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The San Jose Unified School District Wins Honors For Its Board of Education Driven Public Engagement Model
The San Jose Unified School District has enacted a unique plan to build relationships with the local community in order to overcome an old negative image.
The Past Negative Image of the San Jose Schools
A series of teacher strikes, bankruptcy, and changes in leadership gave the San Jose Unified School District a bad reputation among the local community. Students weren’t achieving state standards and many parents and teachers didn’t know what to do to fix the situations. The San Jose Unified School District faced the daunting task of regaining public trust and integrating itself into the needs of the community.
The Board of Education Driven Public Engagement Model
The solution that San Jose came up with was not an easy one, nor a quick one. It involved finding new ways to communicate with parents and other area residents in a way that allowed all voices to be heard and real data to be collected about the school district’s problems.
The San Jose Unified School District organized a series of focus groups to identify what needed to be done. These focus groups were able to pinpoint the factors that bred mistrust and disinterest in the community. Eventually, the school district was able to say that the basic factors contributing to the problems in the district came from three sources: lack of school – community interaction, low student expectations, and uninvolved or uninformed parents. With this information, the Board of Education turned to business and civic groups to try to find ways to eliminate these factors.
The Board of Education Driven Public Engagement Model has both short and long term goals. In the short term, the San Jose Unified School district sought to create a plan that would make the local community want to send their children there. In the long term, the school district hopes to engage the community in order to accomplish their goals of improving student performance while building up a network of tools and strategies for communication with the public. Superintendent Don Iglesias explained: “The program was developed to increase parent and community participation and understanding within our school district.”
Successful Components of the Model
District communications are at the center of the Public Engagement Model and conferences between school and community members are held on a yearly basis. Called “community conversations,” these conferences have allowed the school district to hear the thoughts and opinions of over 6000 people. In addition, annual surveys for parents, teachers, and students help identify the issues to be resolved and help all members of the community feel a commitment to the success of the San Jose Unified School District.
Evidence That It’s Working
Improvements in student achievement across the board are clear in the 30 California Distinguished Schools and 11 National Blue Ribbon Schools in the district. In addition, the new relationship with the community has also had its rewards. First a $165 million bond issue and then a $429 million one have shown overwhelming public support for the San Jose Unified School District, as the local community shows the new found trust and high expectations it has for area schools. As Superintendent Iglesias puts it, “Through this project, we have learned what strategies work from a public standpoint, and parents feel heard and respected.”
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