Engaging with the community is an important part of the school board’s job. All community members have a need and a right to know what children are learning and how well they are learning it. They also have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and to participate in discussions about the allocation of education resources in their community.
You (the board) have three main roles when it comes to communications and stakeholder engagement, just as you do with other areas of governance:
- Leadership through Direction: Review and approve direction the Communications Plan and Policies, e.g. for public relations and engagement;
- Stewardship through Control: Monitor effectiveness of the above, to gain reasonable assurance, using periodic and incident reports, dashboard, meetings; and
- Relationship through Culture: Engage when appropriate in public and community consultations.
The Director of Education has these parallel roles:
- To propose and execute the approved direction – the Communications Strategy/Plan and Policy/Protocol
- To report on effectiveness – of the above, to gain reasonable assurance, using periodic and incident reports, dashboard, meetings
- To be the primary spokesperson in most cases
- To lead public communications and community engagement
- To integrate communications efforts and to support the board
If you have dedicated communications staff in your School Board, their roles are:
- To develop and execute on approved communications strategy, within policies
- To work with and to brief the Province, Ministry, board and Director, to integrate and coordinate efforts
- To be the communications experts – to understand community and stakeholder needs and issues, to propose the best methods, timing, etc., to prepare periodic and incident reports
The Province/Ministry’s roles are:
- To be accountable to the public for education outcomes and stewardship of public funds
- To put in place broad public policy priorities, Province-wide and community strategies and plans, and to communicate these
- To engage directly as appropriate in public and community consultations
And the roles of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) are:
- As part of the SSBA’s mission and mandate, a range of communications services are made available to, and undertaken on behalf of school boards
- This includes acting as a resource to member boards and school division administration through the delivery of workshops and provision of advice, information and strategic support in the areas of communications, advocacy, media, public relations and crisis management
While public and media relations are primarily the role of staff, there are times that you will directly engage with members of the public. Here are some practical tips for these times:
- Be prepared: Have ready your key messages on important issues. Key messages are two or three short, easily-memorized, simple messages that board members can use to articulate the board’s position on a given issue. Key messages are those aspects of an issue that the board ultimately wants the audience to remember.
- Be honest: Always tell the truth. Use factual and credible points that are not open to misinterpretation.
- Be clear: Speak and write in clear, concise language. Your goal is to communicate, not to confuse people with educational (or other) jargon or impress them with your vocabulary.
- Be calm: Stay calm during any discussion or interview. Losing your temper will only hurt your message and damage your reputation.
- Be alert: Don’t say things you don’t want other people to hear in any public situation.
- Be proactive: The Education Act, 1995 requires that school boards make their meetings public. Encourage public attendance at board meetings by highlighting the issues that will be under discussion. Let the media and the community know if something particularly important or controversial is coming up.
And, some steps school board members can take to facilitate and enable this:
- develop and monitor policies that foster public engagement
- allocate budget resources to strategies that effectively engage the public
- work collaboratively with other agencies that serve children and youth (e.g. board-to-board)
- engage the public in dialogue in collaboration with the Director of Education
- establish and empower School Community Councils
School Community Councils provide a formal mechanism for public engagement at the school level. Each board determines how it intends to consult with and engage with School Community Councils.
Their responsibilities are directed toward those factors in the home, community and school that are known to have an impact on student learning and well-being, including:
- to facilitate parent and community participation in school planning
- to provide advice to its board of education
- to provide advice to its school’s staff
- to provide advice to other agencies involved in the learning and development of pupils
- to comply with the regulations and the policies of its board of education
School Board Members should at all time be aware of the expectations on them to keep confidences—confidences in student information and privacy as well as in board matters. The basic rule of thumb is that all student information must be considered private and must be keep confidential unless your care compelled by law to disclose it. The same is true for board matters. All board information is considered confidential unless there is agreement at the board level to disclose. In the supplemental materials you will find a sample confidentiality policy that will provide you with some guidance in this area.