By Robin G. Jackson, Guest Contributor
“What sense does it make to try to reform urban schools while the communities around them stagnate or collapse?” (Warren, 2005, p. 133).
Schools and their immediate community are inextricably linked in many ways. In addition to there being youth and families represented within the school, and property taxes being the most direct source of funding, the culture of the school is often a reflection of the culture of the community. So, it makes sense then that community reform should happen in tandem with school reform, in order to foster a synchronicity that would serve to amplify the assets that already exist within the school, community, and its families (Green, 2018). Particularly with “urban” public schools (i.e. schools typically serving minoritized students), which are statistically victimized at higher rates by the effects of historic systemic oppression, the idea of a holistic school-community partnership is one that can be the gatekeeper of students’ life trajectories through empowering academic culture—or lack thereof.
One way to attend to ensuring a meaningful school-community partnership model is through asset mapping of both the school body and the community itself, in concert with a school principal willing to position themselves as a community leader. The latter includes making strategic moves that resemble grassroots-type connectives, which positions principals as brokers between community organizations and the school; leveraging principals’ social capital in ways that bridge previously unattainable resources to the school and external community (Green, 2018). In this way, the principal can be sure that the partnerships they cultivate are both relevant to the student body, while sustaining a mutually beneficial relationship with both the organizations and the community. The former involves making strategic efforts to not only be attentive to the surrounding communities (see: the proximal communities and all entities which have a direct influence on students and families (Epstein, 2002)), but also making concerted efforts to recognize the funds of knowledge (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2006) students bring with them every day.
Lastly, a component I will mention, that is near and dear to me, is nurturing a culture shift within the school through culturally relevant, anti-bias professional learning for staff, and the amplification of student voice and impact within the school. This can begin the process of co-creating an environment with the most important stakeholders of education: the youth. Relinquishing power through authentically including students’ ideas and input fosters students’ leadership skills; effectively strengthening foundations toward navigating realities outside of the classroom (Green, 2018).
As the leader of the school, the principal has the social capital to operationalize these practices through their influence, connections, drive, and authenticity. Never existing on an island, the principal also requires a dedicated team who believes in the mission, vision, and goals. Shifting the culture of the school requires a shift within self; that energy has the potential to shift the atmosphere of the community, build trusting relationships, and foster sustainability. Are principals everywhere, particularly principals at minoritized schools, willing to take on this charge? Are they willing to be community leaders, too?
Epstein, J. (2009). Epstein’s framework of six types of involvement (Including: Sample practices, challenges, redefinitions, and expected results). Baltimore, MD: Center for the Social Organization of Schools.
González, N., Moll, L. C., & Amanti, C. (Eds.). (2006). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms. Routledge.
Green, T. L. (2018). School as community, community as school: Examining principal leadership for urban school reform and community development. Education and Urban Society, 50(2), 111-135.
Robin G. Jackson is a Doctoral Student in the Urban Education Studies program at IUPUI.