How Communities Build Stronger Schools: Stories, Strategies, and Promising Practices for Educating Every Child
reviewed by Beverly Hardcastle Stanford - 2003
Title: How Communities Build Stronger Schools: Stories, Strategies, and Promising Practices for Educating Every Child
Author(s): Anne Wescott Dodd and Jean L. Konzal
Publisher: Palgrave/MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 0312238916, Pages: 347, Year: 2002
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The most innovative feature of the new Camden Hills Regional High School [in Maine] was included to make it more inviting to the community, a beautiful cafeteria that is open to the public from 7A.M. to 8 P.M. So many community activities are scheduled in the school, the principal says, ‘This building is almost as busy every night as it is every day.’ Imagine the informal conversations that can happen anywhere just by opening some existing school cafeterias to the community. (p. 131)
The above selection is taken from the book How Communities Build Stronger Schools: Stories, Strategies, and Promising Practices for Educating Every Child, by Anne Wescott Dodd and Jean L. Konzal. It is one of over 100 such examples the authors use in sidebars and text vignettes to illustrate key concepts, making the book an effective mix of promising theory, sound research, and moving (sometimes gritty) reality. The authors’ overarching message is that in today’s complex, change-demanding society, “to educate children effectively, schools need to build strong connections with parents and community members” (p. xvii).
Different from the traditional form of parent involvement, their new paradigm recognizes the impact that change in one setting has on another and emphasizes the need for new participants and relationships in the education endeavor. “We contrast this new synergistic model with a traditional view of home, school, and community as separate satellites, operating independently or with only tenuous or problematic connections to each other” (p. xv), the authors note. They remind readers that education is not confined to the school setting and argue that because “children are learning all the time in every context of their lives, the community - not just the school or their parents - is responsible for their education” (p. xvii).
The book is organized into three parts: “Parent and Community Involvement Today: Challenges and Problems” (Chapters 1-4), “Beyond Parent Involvement: Connecting Home, School, and Community” (Chapters 5-6) and “Moving Closer to the New Paradigm: Profiles and Practices” (Chapters 7-10). In two especially effective chapters, Chapters 3 and 4, the authors make the need for change dramatically clear through the accounts of two case studies in which parents organized and worked against their children’s schools. The narrative places the reader in the midst of the conflict, listening in on a dialogue of distrust and righteous anger. What appears to be hopeless in each case turns out to be salvageable and also instructive, with all involved gaining new perspectives and understanding from their efforts to find a solution.
In Chapter 2 and Chapter 5, the authors present three diagram/descriptive models for the relationship between school, home, and community as a means of conveying the heart of their message. In the first, the Old Paradigm, the entities are separate, and the school is like a fortress defending itself from “parents as problems or critics” [and separate from] “the community ‘out there’ except when needed or adversarial” (p. 25). In this model, “Educators ask: What can parents, community members, and organizations do for us?” (p. 25).
In the second, the Transitional Phase, the separations are reduced, and trust and openness begin to build. In this model, “Educators (and some parents) ask: How can parents, community members, and organizations help us do our job better?” (p. 109).
The third, the New Paradigm, integrates the three entities completely. In it, “Everyone together asks: What can all of us together do to educate all children well?” (p. 126). Models and practices illustrative of the New Paradigm fill the pages that follow.
The authors bring to the book a combined seventy years of varied education experiences and draw on extensive data gathered for their separate award-winning studies and subsequent research. Dodd, an education professor at Bates College for nearly twenty years, taught high school English, French, and social studies in Maine and California. She was also a high school acting principal/assistant principal and a middle school principal. Her University of Maine doctoral dissertation entitled “Parents as Partners in Learning: Their Beliefs about Effective Practices for Teaching and Learning High School English” was recognized as the 1996 Outstanding Dissertation by the American Educational Research Association’s Families as Educators Special Interest Group (SIG).
Konzal is a professor and teacher educator in the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education at the College of New Jersey. Her education experiences include teaching the urban poor in New York and Tucson and the rural poor in New Hampshire, educational consulting, and working in Maine’s Department of Education. Her University of Pittsburgh dissertation, entitled “Our Changing Town, Our Changing School: Is Common Ground Possible?” received the 1997 Outstanding Dissertation award from two special interest groups in the American Educational Research Association, the Families as Educators SIG and the Division D/Qualitative Research Interest SIG.
The authors were strangers to each other when a mutual friend connected them because of their similar studies. Their additional shared preference for qualitative methodologies and concern for social justice make the partnership strong. They combined data from their studies and conducted further research to prepare and write their first book, Making Our High Schools Better: How Parents and Teachers Work Together (1999). In it, their focus was on high school parent involvement. In their second book they extend their studies to kindergarten through 12th grade schools. In the midst of their work, they realized that community members and organizations need to be integrally involved as well, and hence their creation of the New Paradigm.
The authors recognize their indebtedness to the works of others, especially child psychologist and urban education reformer James Comer and education researcher and author Joyce Epstein. They incorporate insights of Parker Palmer, Seymour Sarason, Thomas Sergiovanni, Ted Sizer, Ernest Boyer, Ruby Payne, Sudia Paloma McCaleb, Andy Hargreaves, Peter Senge, Michelle Fine, John K. Rampel, and others.
It would be interesting for them to relate the New Paradigm to Italy’s Reggio Emilia Approach, one that involves the community in creating the curriculum, to Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s classic Teacher (1963, 1986) which connected school to children’s lives outside of school, and to earlier United States accounts such as Lucianne Bond Carmichael’s McDonogh 15: Becoming a School (1981) and Sara Lawrence Lightfoot’s Worlds Apart: Relationships Between Families and Schools (1978). The lessons from each were similar to what Dodd and Konzal propose. One wonders why their ideas did not last.
Early in How Communities Build Stronger Schools is the hint of an answer. The authors explain that they are “pointing the way to an admittedly idealistic goal” (p. xv) and plead, “We ask readers to suspend their disbelief that such an ideal is ever possible to consider the potential benefits of using this way of thinking about these relationships as a catalyst for discussion and dialogue and as a guide for action” (p. xviii). Then they follow their proposed ideal with illustration after illustration, at times a dizzying collection, to convince readers that such dreams can be accomplished. In today’s complex, multi-faceted, hurried, and stressful times, it is difficult to pause to dream, but dream we must. We should applaud Dodd and Konzal for once again reminding us to look up, see things anew, and move ahead in creative ways – - walking with families and community members as we do so.
Ashton-Warner, S. (1963, 1986). Teacher. New York: Touchstone.
Carmichael, L.B. (1981). McDonogh 15: Becoming a school. New York: Avon.
Dodd, A. and Konzal, J.L. (1999). Making our high schools better: How parents and teachers can work together. New York: Palgrave.
Lightfoot, S. L. (1978). Worlds apart: Relationships between families and schools. New York: Basic Books.