When used by educators, the term school community typically refers to the various individuals, groups, businesses, and institutions that are invested in the welfare and vitality of a public school and its community—i.e., the neighborhoods and municipalities served by the school.
In many contexts, the term encompasses the school administrators, teachers, and staff members who work in a school; the students who attend the school and their parents and families; and local residents and organizations that have a stake in the school’s success, such as school-board members, city officials, and elected representatives; businesses, organizations, and cultural institutions; and related organizations and groups such as parent-teacher associations, “booster clubs,” charitable foundations, and volunteer school-improvement committees (to name just a few). In other settings, however, educators may use the term when referring, more specifically, to the sense of “community” experienced by those working, teaching, and learning in a school—i.e., the administrators, faculty, staff, and students. In this case, educators may also be actively working to improve the culture of a school, strengthen relationships between teachers and students, and foster feelings of inclusion, caring, shared purpose, and collective investment.
The term school community also implicitly recognizes the social and emotional attachments that community members may have to a school, whether those attachments are familial (the parents and relatives of students, for example), experiential (alumni and alumnae), professional (those who work in and derive an income from the school), civic (those who are elected to oversee a school or who volunteer time and services), or socioeconomic (interested taxpayers and the local businesses who may employ graduates and therefore desire more educated, skilled, and qualified workers). Depending on the specific context in which the term is used, school community may have more or less inclusive—or more or less precise—connotations.
School community may also be used interchangeably stakeholders, since a school community necessarily comprises a wide variety of “stakeholders.”
The “school community” concept is closely related to the concepts of voice and shared leadership, which generally seek to broaden the involvement of more individuals, and more diverse viewpoints, in the governance and programming in a school or district. The idea of a school community may also intersect with leadership teams and the development of mission and vision statements or school-improvement plans—all of which may involve students, parents, and other individuals who are not employed by a school. While the concept is related in some ways to professional learning communities, the “school community” concept is distinct (although the term “learning community” may refer to both school communities and professional learning communities).
The idea of a school community may also have an official, democratic connotation, given that the majority of public schools and districts are overseen by elected school boards or other governing bodies. School boards make and revise school policies, and they authorize certain governance decisions and activities—responsibilities that often extend to the development and approval of school-improvement proposals. In these cases, school-board members are elected to represent “the community” in a direct, official capacity.
Generally speaking, the growing use of school community reflects the recognition that schools, as public institutions supported by state and local tax revenues, are not only part of and responsible to the communities they serve, but they are also obligated to involve the broader community in important decisions related to the governance, operation, or improvement of the school. Increasingly, schools are being more intentional and proactive about involving a greater diversity of community members, particularly those from disadvantaged communities and backgrounds, or from groups that have historically been underserved by schools or that have underperformed academically, including English-language learners, students of color, immigrant students, and special-education students. In some cases, federal or state programs and foundation grants may encourage or require the involvement of multiple community groups in a school-improvement effort as a condition of funding.
Community-engagement strategies are also widely considered central to successful school improvement by many individuals and organizations that work with public schools. Because some communities may be relatively uninformed about or disconnected from their local schools, a growing number of educational reformers and reform movements in recent decades have advocated for more inclusive, community-wide involvement in an improvement process. The general theory is that by including more members of a school community in the process, school leaders can foster a stronger sense of “ownership” among the participants and within the broader community. In other words, when the members of an organization or community feel that their ideas and opinions are being heard, and when they are given the opportunity to participate authentically in a planning or improvement process, they will feel more invested in the work and in the achievement of its goals, which will therefore increase the likelihood of success.
In some cases, when schools make major organizational, programmatic, or instructional changes—particularly when parents and community members are not informed in advance or involved in the process—it can give rise to criticism, resistance, and even organized opposition. As a reform strategy, involving a variety of “stakeholders” from the broader community can improve communication and public understanding, while also incorporating the perspectives, experiences, and expertise of participating community members to improve reform proposals, strategies, or processes. Educators may use phrases such as “securing community support,” “building stakeholder buy-in,” or “fostering collective ownership” to describe efforts being made to involve community members in a planning and improvement process. In other cases, stakeholders are individuals who have power or influence in a community, and schools may be obligated, by law or social expectation, to keep certain parties informed the school and involved in its governance.