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How Does Public Education Shape a Community’s Culture?

Response from “Ask Former Trustees – Clear Creek ISD Chapter”: Joanna Baleson, Ken Baliker, Jennifer Broddle, Bob Davee, Glenn Freedman, Ann Hammond, Charlie Pond, Page Rander, Dee Scott, Win Weber

What is community culture?

Community culture refers to the set of values, beliefs, and customs that bind a community. Sociologists often define a community’s culture as its blend of education, healthcare, economy, level of tolerance, and shared history.

How do public schools contribute to a strong community culture?

There are three categories of relationships that help define a school district’s contributions to community culture:
1. Each School’s Key Relationships: Each public school has its own cultural sphere, as typically defined by its attendance zones. From the students to the PTA to the perceptions of academic quality, each school contributes to the community.

2. The District’s Key Relationships with Parents and Staff: School districts develop reputations as friendly and receptive or not, high quality or not, fiscally responsible or not, and relevant or not. ISDs set a tone across the community for community standards in academics, the arts, athletics, career and college preparation, and much more. One way of determining the relevance of a district is to ask whether the district creates opportunities for students to thrive.

3. The District’s Key Relationships with Business and All Other Residents: A community’s business success starts with its schools. Every business needs a quality workforce, a place for families to live and enjoy, and a quality of life that is conducive to its overall vitality. Public education is where that all begins. Further, a community’s citizens should all understand their connectedness to the schools.

Specifically, what should we look for in our schools to build and sustain a healthy community?

1. Student Engagement: Students should be working, learning and playing cooperatively as a precursor to becoming a positive, contributing member of American culture.

2. Teacher-Principal Engagement: Students and teachers should know one another beyond a classroom, welcoming one another and chatting formally and informally as the situations warrant. The engagement also applies to how the school’s adults interact, demonstrate respect, and collaborate. Every school has its own sense of place and its distinctive micro-culture, with the tone set by the principal and reinforced by the teaching staff. When that culture is positive and forward-looking, learning can flourish.

3. Community Engagement: Healthy districts and individual schools have healthy relationships with their respective communities – from businesses to non-profits to families. Strong districts and schools can count on the community for assistance when it is needed, for support through fund-raising, bonds or advocacy, and for helping to defend public education’s importance in a free society. Further, at an individual level, families and schools should be communicating and sharing the necessary information to keep students involved from pre-K through to graduation.

4. Transitional Engagement: A public school education is a multi-year process that ideally leads to each student’s successful transition to jobs and careers, college, the military, or other adult pursuits. We should be able to observe this process unfold for each child.

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