Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this advice from Building a Culture of Support: Strategies for School Leaders by PJ Caposey. In this article, Caposey talks about the "Five S's" that can be used to build the community's support for a school or district. He also provides a sample to-to list to help principals jumpstart their support of the five S's.
Schools can create names for themselves and attract people in five ways, which can be labeled the five S’s: sports, student achievement, specials, safety and service. Dramatic success in any of these five areas can have a significant impact on a school’s reputation and community pride. As is true of everything associated with a school, the principal can play a vital role not only in facilitating positive performance in each area, but also in positively promoting that performance.
Sports have the ability to raise community pride more quickly and possibly in more ways than any other program within a school. For better or for worse, sports are the most visible part of a school. The success of students, coaches and programs are immediately known and discussed on a weekly basis in the community. The data from sports competitions are broadcast on local newscasts, in the paper and via the Internet. A high-achieving sports program can do in one year what it might take any other program decades to do: change a reputation.
Students’ academic success may have the most powerful influence on school–community relations, but it takes significantly longer to change community perspective through student achievement than through almost any other of the five S’s. The excruciatingly slow release of data and the manner in which the media cover school and student data allow both positive and negative reputations to last too long. Perceptions do change, however. A commitment to progress, opportunity and high expectations will allow a school to determine its own reputation in due time.
A great band, choir, language or drama department can have the same galvanizing impact on a community that a successful sports program can. In some communities, the school play or musical is sold out months before the curtain rises, and that type of positive exposure for students and the school is hard to match. Special services can also attract students and parents. This can refer to special education services or unique programs offered only in one school. Special education expertise and location of services can certainly impact (both positively and negatively) parents’ willingness to send their children to a given school. A school that can offer comprehensive care for students would undoubtedly be more attractive than a school that only does what is legally required.
In certain locations, safety and student discipline concerns trump all other parental considerations. That being said, it would be a rare school that could claim greater student safety than its neighbors without exceeding their output in other areas as well. Safety within a school may have an impact on enrollment, but generally in a negative sense. Students who do not feel safe will often choose not to attend a particular school and if moving is not an option, then not attending any school may be the response from an adolescent. High mobility rates and low graduation rates not only deter a school’s effort to attract students, but also may lead to students’ voluntarily leaving or avoiding attending the school.
A school’s commitment to community service can quickly and dramatically change public perception. Creating meaningful partnerships begins with creating the mindset among faculty, staff and students that the school needs to support the community as much as the community needs to support the school. Once a community realizes that a school wants to help the area succeed, many past transgressions can be forgiven. In addition, tying the students to the community in a proactive manner encourages alumni to raise their own families in the area.
The Principal's Role in the Five S's
Schools serve their communities by being successful. Schools are successful when leadership fosters a culture of support within the school by focusing on the mission and vision and serving the development of the people (professionals and students) in the building. Once the culture of a school embodies that kind of support, some of the five S’s will take place naturally. The large hurdle for the principal is to use programming and past experience to change the paradigm, moving students from expecting their community to provide for and support them to finding ways to provide for and support their community. Check out this sample to-do list to help principals jumpstart their support of the five S's.
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