Grassroots Organizing Toolkit
In recent years, during the market crash of 2008 and the recession that followed, most of us have come to loathe the term “new normal.” It’s the recognition that public resources are scarce, growth will be slow, and those of us who operate in the public arena may never enjoy the same level of support once afforded our schools.
The new normal in K-12 public education also describes school district governance. Reforms aimed at improving student achievement from state and federal governments have eroded the ability of local school boards to set standards, curriculum, assessments, and even the school calendar. This is a trend that is unlikely to be reversed, particularly if policymakers look globally to benchmark what is working in other countries. Where student achievement has grown significantly, standards for both teacher preparation and student assessment have been consolidated at the national level. Nations that are leading the way on international assessments are no longer leaving educational attainment standards to district- or building-level decisionmakers.
When parents attend meetings and jam legislative committees, their representatives listen. Lobbying at the state and federal levels is essential for school boards and school administrators to retain some semblance of control. But the pleas from locally elected school board members and their superintendents often fall on deaf ears when delivered in hearing rooms filled with impatient legislators and congress members who believe our focus is retaining the status quo. They no longer consider administrators at the district level to be the education experts.
The people who have the most impact on elected officials are the ones who give large amounts of money, the foundations and corporate interests who support charters and cyber charters.
The second most important group is those who vote — parents and grandparents. When parents attend meetings and jam legislative committees, their representatives listen.
Where we once were able to shape the future of our schools through the door-to-door retail politics of building support for school board candidates and bond issues, we now must use those tactics and many others, aided immensely by the advent of social media, to encourage parents and communities to influence their legislators and congress members. It’s community engagement at a different level.
What follows is a toolkit for communicators who can help their school districts with this new type of community engagement. It provides tips, tactics, templates, and resources to build grassroots support.
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