makes up the 80% in school communities?

The 80% represents people in the community who don’t have children enrolled in district schools. This includes alumni, as well as parents of former students and children not yet old enough to attend a school. While these community members aren’t currently active in your schools, they’re still connected through past or future involvement.

However, current, former, and future parents and their children aren’t the only community members tied to your school district. The 80% also consists of people who use or live close to school facilities. This includes local groups that meet in schools as well as homeowners whose properties are in close proximity to school grounds. Even business owners are impacted by the events happening in your school community.

Many others in the 80% share a tie to your school district. They include:

  • Non-parents
  • Elected officials
  • Police and fire departments
  • Local news outlets
  • Committees

The importance of engaging your community

People in the 80% aren’t directly involved with their local school districts. Nevertheless, district leaders should make an effort to engage these community members. Their input on school affairs can propel student success in the right direction. Here are some things we suggest to get the 80% involved and engaged in your district:

  • Referenda on the ballot: Everyone in the community gets to vote on proposed changes to district funds and facilities. It’s important to maintain open, honest communication in the months leading up to a referendum decision. Engaging the 80% establishes trust and makes them more likely to vote in favor of referenda that can improve the educational experience of local students.
  • Media coverage: Positive relationships with reporters can help you mold the public’s perception of your school district. By fostering that connection, district leaders can become a reporter’s number one trusted source of information. This gives you more control over which information reaches the public—and how it’s framed—when news outlets cover school stories.
  • Open houses: Holding open houses at local schools is a great way to encourage all community members to participate in the life of the district. Invite members of the community—including and especially seniors—to visit the schools and establish a greater sense of connection. Video open houses can be an effective way to augment in-person events.
  • “State of the district” reports and outreach: One of the best ways to foster a sense of connection between the 80% and the district is by providing regular reports on progress related to the district’s strategic priorities, achievements and budget. In addition to sharing these updates at school board meetings and online, it can be beneficial to visit local service clubs, municipal leaders and other local officeholders—in other words, bring your news to the 80%, who may not otherwise be motivated to seek it out on their own.

The school community involves more than parents, students and staff. People in the 80% play a role in public education, even though they don’t have children in district schools. It’s important to engage these individuals to help them discover their collective voice in your school community.

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