Over the past year, Reaching Higher NH has partnered with Manchester Proud, an initiative to build a community-driven, comprehensive strategic plan for the Manchester School District, to engage thousands of Manchester residents and community members in learning about their needs and aspirations for their schools. On Wednesday, October 16, the results of that community engagement work, led by Reaching Higher NH, were shared with the city’s Board of School Committee.
“Oftentimes, the strategic plans that shape the learning and future of our students, are developed by only a few behind closed doors. And even when the doors are open, it can be challenging to create meaningful avenues for community engagement. Our work with Manchester Proud, has been to support a truly community-driven approach, one where the perspectives, hopes, and vision of thousands of people from across the community, serve as the plan’s very foundation,” said Evelyn Aissa, Reaching Higher NH’s Executive Director.
Manchester Proud, through its Community Planning Group, will use the findings from Reaching Higher’s community engagement work, along with input from the Board of School Committee and research about the district, to build a comprehensive strategic plan for the city’s schools. The plan is set to be released in 2020 for the board’s consideration.
Reaching Higher NH’s Role in Engaging the Community
In addition to assisting the movement through project management, Reaching Higher NH has also led Manchester Proud’s community engagement work, connecting and engaging hundreds of volunteers in the planning process — and, listening to thousands of community members as they shared their needs and aspirations for Manchester students and schools.
To do it, Reaching Higher leveraged a wide range of community engagement approaches including: affinity group-based listening sessions, school-based office hours, one-on-ones, town halls, school-based events, community-events, surveys, and door-to-door canvassing.
Between June 2018 and March 2019, Reaching Higher:
- Organized canvasses of all 12 wards of the city, knocking on over 2,000 doors and holding 482 in-depth conversations about Manchester schools with residents of all ages and backgrounds;
- Held 39 school-based listening sessions;
- Held 23 community-based listening sessions;
- Heard from nearly 1,000 respondents through an online survey that was available in six languages; and,
- Convened over 140 meetings of Manchester Proud’s Work Groups.
Manchester Proud’s Work Groups serve as the movement’s “staff” and are volunteer driven. They focus on specific and critical topics – from mapping resources across the community, to communicating about Manchester Proud’s work. Building the actual strategic plan will be the work of the Community Planning Group, a group of nearly 30 community volunteers.
The Impact of Wide-Reaching Community Engagement
Manchester Proud set out to engage the entire community, including those not likely to attend school-focused sessions. The goal was to include voices from a broad range of Manchester: those with children in the district schools, and those without; those who can’t always make it to weeknight workshops or meetings; and, those who don’t feel included even though they have a stake in the decision-making process.
“Hearing from the community is vital in any strategic planning process, and we set out to connect with individuals in a variety of ways: through the schools, through community organizations, and directly to residents’ doors,” said Liz Canada, Reaching Higher NH’s Director of Policy and Practice.
When all voices are included, it makes for a more robust discussion, and ultimately, more effective strategic plan. Liz reflected on some of the findings from the work:
“We learned that people are invested in the school district, and see the assets as the staff and the diversity of students. But there are issues of trust throughout the schools, and families and students want more equitable opportunities and stronger support in buildings,” she said.
Our full presentation to the BOSC is available here. You can read more about the session with the BOSC and tune into the presentation of Manchester Proud’s planning team, 2Revolutions, by going to the homepage of Manchester Proud’s website.
What’s Next for Manchester Proud
The final strategic plan will encompass teaching and learning, organizational effectiveness, governance, finance, and community partnerships and will be presented to the Board of School Committee in spring 2020.
Reaching Higher NH provides these and other services to schools and communities to foster meaningful engagement and outcomes. Learn more about what we do!