Equity, Engagement, and the Opportunity for Communities to Lead

Kedda Williams | Deputy Director, Partners for Each and Every Child

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is here. Like, in full force.

Many education stakeholders — especially parents, families, students, and community members — may have thought (or been made to feel) that it is something that exists at the federal level, largely the responsibility of states to deal with through the required development of an “[INSERT STATE] ESSA Plan”. Or that it was only meant to involve and include your typical state policy, management, or advocacy organization in related policy development and implementation.

But local school improvement planning efforts are set to begin this upcoming fall — which will have serious implications for those schools defined as “underperforming” under a given state’s accountability system. And the imperative for the community to get involved and contribute to key decision-making processes at the local level couldn’t be clearer.

If done well, the meaningful, authentic, and transparent engagement of families and communities to improve schools presents a real opportunity to advance equity in the policies and practices that result.

As a project that is motivated by the possibility that equity and excellence in the U.S. education system can be achieved — and believes meaningful engagement in decision-making is essential to advancing equity — Partners for Each and Every Child is incredibly fortunate to have developed a strong partnership with the Dignity in Schools Campaign and its members who are doing the real and difficult work of supporting communities across the country to advocate for equity in their schools every day.

Together, we realized that while schools and districts needed support to better engage with communities, communities themselves needed more and better resources for pushing in and getting involved.

Enter the Engage for Education Equity Toolkit — a set of resources for communities to help them understand and get involved in ESSA at the local level.

It was important to the partners to this project that we lead from the grassroots level, making sure that those communities who would be using the tools actually had a chance to provide direct input on their value and use and inform the end product. Beginning in the summer of 2017, more than 200 community members came from towns and cities across the U.S. to more than 20 calls, meetings, and events; wrote feedback online; and called in with ideas and edits to contribute to this work. We are so proud of both the process and substance involved in making this a reality.

The opportunity to contribute to local decisions is now upon us, and we hope you will use the Engage for Education Equity Toolkit to take advantage of it.