Chapter 9




Randall B. Lindsey


Schools of the 1990s are characterized by their continued interaction with the communities they serve. Today's and tomorrow's administrators need to have skills for working effectively with the diverse communities in which all schools exist. Well-developed community relations skills are a necessary component in administrators' being responsive to the needs of students and other educators. This chapter examines the importance of school-community relations, the national and local perspectives on various administrative roles and functions, the differentiated roles of administrators with regard to school-community activities, and the importance of these topics to the new administrator.


Importance of School-Community Relations


Today's school administrators are expected to be multi-talented in their approach to their jobs. First, within the context of instructional improvement, collective bargaining, budget issues, and other complex tasks facing administrators is the need to possess well-honed community relations skills. Second, is the recognition that administrators do not function in a monolithic community. Even the district which appears homogeneous is made up of diverse constituencies. Third, the expectations are that administrators will anticipate and prevent crises, increase communications between the school and the home, and respond to special interest groups. The consideration of these issues presents administrators with the understanding that they are an important link to our communities and that the development of appropriate skills is important to being a successful administrator.


Increased Emphasis on Community Relations Skills


One of the dramatic shifts in the last two generations has been in the direction of increased emphasis on administrators developing good relationships with their communities. From the mid-19th century through the middle part of this century, concerted efforts had been focused on not politicizing the role of school administrators. The shift to a more community-involved role for school administrators was noted by Kimbrough and Burkett (1990) in their acknowledgment that:


Studies since the early 1950s have shown that schools do not exist in a political vacuum; . . . this opinion dictates that the school leader should see that an effective home-school partnership in the education process is developed. Thus the principal, or the person so designated by the principal, must mount strategies to establish good school-community relations . . . . (p. 89)


The community relations function of the administrator's role is usually described in terms of providing programs which result in the school and district being viewed more favorably by the community. The executive director of the National School Public Relations Association states that the way to garner community support for schools is to do four things (Coursen & Thomas, 1989):


1. Do a good job.

2. Do a Good Job.


4. Make sure people know about it. (pp. 263-264)


The administrator must do a good job and communicate that success to the diverse publics each school serves. Too often schools are doing a good job and make no attempt to communicate their accomplishments to their constituent communities. Undoubtedly, there are also those schools whose public relations campaigns greatly exceed their factual accomplishments. However, the emphasis here is on the schools which are striving to provide both a sound education for students and the rationale behind strong, positive school-community relations.


Communities as Pluralistic Entities


A second major change in schools during the last two generations has been the increasing recognition that our constituent communities are pluralistic in nature. Lipham (1988) quotes Getzels' definition of communities "as groups of people conscious of a collective identity characterized by common cognitive and affective norms." He then offers Getzels' taxonomy of communities (Lipham, 1988):


  1. Local community. The collective identity is founded in a particular neighborhood or region: for example, the local neighborhood or school community.
  2. Administrative community. The collective identity is found in a particular politically determined identity: for example, the city, county, or school district community.
  3. Social community. The collective identity is founded in a particular set of interpersonal relationships without regard to local or administrative boundaries: for example, all the people in one's community of friends.
  4. Instrumental community. The collective identity is founded in direct or indirect engagement with others in performance of a particular function of mutual concern: for example, a professional group; such as the educational community, a union community, or a philanthropic community.
  5. Ethnic, caste, or class community. The collective identity is founded in affinity to a particular national, racial, or cultural group: for example, the Irish, black, or upper-class community.
  6. Ideological community. The collective identity is founded in a particular historic, conceptual, or sociopolitical community that stretches across the local, administrative, social, instrumental, or ethnic communities: for example, the Christian, scholarly, or socialist communities. (p. 178)


This recognition of the diversity of our communities provides the administrator with a basic awareness on which he or she can proceed to develop constructive and high impact programs. Once the administrator scans the landscape of the community and identifies the various communities, then he or she is ready to identify the leadership within the communities. It is recognized that communities have visible, invisible, and emerging leaders. The visible leaders are easy to distinguish due to their presence on councils, committees, and task forces. Invisible leaders are those who work behind the scenes to influence drives, elections, or other issues. The emerging leaders are those in the wings preparing to take the positions of those currently in power. This latter group is particularly significant because an early recognition and involvement of them in school activities can reap future rewards.


The recognition of the diversity of communities and the leadership within those communities will equally serve the veteran administrator, the neophyte administrator, the urban administrator, the suburban/rural administrator, the superintendent, and the assistant principal. Whether the local schools are in need of support for tax referenda or bond issues, support for curricular or co-curricular programs, support for new student discipline policies, or the general need for improvement in the public's confidence in school; the process is equally political and necessary. The role of the administrator has evolved to include the need for effective attitudes and skills in working with the community. The recognition and self-acceptance of that role is a first step in effectively administering schools.


Wherry and Bagin (Kindred, Bagin, & Gallagher, 1990) in their respective roles as executive director of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and as president of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), posed several suggestions to improve public confidence in educational leaders and in schools. Included in their recommendations are: to work effectively with the business community; to involve nonparents in the schools; and to recognize communication as a two-way process. The use of this information results in what Armistead (1989, p. 12) recognizes as the planning of positive public relations as opposed to the negative public relations which just happen.


Crises, Home-School Relations, and Special Interest Groups


Typically, though not exclusively, the community relations opportunities for administrators include dealing with crises, communication with students' families, and responding to special interest groups. Jay (1989, p. 14), in noting that the Chinese symbol for crisis is a combination of the words danger and opportunity, recognizes that how a school responds to crises may determine the climate of the school for a considerable time after a crisis. She states that a school must have trust, credibility, open lines of communication, and an effective plan. Central to the plan is an administrator who is attuned to potential hot spots and adverse conditions. The effective administrator anticipates, and hopefully prevents crises, or knows how to guide his or her school and community through difficult times.


The administrator who guides his or her school in staying in close contact with the home recognizes that such action on the part of the school usually results in higher student achievement, improved student discipline, increased student attendance, better student attitudes toward learning, and increased parent and community support for schools (Hester, 1989). Knowing that these are characteristics of effective schools gives the informed administrator a rationale for guiding his or her faculty in developing strategies which accomplish these ends. Additionally, it can be an important bridge to understanding the diversity of the community and the various interests found there.


Kudlacek (1989) acknowledges that there is no "sure-fire formula . . . for working with special interest groups" but she does recognize that they exist and that the effective administrator recognizes this. She indicates that the effective community-oriented administrator is one who values introspection, has good listening skills, nurtures contacts with key community people and involves special interest leaders in the planning of school programs.


The Importance of School-Community Relations


There is no doubt that the roles and responsibilities of school administrators have undergone and will continue to undergo transformation. Initially it appears that the importance of school-community relations programs and skills is to relate the accomplishments of the school to the community so that the administrator of the school looks good. However, on further examination, it is apparent that one of the more profound implications of effective school-community relations is the recognition of the pluralistic nature of communities. Not only are they diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and culture, but they are diverse in terms of neighborhoods, friendships, and ideology. It is incumbent on the effective administrator to be aware of those elements within the larger community. The transformation is from a view of the administrator/school being isolated from the community to one in which the school is seen as an integral part of a dynamic community.


Some of the more visible and tangible functions of today's administrators are how crises are handled, how good home-school relations are facilitated, and how special interest groups are treated. These outward

manifestations of good skills need to be built on a solid footing which recognizes school-community relations skills as an indispensable function of all administrators' roles and which recognizes and values the diversity within our communities.


The Organization and Function of School-Community Relations Programs


The title school-community relations implies a formal procedure or process which could be called a program.

While formal programs do exist in most school districts, there are informal processes which also need to be

examined. It is the amalgam of formally constituted programs and informal processes which insure the effectiveness of school administrators.


Beginning a Formal Process


Implementing a new program is best accomplished if it is data based. Several sources have identified that surveys and other inventories are efficient ways to collect information from the community (Kimbrough &

Burkett, 1990; Coursen & Thomas, 1989; Kindred, Bagin, & Gallagher, 1990). Surveys range from highly sophisticated and commercially available instruments to those which are locally designed. Whatever their

genesis, the instruments should collect reliable baseline information. The following is selected information from a list compiled by Kindred, et al. (1990) which gives an idea of the types of relevant baseline information available:


  1. Existing needs and expectations of citizens regarding public education.
  2. Opportunities and means for effecting better cooperative relations with various publics.
  3. The nature of the power structure and the areas of decision-making.
  4. Immediate and long-term problems that need attention.
  5. Gaps that should be filled in order to produce more public understanding of educational policies and programs.
  6. The channels through which public opinion is built in the community.
  7. Changes occurring in patterns of community life.
  8. Leadership and leadership influence.
  9. The number and types of organizations and social agencies existing in the community.


Information which is gathered in a systematic manner becomes the content on which goals and objectives are established. Whether the data are gathered from mailed surveys, personal interviews, or surveys administered to groups invited to school meetings, they provide the administrator with ideas on the needs of the community. Additionally, they provide the administrator with a baseline of information for measuring the success of implemented programs and for comparing future needs assessments.


Goals and Objectives


Whether the administrator is establishing a new program, refining an existing school-community relations program, or establishing a district-wide program or a school site program, a system of goals and objectives

is vital. Kindred, Bagin, & Gallagher (1990) offer examples of program goals often found in schools:


  1. To develop intelligent public understanding of the school in all aspects of its operation.
  2. To determine how the public feels about the school and what it wishes the school to accomplish.
  3. To secure adequate financial support for a sound educational program.
  4. To help citizens feel a more direct responsibility for the quality of education the school provides.
  5. To earn the good will, respect, and confidence of the public in professional personnel and services of the institution.
  6. To bring about public realization of the need for change and what must be done to facilitate essential progress.
  7. To involve citizens in the work of the school and the solving of educational problems.
  8. To promote a genuine spirit of cooperation between the school and community in sharing leadership for the improvement of community life.


The power of goals and objectives is directly proportionate to two key ingredients: the integrity of the survey instrument and the comprehensive nature of surveying the community. Whether a person selects a commercially available instrument or develops his or her own, it is important that the instrument be perceived and used as an unbiased and neutral tool. Many school districts have run afoul of public opinion by administering survey instruments that are clearly biased in favor of certain outcomes. Likewise, the administration of the instrument must be done in a manner which recognizes the aforementioned pluralistic nature of the community. Care should be taken to define the geographic boundaries of the sample and to include opinions from a broad base of the community.


Once the school has gathered its information and set its goals and objectives, it is in a position to decide on the formal nature of the school-community relations program. At the district level it may be an office as formal as the Public Information Office or School-Community Relations Specialist, or it may be the adjunct duties of key, visible administrators. When it is an adjunct duty, it is often the responsibility of the superintendent or other respected district office administrator. At the school site level the formal program is usually the responsibility of the principal, involving select teachers and members of the community as appropriate.


Formal Programs


Formal school-community relations programs have both internal and external programs. Internal programs are those designed for the benefit of communicating with the employees and students of the school or district. External programs are those designed for communicating with the communities which a school or district serves.


Kindred, Bagin, & Gallagher (1990) have identified three reasons for schools to establish good internal

communications programs:


  1. A good external communication program cannot survive without it.
  2. Constructive ideas will be suggested by employees because someone is listening to them and informing them.
  3. human needs, such as recognition and a sense of belonging, will be met, thus making employees more productive. (p. 100)


The variety of internal communications programs is almost limitless. They can be formal networks such as district-wide or school-wide newsletters; student and faculty handbooks; student publications; student, teacher, and/or classified personnel advisory councils; staff recognition programs; staff development programs; and procedures for handling emergency situations. Shared decision-making councils are rapidly emerging as formal processes, often negotiated through collective bargaining in which administrators, teachers, classified personnel, and students make consensual decisions on designated topics.


Less formal internal programs include daily bulletins, conferences between administrators and the staff they supervise, and faculty/student activism. Though the line separating the less formal and the more formal internal communications programs may be somewhat arbitrary, it should be noted that schools highly structure some communications programs, whereas others appear to be more incidental to the schools' operation.


Formal external programs, like their internal counterparts, are diverse in structure and purpose. They range from programs designed to work with the general community, to programs designed for parents or students. A recent example of schools working with their communities is the adopt-a-school program. Most frequently based on identified needs, schools increasingly are reaching out to local businesses for assistance which ranges from direct financial assistance to the involvement of the businesses' employees as tutors. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has been providing training in establishing the school as a centerpoint of the local community, and in the last few years businesses have been directly involved in the daily operation of schools. President Bush's America 2000 education strategy is the most current evidence of that type of involvement.


Other external programs include those where school programs are open to the public, programs which interact with constituent groups, and programs designed for parents. School programs which are open to the public like athletic events, school plays, and adult education programs are powerful ways in which schools interact with the larger community. They provide a basis for identity for both the neighborhood school and the larger community in which the school resides. In interacting with constituent groups, schools often enlist constituent support on either side of contract issues, on tax bond referenda, with neighborhood associations, and with community advisory committees. Parent programs include parent-teacher organizations, school visit programs, inservice programs, and parent involvement on important committees such as those deciding curricular issues. Whatever the purpose of the external program, its success rests on the ability of the school to communicate with the designated community.


Communications with external communities take many forms. They can include the basic bulletin carried home by students, meetings held at community or school sites, and messages via the media. Though the technology can be as basic as word-of-mouth communication to orchestrated press conferences, the common denominator of an effective communication is one which adheres to a carefully planned purpose and recognizes the diversity of the community.


Informal Processes


Within every successful formal school-community relations program are effective informal communication processes. Schools have one characteristic which makes them unique in the social order. Schools are the

only institutions which virtually every person in the community has had direct experience. It is exceedingly rare to find a person who has never attended a school. As a result, many people regard themselves as expert, or at least experienced, on what schools are or should be about. This provides school personnel with either an opportunity or a dilemma. If the preponderance of people with whom an administrator interacts had negative experiences in school, then it may be safe to say that this administrator has a different challenge from his or her counterpart who deals with constituents who had positive experiences with schools. Though the challenge may be different, the approach is virtually the same. A formally derived community relations program must value every constituent community based on informal interactions.


The informal communication process can begin with how the public is greeted on the school telephone, how the school grounds appear, how the parent is greeted by school personnel, how students regard the contiguous community, or the extent to which school personnel are aware of the unique needs of a particular community. It is through these often unrecognized acts of awareness and courtesy that schools may often determine the effectiveness of their relationships with their communities. For example, if a local businessperson telephones the school and is inadvertently disconnected several times, it may lead to frustration and a poor evaluation of the school. Or, if a concerned parent visits the district office unannounced to voice a concern over a new curricular unit and leaves feeling listened to, it may lead to a good evaluation of the school. Or, lastly, if a neighborhood-watch organization has targeted gang intervention efforts as a high priority item and is rebuffed by the school administrator in trying to establish a liaison relationship with the school because the school has its own program, it may lead to strained relationships.


The magic in the informal process is that the image the school projects becomes the medium of communication. Through inadvertent efforts schools can either enhance or retard effective communication

with their diverse communities. The role of the administrator becomes crucial in helping the school staff project an image based on true regard for the total environment of the school. The administrators' role is to project an image of treating others as we want to be treated and of treating the environment as if it were pridefully theirs.


School-Community Relations in California


School-community relations in California, similar to national efforts, are illustrated in four types of formal programs and numerous informal processes. Formal programs include federal and state legislated programs, adopt-a-school programs, shared decision-making programs, and locally created programs. The School Based Coordinated Program (SBCP) is a state effort to coordinate limited-English proficient, gifted and talented, special education, and school improvement programs. Each district is required to have a broad-based site council which represents each of the constituent areas, the parents and community members, teachers, other school personnel, and the principal. Members of the council are selected by their peers. The major responsibility of the councils is to oversee the programs. These councils are advisory in nature (Education Code 52010-52034). This program is a good example of how schools respond to designated constituent communities. The most recent legislated effort is Assembly Bill 322 (AB 322), effective January 1, 1991, requiring all school districts' governing boards to adopt a policy on parent involvement. Jenkins (1991) summarized the legislation (Education Code 11502) which emphasizes the intent for the policy and programs to:


  1. Engage parents positively in their children's education by helping parents develop skills to use at home that support their children's academic efforts at school and their children's development as responsible future members of our society.
  2. Inform parents that they can directly affect the success of their children's learning by providing parents with techniques and strategies that they can use to improve their children's academic success and to assist their children in learning at home.
  3. Build consistent and effective communication between the home and the school so that parents know when and how to assist their children in support of classroom learning and activities.
  4. Train teachers and administrators to communicate effectively with parents.
  5. Integrate parent involvement programs into the school's master plan for academic accountability. (p. 37)


As with President Bush's America 2000 strategy, AB 322 may become a vehicle by which the issue of school

choice is addressed in California. Jenkins (1991) acknowledges the issue of choice and extends it to a discussion of the taxonomy of communities by posing questions like:


Is it (the school plan for parent involvement) sensitive to the different educational backgrounds of the parents and does it take into consideration the different learning styles that all individuals have? Is it sensitive to the different ethnic and cultural heritages of families in the school community? With the changing family structure, are all caregivers taken into consideration - parents, grandparents, relatives, and foster parents? Are the schedules of working parents given consideration? (p. 37)


In a true school-community relations conclusion to her article on AB 322, Jenkins (1991, p. 37) states, "Truly, for our children to succeed, education must become a client-based business - before the chaos called choice

becomes the driving force." In that single sentence Jenkins illustrates at least two sides of effective school-community relations. First, the recognition that education should be a client-based business, one which responds to a remarkably diverse client community. Second, that schools exist in a political milieu, one in which either schools are to be responsive to political pressures or the political systems will redefine them.


The second type of community-school relations program widely evident in California is the adopt-a-school program. From the smallest rural districts to the largest urban systems, adopt-a-school programs proliferated during the last decade. The usual process was for the local school to identify specific needs and then to approach a local business or the office of a large corporation located in the local community for assistance. The programs vary in scope and breadth and most often provide the stimulus for extra assistance in the forms of tutors, funds for equipment and materials, and funds for participation in community events like professional and collegiate athletic events, visits to museums, and field trips.


Typically these programs afford the school the opportunity to offer incentives and programs that would not be possible with district revenues. Benefits for the businesses to be involved are in addressing pressing educational issues at the school site and to be apprised of the remarkable diversity of local schools.


The third type of school-community relations program evolving in California is the shared decision-making program which is spreading throughout the state. The program which has received the most regional and national attention has been the program negotiated between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the United Teachers of Los Angeles. The district and the teachers' union have negotiated a process for involving administrators, teachers, classified staff, community members, and sometimes students, into making decisions on topics derived through the collective bargaining process. In terms of school-community relations, shared decision-making gives schools the opportunity to improve not only these formal processes, but the informal processes which, when properly constituted, can positively affect the interaction between schools and their diverse communities.


The fourth category of school-community relations programs, the locally derived program, is in evidence

throughout the state. Whether through offices like the Public Information Office or as a designated responsibility of traditional school personnel, virtually every district has some type of formal school-community relations program.


The Roles of Administrators


The differentiated roles of the administrative hierarchy are as evident in school-community relations functions as they are in any other aspect of school organization. From the school board to a wide variety of administrators, there are interdependent, mutually supportive, sometimes overlapping, as well as discretely different roles. The recognition of these roles and forces is central to administrator effectiveness. The Board of Education


The major school-community relations function of boards of education was put succinctly by Kimbrough and Burkett (1990, p. 98): "The establishment of excellent community-school relations begins with educational purpose." They note that the alternative to a program based on purpose is "mindlessness and the development of a credibility gap with the public." Coursen and Thomas (1989) use the terms ineffective and destructive to similarly describe programs which are unplanned. Successful school-community relations programs are the result of detailed planning.


For the development of positive school-community relations, the National School Public Relations Association recommends five points for school boards to consider when developing a communications policy statement (DeLapp & Smith, 1991):


  1. The educational organization should commit to writing a clear and concise policy statement with respect to its public information program.
  2. The policy statement should be approved through formal action by the governing board of the organization, should be published in its policy manual, and should be reviewed by the governing board annually.
  3. The policy statement should express the purposes of the organization's public information program and provide the delegation of such authority to the executives of the organization as necessary to achieve the objectives.
  4. The provisions of the policy statement should be made known to the entire staff or membership of the organization through all appropriate means.
  5. Commitment to the achievement of the purposes of the organization's public information policy should be demonstrated through the allocation of adequate human and financial resources to the public information program. (p. 9)


The school board's function is to set policy, usually with the guidance of the superintendent, that recognizes the diversity of the community, its various social systems and special interest groups. From the base of a well-crafted policy statement, it becomes the province of the superintendent and his or her immediate support staff to design the procedures of a school-community relations program.


The Superintendent and District Staff


The superintendent and his or her staff have responsibilities which are two-way in nature. They have the

responsibility to see that clear communications flow from the school to the community and, conversely, to see that effective communications flow from the community to the school. Schools traditionally have performed the former role of informer to the community in adequate terms. The difference between less than adequate and exemplary programs appears to be the degree of well-planned school-community relations programs, as opposed to those which just happen.


The administrative role of listening to communities is one which has emerged rapidly in the last forty years. It represents the formal and informal ways in which schools elicit communities' perceptions of schools and the unique community needs which the schools must address. Kindred, Bagin, & Gallagher (1990) delineated a series of functions for superintendents and their staffs in fulfilling the duality of their responsibilities. A selected list of those functions are:


  1. Assuming initiative in the planning of processes and procedures for keeping the board, staff, and public well-informed on school matters.
  2. Helping all personnel connected with the school system become sensitive to the meaning and importance of their contacts in the community.
  3. Working with key groups and influential individuals in the community on significant educational policies and problems.
  4. Taking leadership to providing the opportunities required for district-wide involvement of citizens in programs for educational improvement. (pp. 64-65)


Howlett (1988, p. 18) summarized the responsibility of the superintendent and his or her staff in stating that "No community relations program can succeed if it is treated as a second-class activity to be brought out when I can find time . . . . Community relations means relating, and relationships are ongoing, . . . ." She contends that the administrators in charge of community relations must contact local constituents to determine needs, identify goals, and implement, monitor, and assess plans. A well-designed school-community relations plan at the district level sends a clear message to the school sites as to the value placed on this mode of communication.


Possibly the most important school-community relations function of the superintendent and his or her district office staff is to develop procedures for relating with the media. Well-developed procedures are important as a vehicle for dispensing information to the community and for responding to queries from the media. Secondarily, well-developed procedures identify primary responsibilities for those who respond to inquiries from the media and guidelines for that relationship. This process is of particular importance to site level administrators because they often will not have immediate access to district level administrators. When inquiries come from members of the media, they should appear informed and responsive. The media represent the open access of the community to schools. A relationship built on openness and accessibility is crucial.


A second level of responsibility of the superintendent and his or her staff is the communication with the employees and students within the district. This includes coordinating internal publications, coordinating

formal committee structures to address professional issues, developing and disseminating procedures for use in emergency situations, and keeping the focus of schools on students. The successful implementation of clear communication procedures with teachers, classified employees, and students provides a positive support for communication with the community at large.


The Principal and the School Site


The roles and responsibilities of school site personnel closely parallel those of the superintendent and district level administrators. Site level personnel are also responsible for communication to and from their communities. They are responsible for having well-designed procedures for communicating with their

communities, and for having systems of communicating with school personnel and students.


Communication processes and techniques for the site administrator include organizing and administering

publicity, making presentations and speeches to community groups, distributing printed material to parents and community group representatives, and conducting special school events (Kimbrough & Burkett, 1990). Each of these is an important category of events which can be orchestrated at the school site. Too often publicity about school site events lacks a professional touch. Both printed materials and direct personal contact must be of the highest professional order. Publications should carry with them the recognition that the media are a powerful source of public opinion about schools. Similarly, highly professional presentations to community and parent groups can be a way of engendering support for schools. In addition to the caution to insure that all printed materials are technically accurate and professionally organized, it is equally important that they be free of educational jargon. Finally, special school events, whether they are curricular or co-curricular, provide a way for the school to put its best foot forward. Our various communities enjoy seeing their children performing at their best and are more likely to be supportive of schools when they participate in well- organized student-centered activities.


The principal's role in crises is one of the realities of the modern age. Twineham (1991) and Jay (1989) have

described the crisis situations faced by principals as being an opportunity. In addition to the aforementioned need for a well-designed media relations process, is the recognition that in times of crises it is important to have accessible spokespersons who are credible, well-prepared, and articulate. With these two factors in place, the responsible communication of the facts of a crisis are more likely to occur. Well-designed media relations processes and well-versed spokespeople should counter the negative effects of any emerging rumor mills.


Future Trends


The roles of school administrators and teachers have become increasingly complex over the last two generations. No longer are administrators and teachers living and working in an environment isolated from

the community. Today's schools exist in a complex environment of strong political overtones. The principal, superintendent, and teacher of the 1990s are seeing the community take a forthright role in school processes. It will be the effective school leader who knows how to orchestrate linkages between the school and its communities.


The recognition of the complexities of the community is vitally important to school personnel being effective in their jobs, to students being socially and academically successful, and to the evolving definition of the roles schools play in this society. In California by the middle of this decade, the student population will be multicultural to the extent that there will be no majority group. In an unprecedented fashion, educators are providing programs which respond to the needs of students with diverse language experiences.


At least three trends in California bear watching. First, the immigration of students from other countries is projected to continue unabated and will provide challenges and opportunities to schools and their communities. Second, whether from President Bush's America 2000 program or from a statewide voter initiative, the issue of school choice is likely to become a reality. Third, the community relations role of school administrators, as a consequence of these and other pressures, is going to broaden.


It has been reported by various sources that over 15 percent of California's student population was born in another country. Projections are that this trend will continue and is likely to expand. Given the state's position on the Pacific Rim, it is no surprise that the bulk of immigration is from Mexico, Central America, and countries of Asia. Though the policy considerations for this demographic shift have implications at all levels of federal, state, and local government, the impact is most directly felt at the local school district level. The challenge for the local school district is to assure access to the school system, provide a quality educational program by appropriately trained educators, provide English language instruction, and to provide for the special needs of immigrant children (California Tomorrow, 1986). Given that many of the children are coming from war-ravaged countries, their special needs will often include responding to trauma caused by war.


The issue of school choice is likely to preoccupy the attention of school administrators for the next generation. It may become for administrators of today and tomorrow what school desegregation has been for the last generation, a political hot potato that fails to respond to the attainment of education for the historically lowest-achieving one-third of the population. While discussing the merits of America 2000, Pellicer and Stevenson (1991) note:


Despite the fact that, to date, there is no real body of convincing research to suggest that choice will improve classroom instruction for a majority of youngsters, America 2000 will most likely propel choice to the forefront of the national educational agenda. (pp. 90-91)


The proponents of America 2000 point out that school choice is not the focus, but that a voluntary national testing program and a related curriculum are efforts to make this country competitive in the international marketplace once again. School choice provides options to conventional schools by creating a series of

break-the-mold schools. They are to be designed to provide better options to existing, failing schools. Those opposed to America 2000 mainly focus on the issues of national standards as not insuring the educational

needs of those currently being underserved in schools.


Whatever the issues may be, the message for school administrators is clear: It is important to be well-versed on the text of America 2000 and any similar state level initiatives. There is little doubt that the various communities each school serves will be coming down on all sides of these proposals. For the next few years, school administrators can be conduits for assuring that accurate information is disseminated. Concurrently, it will be the wise administrator who keeps in touch with the opinions of both the formal and informal community leaders.


Robison (1991) typifies the school-community relations-aware superintendent in her comment:


If anyone tells you they have a strategy for working with the community, they have probably missed the mark . . . . In any school or district, there are multiple communities and special interest groups. Each has its own agenda and communications should be tailored specifically to the needs of each. (p. 18)


Robison (1991, pp. 19-20) stresses the importance of keeping "an ear to the ground" in identifying the key opinion-makers; in providing parent outreach in their multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-lingual community; in interacting with the nonparent business community; in recognizing that the district's employees are "important ambassadors to the community;" and in being accessible to the community. It is important to note that none of this detracts from the instructional role of either the district level or site level administrators. What it should do is to provide the administrator with a keener understanding of the needs of the student population.




The latter half of the 20th century has witnessed the school-community relations role of the administrator evolving from a depoliticized function to one responding to the educational needs and feelings of a diverse community. It can be no other way. The effective administrator must be alert to the educational needs and the political pressures in the community. A well-designed formal school-community relations program, augmented by an effective informal communications network, will help meet this goal.


Discussion Questions


  1. What is meant by communities as pluralistic entities? Discuss as many classifications as possible and give examples of each.
  2. What is the responsibility of the administrator in responding to constituent communities whose agendas are appreciably different from his or hers, or those of the district?
  3. How do communications with the school's internal community differ from those with the external communities? How are they similar? Should there be differences? Why or why not?
  4. What is the responsibility of the principal on an important school-community relations issue like school choice, when he or she disagrees with the superintendent?


Suggested Projects or Activities


  1. Interview your principal, a district office administrator, and a teacher union leader and ask them to identify key community groups and leaders. Ask them for the key community issues presently before the district. Compare and contrast your findings.
  2. Select a representative sample (4 or 5) of communications techniques your school utilizes with its communities. Analyze them in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. Make recommendations for their improvement.
  3. Your school district is growing rapidly, mostly due to foreign immigration. As the principal, what activities would you conduct to welcome these families to your school? How would you get them involved in the school?
  4. The local newspaper does not print much about your school, or education in general. As the principal, what steps would you take to increase media coverage?


Suggested Readings


California Tomorrow. (1986). Crossing the schoolhouse border. San Francisco: California Tomorrow Foundation.


Kimbrough, R. B., & Burkett, C. W. (1990). The principalship: Concepts and practices. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


Kindred, L. W., Bagin, D., & Gallagher, D. R. (1990). The school and community relations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


NASSP Bulletin, 73(513), January, 1989.


Thrust for Educational Leadership, 20(7), May/June, 1991.




Armistead, L. (1989, January). A four step process for school public relations. NASSP Bulletin, 73(513),6-13.


California Tomorrow. (1986). Crossing the schoolhouse border. San Francisco: California Tomorrow Foundation.


Coursen, D., & Thomas, J. (1989). Communicating. In S. C. Smith & P. K. Piele (Eds.). School leadership: Handbook for excellence. Eugene, OR: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management.


DeLapp, T., & Smith, D. (1991, May/June). Schools in the spotlight. Thrust for Educational Leadership, 20(7), 8-11.


Education Codes of California. (1991). West's Annotated California Education Codes. St. Paul, MN: West.


Hester, H. (1989, January). Start at home to improve home-school relations. NASSP Bulletin, 73(513),



Howlett, P. (1988, February/March). Community relations activities - a buffet of ideas. Thrust for Educational Leadership, 17(5), 17-18.


Jay, B. (1989, January). Managing a crisis in the school - Tips for principals. NASSP Bulletin, 73(513), 14-18.


Jenkins, N. (1991, May/June). Parent involvement: A state mandate. Thrust for Educational Leadership,

20(7), 36-37.


Kimbrough, R. B., & Burkett, C. W. (1990). The principalship: Concepts and practices. Englewood Cliffs,

NJ: Prentice-Hall.


Kindred, L. W., Bagin, D., & Gallagher, D. R. (1990). The school and community relations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


Kudlacek, B. (1989, January). Special interest groups: Friends or foes? NASSP Bulletin, 73(513), 29-33.


Kipham, J. M. (1988). Getzel's models in educational administration. In N. M. Boyan (Ed.). Handbook of research on educational administration. New York: Longman.


Pellicer, L. O., & Stevenson, K. R. (1991). America 2000: A principal challenge for the 21st century. NASSP Bulletin, 75(538), 84-93.


Robison, S. (1991, May/June). Who needs to know what. Thrust for Educational Leadership, 20(7), 18-20.


Twineham, L. (1991, May/June). Don't knock an opportunity. Thrust for Educational Leadership, 20(7),