How Schools Can Engage Their Community

By Naomi Dillon

Ed Honowitz was a middle school student in Pasadena, Calif., when his district became one of the first west of the Mississippi to be placed under court-ordered desegregation. It wasn’t until he was an adult, after returning from college and career stints elsewhere, that he fully appreciated the impact of such a ruling on his hometown.

“We’re a tale of two cities,” says Honowitz, now a board member for the Pasadena Unified School District. “We’ve got the Rose Bowl, the Rose Parade, and lots of old money --  and we’ve got a district that is two-thirds free and reduced lunch.”

That dichotomy, played out in larger cities across America over the past four decades, has become a joke among locals in Pasadena. The joke, according to Honowitz, goes like this: After desegregation, the city and the school district divorced. The schools got custody of the kids but not enough support.

Reclaiming that support --  and the investment and involvement of an engaged community --  is critical to a district’s success. A 2009 report issued by researchers at Columbia University’s Teachers College says family and community involvement have a direct impact on student learning.

“[Federal] policy and media keep isolating our schools, making it appear that the answer to this very complex issue is the teacher,” says Martin Blank, president of the Institute for Educational Leadership, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “Yes, the teacher is the most important in-school factor, but the community is the most important out-of-school factor, and we’ve got data to support that.”

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