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Shifting Mindsets: Moving from Community Engagement to Ownership

As has been noted in other modules, community partnerships are foundational to the success of students, families, and schools. Partner organizations, community leaders, and elected officials can provide a vast range of additional support, services, and opportunities for students, families, and educators. Moreover, engaging community partners provides a strong platform for creating a shared sense of responsibility for the success of students and schools. Community partners include residents, voters and nonvoters, in the surrounding areas, nonprofits and community-based organizations that work in partnership or around schools, and the broader community (e.g., elected officials, business, foundations, etc.) who may interact with the school and district system.

Just as there are various entities that comprise community partners, there are various approaches schools and districts take to engage them. For this lesson, we assert that community engagement requires more than partnerships with organizations. When schools and districts truly engage and partner with communities, they create spaces for communities to be honored and heard, shift power, and defer to the community as experts. They move away from “planning for” and move toward “planning with” communities.  

In 2023, the Community Engagement Initiative commissioned the development of a Community Engagement Best Practices Self Assessment Tool to build the capacity of school districts to facilitate meaningful engagement that outlines a series of competencies that fall under the seven domains described in the table linked in Module 7, Section 2. In this section, we will do a deep dive into Domain 7: Community as Collaborators.


Community partnerships are an important component of student and school success. Schools and districts are stronger when they bring together community partners alongside educators, parents, and students to act as decision makers. Research also shows that when schools and districts adopt a community-centered model where community resources (academics, health and social services, youth and community development, early learning and care, and expanded learning) are integrated into school sites alongside community engagement, this leads to improved student learning and stronger communities.

Assessing Your Community Engagement Efforts

The CEI Community Engagement Self-Assessment Tool allows schools and districts to identify where they are on a spectrum in each domain categorized by stages that go from “not evident” to “advanced.” Each stage demonstrates a trajectory of community engagement goals and describes the implied messages sent to communities in each stage (see diagram below). It is a powerful tool to acknowledge marginalization of communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color. The assessment also asserts a clear vision for reimaging what engagement can look like through inclusion and equity practices. Most importantly, it helps schools and districts assess their progress toward goals.

Spectrum of Engagement

Not Evident

Ignored, marginalized, dismissed, excluded, tokenized


Informed, consulted


Involved, engaged


Partnered with, developed as leaders, empowered, involved in co-creation, shared power

It is important to note that there are many historical and contextual factors contributing to where schools and districts find themselves on the community engagement trajectory. It is also important to move away from shame, or blame, as we commit to working toward community ownership models. All communities, regardless of their privilege and status are part of a larger ecosystem that either promotes or oppressesses genuine community engagement and ownership. The challenge for educators and communities is to reimagine and rebuild a collaborative that advances the collective vision of the school community.

Educators and school district administrators have a significant role to play in breaking down barriers to engaging communities. The following reflection questions can be useful for educators to examine in order to move along the Spectrum toward community ownership. 


Review the competencies in the tabs above. If you were to assess your school or district using the Self Assessment Tool, how would you rate your efforts on the scale from not evident to advanced?

Domain 7:
Ignored, marginalized, dismissed, excluded, tokenized
Informed, consulted
Involved, engaged
Partnered with, developed as leaders, empowered, involved in co-creation, shared power
7.1 Integrate resources and services from the community into schools
7.2 Convenes and aligns ecosystem of community partners
7.3 Schools are seen as neighborhood hubs (i.e. deliver a range of services beyond education in order to prepare their students to learn and to assist families) and there is a high degree of trust between the community and the district
7.4 The district regularly collects, makes use of, and shares data on the impact of community partnerships
7.5 Strong multi-directional channels of community engagement
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