Online Degrees Blog Educational administration and community engagement

Educational administration and community engagement

29 May
Community meeting at a school

The role of school administrators extends far beyond the walls of their institutions. Whether you serve in a rural, suburban, or urban setting, you can be an architect of community engagement, orchestrator of school transformation, and catalyst for positive change. Former New Jersey school administrator Baruti Kafele should know.

During his 35-year tenure in education, that’s exactly what he did. Now the author and host of the AP and New Principals Academy channel on YouTube has a simple mandate for school leaders: Be visible.1

While serving as an administrator in Newark, New Jersey, he focused on developing trust inside and outside the building. He inspired teachers to dream big, envisioning what educational excellence could look like. He attended city council meetings and built a rapport with the mayor and local leaders. He was also known to organize student visits to African-American-owned businesses, a move that fostered solidarity between his school and the community.1

This post explores the relationship between education administration and community engagement, including strategies for success, challenges and barriers, and case studies.

Defining educational administration, community engagement, and community partnerships

Educational administration encompasses the strategic management and leadership within educational institutions, including elementary, middle, and high schools. A school’s administration includes roles, such as principals, superintendents, and district administrators They are tasked with ensuring that schools are functioning efficiently for optimal learning.2

On the other hand, community engagement in education refers to the collaborative partnership between schools, families, and local communities to enhance student success. It involves fostering meaningful relationships, leveraging resources, and promoting inclusive practices.2

Proactive leadership and vibrant community involvement are the cornerstones of a school that thrives. As an administrator, you need to create an inclusive school environment, an engaged community and, ultimately, better student outcomes.

The multi-faceted role of educational administrators: Beyond public relations duties

The role of an educational administrator is multi-faceted. Today's educational institutions rely on adept leaders who employ a variety of strategies and best practices to stay ahead of current trends.

As an education administrator, you get to set the course for academic success, fostering an environment conducive to learning. Your responsibilities include operations, such as staff management, curriculum development and assessment, and budget allocation, to name a few.2

It’s important to evaluate how you are leveraging staff resources, especially assistant principals. When the role ends up serving solely as a disciplinarian, this can contribute to a poor school climate and low student academic performance, according to Kafele.3 In contrast, when assistant principals focus on developing their instructional leadership skills, they can focus their energy on helping teachers become more effective in the classroom. Then, the students, schools, and the entire community stand to benefit.3

Besides working closely with your assistant principals, you can play a crucial role in engaging families and the community to transform schools.

Additionally, inclusive practices and transparent communication go a long way toward fostering trust inside and outside the building. Forging partnerships with community entities, local businesses, and government agencies can contribute significantly to school improvement initiatives.

KU course connection: ELPS 750 - Principalship

This course is an introduction to the role, responsibilities, expectations, and major duties of elementary, middle, and high school building administrators. Students are presented with typical problems faced by school administrators through simulations and role-playing and are expected, through reflection and discussion, to develop viable solutions.

Benefits of community engagement

In a 2023-2024 survey, school leaders identified their top three concerns as academic recovery, teacher burnout, and student mental health and well-being.4 Community engagement plays a crucial role in addressing these concerns through collaborative partnerships.

Additionally, as an administrator, you will find that families are an important part of your community, so it’s important to understand and address their needs and concerns. Local organizations and stakeholders can also promote the sharing of resources, support strategies, and insights, which help solve complex challenges facing schools today.

Community engagement leads to many benefits, including:

  • Improved Student Achievement: Engagement correlates with faster literacy rates, higher secondary education promotion, and reduced dropout rates.5
  • Enhanced School Reputation: By forging partnerships that directly contribute to student academic achievements, schools demonstrate a proactive commitment to excellence, which enhances their reputation as institutions dedicated to holistic student development and success.5
  • Support Underserved Communities: Strong family-school networks can contribute to successful outcomes for students from historically marginalized communities (including but not limited to African American, Native American, immigrant, refugee, LGBTQ+, and low-income households). Supporting these communities is crucial for promoting equity, inclusivity, and academic success among all students.5
  • Parental Flexibility: Options, such as homework nights and support for English-learning caregivers, can enhance caretaker, parent, and family involvement
  • Understanding Barriers: Surveys help schools grasp parental, caretaker, and familial constraints like work hours. With this knowledge, administrators can design better support strategies.5

Overall, strong community connections not only benefit students’ academic achievement but, also, promote inclusivity, equity, and support for marginalized communities.

KU course connection: SPED 854 - Family and Interprofessional Collaboration in Special Education

This course moves beyond the classroom, providing the knowledge and skills to form useful, collaborative relationships with families, paraeducators, and other educators and service providers to best serve the needs of the student.

Strategies for effective community engagement: Building caretaker, parent, and family involvement

If you’ve worked in education, then you know collaboration inside the school doors is just as important as the partnerships outside. In his bestseller “Bowling Alone,” author Robert Putnam notes that declining social capital can harm schools. Social capital declines when the community—including caretakers, parents, and family members—becomes less invested in their local schools.6

The good news is that administrators can counter this trend.

To do that, administrators need to actively participate in community-based organizations, such as Rotary or Kiwanis.6 This is one way to foster connections between learners and the stakeholders who care about their education. Another way to engage the community is through collaborative decision-making processes. If stakeholders understand your school’s goals, they can contribute meaningfully to help you achieve them. By valuing community input and aligning priorities, your school or district can co-create impactful strategies that address shared challenges and aspirations.5,6

To successfully engage your community, start with these strategies:

  • Cultivate Trust: Invite community organizations and families to lead school programs and events.7
  • Build Community: Establish community-building activities that involve all members in the learning process, such as mentorship programs and guest speakers.7
  • Strengthen Partnerships: Engage with the community through events, faith-based activities, projects like neighborhood gardens, and internet safety conversations to strengthen partnerships and address shared concerns.7
  • Use Resource Maps: Create a map that taps local expertise and services, fostering mutually beneficial relationships and a sense of responsibility among stakeholders.7

By taking these proactive steps, school leaders can foster a collaborative environment where everyone feels valued, empowered, and committed to achieving common goals. This shared vision can achieve improved outcomes for students and the entire community.

Community outreach: Challenges and barriers

If your institution wants to go from an underperforming school to a community school with a success story, be prepared to put in the work—and stay on course. As you embark on a school reform process, you could face challenges and barriers to fostering community engagement.

Key challenges and barriers include:

  • Cultural and language barriers: Differences in language, culture, and values may hinder effective communication and understanding between the community and institutions.7
  • Distrust or mistrust: Historical or perceived mistrust between the community and institutions can create barriers to collaboration and engagement.7
  • Lack of communication: Insufficient or ineffective communication methods hinder engagement between the community and institutions.7
  • Limited resources: Lack of resources such as funding, staff, or infrastructure can impede community involvement in initiatives.7

If you have a dedicated leadership team and resources, some barriers will be easier to overcome than others. You may have to overcome resistance to change, address cultural and socioeconomic differences, and balance community input with educational objectives. The process will require thoughtful strategies, ongoing reflection, and a commitment to inclusive practices.

Case studies and best practices

Administrators who improve their students’ academic success and school climate, often do so by uniting teachers, staff, students, and communities around a shared vision for academic excellence. Forging partnerships with local organizations can also open the door to mentoring and career opportunities for students.

Here are two success stories:

  • Nathaniel Provencio, former Principal of Minnieville Elementary

During his tenure as principal from 2010 to 2019, the school catapulted from the 23rd percentile in state rankings to an impressive 83rd percentile by 2017-2018.9 Honored as a Principal of the Year by the Washington Post, Provencio transformed a school that serves a diverse student body, including many immigrant families, through robust parent and community engagement. 9 He used asset maps to harness local resources and empowered school leadership teams to drive engagement efforts. 9 In just four years, volunteer hours surged from 400 to 4,500, showcasing the community's dedication to their local schools 9

  • Harold Fitrer, CEO, Communities in Schools in Richmond

From 2021 to 2024, CIS in Richmond boasted a 98 to 100% graduation rate for its caseload of students.10 But Firter, a former Richmond Public School principal and retired Assistant Superintendent, said there’s more work to be done. Non-college-bound students need pathways to better-paying jobs, and community partnerships could fill this need.10 Through potential partnerships with community colleges and local businesses, they could develop a paid apprenticeship program, offering students the opportunity to earn income and gain essential career training while they are still in high school10

These case studies demonstrate the transformative power of uniting stakeholders inside schools and from your local community.

Through effective community engagement strategies, administrators not only bolster academic success but also craft innovative solutions to multifaceted challenges like housing, language barriers, mental health, and job training. These collective efforts not only elevate the school's reputation but also pave the way for a more promising future for students.

Become a leader who transforms schools and boosts student success

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Don't wait to make a difference.

Contact a KU admissions outreach advisor to learn how to begin to lead with purpose and passion so you can make a difference in the lives of teachers, students, and your community.