The SGS Levers



6 // Engage & partner with the community


+ Strategic engagement, coordination with city stakeholders, and communication are critical to successful implementation of all SGS Levers. Explore ways to make SGS a city-wide effort and not just an isolated education initiative.

Districts that implement (and continue to refine) a strong communications strategy can:

Grow family support for and confidence in district initiatives.

Increase participation in SGS strategies (new school opening, talent pipeline, autonomy provisions, etc.) by existing school district staff.

Develop a broad coalition of support from key stakeholders in the community to help mitigate potential barriers to quality implementation.

+ Supporting a citywide entity that coordinates philanthropy and service providers (often called a "harbormaster") can align giving and services to bolster SGS initiatives.

Many districts implementing SGS strategies have created or benefitted from harbormasters. These organizations pool and strategically deploy philanthropy to coordinate services and increase the profile of the district.

Nationally, harbormasters often focus on school supply, talent, and technical assistance. A harbormaster is not a necessary condition for SGS success, but they can often provide critical support.

Scroll down to learn more

6.1 Establish a communications strategy


+ Mitigate risk and sustain long-term progress through strategic communication with a broad coalition of internal and external supporters.

Identify Stakeholders: Identify those who are most impacted by SGS initiatives as well as those who can assist or impede the effort. Create specific strategies to engage with those two groups.

Community Engagement: Partner with community-based organizations and create regular engagement processes (Sublever 6.2) that provide a space for stakeholders to discuss district initiatives and a forum for the district to engage with stakeholders. Generally, the more regular these opportunities are, the better. Engaging with stakeholders only when something “big” happens can have a negative focusing effect of bringing multiple issues to the forefront if there are limited opportunities for community input. A regular forum will also create and reinforce communication and engagement norms in the district.

Strong and Consistent Narrative/Messaging: Develop a coherent, consistent message that reinforces the "what" of the SGS strategy and the "why" - outlining the benefits of the strategy for students and the community as a whole to backup the district’s actions. Build a coalition of supporters and use multiple avenues to reach the community.

Transparency: Communicate criteria for high-stakes decisions and develop a timeline for school opening and closure. The reasons for closure and the clarity of the districts’ plan for providing other options are critical. Districts must make the case for better school options for families impacted by closure.

Regular Progress Reporting: Report on improvement efforts with a consistent format and at regular intervals.

Continuous Improvement Cycle: Evaluate your communication strategy. What is the level of public confidence? Do stakeholders know what you’re doing and whether it’s successful?

+ Create champions from within the district: school staff have the most contact with families. Supportive leaders and teachers will help instill confidence in their school community members, who can then become ambassadors for the broader public.

Implement a plan to provide training for the central office and schools so that everyone in the district understands the SGS strategies and how they can be part of the SGS plan.

You know your communities best. Identify respected community leaders, community-based organizations, and faith-based organizations to communicate your strategy directly to families and other key stakeholders.


Internal and external communications plan for identified stakeholders


6.2 Design community engagement and input processes 


+ Authentic engagement with your families, neighborhoods, and communities is critical to your success.

Through the community engagement process, new ideas, perspectives, and challenges will surface and help define and impact the SGS strategy. Focus on creating a culture of feedback and continuous communication that genuinely shapes decision-making.

+ Identify key stakeholders within the district who are impacted by SGS activities and can influence the reform effort.

Start with parents and families, schools, social services organizations, faith-based organizations, politicians (e.g. mayor, state senators), business leaders, philanthropic groups and organizations serving children with disabilities and English language learners.

Choose the best messenger (superintendent, community leader, principal, etc.) when engaging various audiences.

Hold regular, ongoing meetings in places where communities gather to collect input such as parent focus groups or “town hall” style meetings.

Create an advisory board of community leaders to solicit feedback and carry messaging.

Develop a task force of educators and nonprofits to collect information and best practices.

Engage schools and school leaders on the best path forward.

+ Use community feedback to inform district policy and be sure to tell the public when you have taken responsive actions.

For families, this strategy will provide multiple opportunities to share values, concerns, and desires for their children and to increase support and confidence in school district leadership and initiatives.

For the district, this will result in the collection of quality feedback that gives insight into community concerns. These communities can then be addressed through your district’s SGS strategy, resulting in a broader coalition of support from key stakeholders in the community.


Plan to engage families and collect quality feedback


6.3 Launch a citywide philanthropic organization dedicated to SGS and related activities


+ A citywide philanthropic organization can play a pivotal role in supporting SGS activities, namely new school creation and talent.

The organization can fund and support the creation and growth of high-quality schools (Sublever 2.2) through:

  • Assisting charter schools in applying for charters;
  • Recruiting proven charter operators;
  • Providing operational support for schools during incubation years;
  • Locating and funding a facility;
  • Funding turnaround and restart efforts.

This organization can also focus on developing and growing talent pipelines (Sublever 5.2) through:

  • Developing partnerships with proven talent providers (traditional and alternative, local and national);
  • Supporting and training for school leaders during an incubation year;
  • Matching and training board members.

+ This organization can also influence policy and bolster targeted district initiatives by acting as an impartial, third party validator of the SGS strategy and providing technical assistance to schools directly or indirectly.

The New Orleans harbormaster, New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO), influenced state policy on maintaining high charter authorization standards and helped to fund the Special Education Cooperative, an advocacy and support group that assists charter schools to better serve special education students. NSNO also provides technical assistance to schools across a variety of content areas.

In Indianapolis, The Mind Trust spearheaded a research and policy initiative to create a policy environment that supports innovation and portfolio strategy.

In Detroit, The Skillman Foundation supported and incubated the Detroit Parent Network (DPN). DPN provides resources and training to parents in addition to staffing school resource centers that assist parents in gaining access to and voicing their thoughts in schools. Skillman also developed annual report cards for all Detroit schools.

6.4 Develop capacity  to engage and partner with stakeholders


+ Building the capacity to support your communications plan and partnerships with external organizations starts with identifying district leadership in charge of the effort.

The superintendent and district board will play a pivotal role in messaging and developing partnerships with external organizations. A high-level district leader should also be placed in charge of the district’s overall communications plan (and its implementation) and report directly to the superintendent.

+ Identify what functions and resources are needed to support internal and external engagement and partner with external stakeholders.

If certain capacities don’t exist in the district, the district must explore options for adding this capacity through reassignment or adding additional staff (e.g. dedicated staff to collect input from parents).

The district should develop a clear organizational chart and define the specific responsibilities for each position. See the Resource Exchange for organizational chart examples.

Consider the following core functions and questions when structuring this office:

  • Strategy and Design: This should be led by the superintendent and district leadership.

  • Communications and Implementation: What is your district’s message?

  • Data Collection: How will you collect data? What data will you collect? Who will collect these data and how often will you collect them?


An organizational chart and clear roles and responsibilities for district staff charged with engagement activities