Bolstering your district’s LCAP stakeholder engagement might not involve the term ‘LCAP’

When it comes to promoting meaningful community and student engagement and input, schools and districts might want to consider a jolting principle: Why even use the acronym “LCAP” when initially communicating with the audience? Do they know what it is and will using the term result in a quality two-way education tool representing a diverse stakeholder group?

A recent California Collaborative for Educational Excellence-hosted webinar posed such questions and offered tips on communicating to engage rather than to simply inform during the Local Control and Accountability Plan process. The recorded webinar and PDF (including a customizable version) presentation are available on the CCEE’s resource collection page.

‘Defining what authentic means’

Before even conducting meetings, other interactions or sending surveys to community stakeholders about the LCAP, district leaders should understand a groundwork of their system and culture, said guest speaker Daniel Thigpen, communications and community engagement director for Folsom-Cordova Unified School District, which is just east of Sacramento, serves 21,000 students, operates 33 schools and uses its LCAP as its strategic vision.

The governance team of administrators and board members must consider its attitudes on transparency, dealing with healthy tension and brokering trust and awareness with its stakeholders, Thigpen said. Leaders can ask themselves questions such as, “How do we know we’ve created a safe space for honest questions and criticism?” and “Have we sought solutions from stakeholders or presented solutions to stakeholders?”

“This is really doing a gut-check as a leadership team,” Thigpen said. He added that from there, a two-way communication channel can be opened that promotes healthy conversations between district leaders and parents, community members and students. Officials must also consider whether they are “closing the loop” by asking for valuable feedback but not using it to create or alter policy.

‘Make it clear’ and connect with audiences

With a strong culture of transparency and engagement in place, governance teams should then focus on marketing and conveying information in a way that grabs people’s attention and encourages engagement, said staff from the Orange County Office of Education communications team. The office, for example, produced an animated video providing an overview of the LCAP for the community — without ever using the term “LCAP.”

By thinking like a busy parent or community member, leaders can target communications to a more general audience. “This is for a broader range of people that we want to reach,” said communications specialist Fermin Leal, pointing out that the parents who are school site leaders or involved in the PTA are likely already engaged in the LCAP process.

“Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is absorbing this information for the first time,” said chief communications officer Ian Hanigan. Leaders can think like parents and community members by asking, “Why does this matter? Why should I care?”

To receive feedback coming from beyond the “usual suspects,” the pair pointed out a few opportunities for engagement. Irvine Unified issues a school funding survey to draw stakeholder interest, which features both a short version and a longer one — allowing people with less time or interest the opportunity to still provide input.

Districts have also held town hall meetings and set up booths for priority areas of concern, allowing the public to ask questions and explore areas of interest at events such as open houses, back-to-school nights and school fairs.

Further insights and partnership opportunities

In addition to district and county office of education perspectives, the CCEE webinar featured information from two organizations, Californians for Justice and The Education Trust-West.

Californians for Justice helps facilitate workshops and support in gathering the student voice and promoting shared decision-making processes. The group pointed to two success stories in the Bay Area, the first an overhauled student survey program in East Side Union School District (Santa Clara County). The LCAP survey soared from 800 responses in 2017 to close to 6,500 responses in 2018, a student response rate of about 82 percent. Across the bay, Oakland Unified School District is collaborating with community-based organizations to promote LCAP engagement: Bay Area PLAN, Black Organizing Project, Californians for Justice, Oakland Community Organizations, Public Advocates and Youth Together.

Elsewhere, Ed Trust-West’s external relations manager Anthony Chavez shared information on the effectiveness of data equity walks, a 45-90 minute activity for any audience that helps them engage with education data to discuss equity issues.

Additional LCAP engagement resources