Community Dialogue Phase Report Back

September 11, 2013, Main Library, San Francisco

The purpose of our second meeting was to share what we learned during the community dialogue phase and describe our plan for moving forward.

For an abbreviated summary of the meeting, view the slideshow that was presented at the meeting: Download September 11 slideshow.

For a full list of attendees: Download September 11 meeting participants.

Demographic Surveys

Demographic surveys were given to dialogue group participants to help us understand who we were reaching.  Overall, we reached the populations we hoped to engage.  As with the interview phase of the project, the community dialogue phase can continue indefinitely as we continue to seek to understand how the community can best support our public schools. Download demographic totals from PEPS community dialogues.


Results from each community dialogue were summarized and then analyzed to identify patterns and overarching themes. In general, people in our small group dialogues expressed the following aspirations for supporting our public schools:

  1. Adequate and Equitable Funding: Ensure that our school children benefit from equitable funding for every student and every school site.  In other words, we should ensure that our public school children receive the resources and means required to learn and thrive at school (recognizing that equitable funding is not always equal, but does equalize the readiness of children to learn).
  2. That’s Our School! Create vital connections between schools and their neighborhoods so that our schools are not strange islands in the middle of our neighborhoods but are instead a proud part of our neighborhood landscapes.
  3. Good Stories: Tell good, true stories about our public school children, educators, and families—formally and informally, every day.  We should stand behind and be proud of our public schools—the way we stand behind and are proud of the SF Giants—win or lose!

Anomalous Results

In addition to capturing overarching themes in our analysis of the community dialogue results, PEPS identified results that stood out in particular dialogue groups.

Student Voice, Student Rights

  • The creation of a peaceful environment in schools (less violence).
  • [Youth] “having a voice for what we want.”
  • Compassionate engagement with students having problems in order to keep them in school.

Communication Within School

  • Increase communication between parents and schools: especially increasing access to information for monolingual parents thereby increasing parent involvement with students and schools.

Respect and Support for Teachers

  • Commit to supporting high quality teachers by removing stress and pressure on them related to job security, pay, etc.
  • Teachers who genuinely care about their kids.
  • Respect for teachers / teacher training / teacher support.
  • Reward teachers.

Lessons Learned

Going into this project:

  • We knew there was a weak connection between the general public (especially non parents) and our schools.
  • We knew that, episodically, San Francisco successfully taps into our population’s overall good will toward public schools, for example, when non-profits, labor, government and business come together to pass bonds and voters overwhelmingly approve the measures.

Over the course of the project:

  • We learned how strong the good sentiment, political ideals, and enthusiasm are toward public schools.  Everywhere we went, we heard, “We love our public schools.”
  • We learned that there are untapped resources in our city and that we need to improve the structures to use those untapped resources. PEPS experienced this first hand when organizing community dialogue groups and only overcame the challenge by tapping into existing structures (that is, existing organizations and groups with their own networks and systems for regular communication). Untapped resources we discovered include:
  • Political sentiment—overwhelmingly values public schools (liberal and progressive values).
  • Potential volunteers—enthusiastic and eager.
  • Potential donors—many people with capacity and connection are not asked to support the public schools.
  • Businesses—a treasure trove of businesses, small, medium and large, could better support our schools.  Also, businesses that already support public schools (especially small businesses that donate to the fundraising efforts at individual school sites) could receive better acknowledgement for their contributions and become important voices in broadcasting  support for public schools (stickers in their shop windows, etc.).
  • There is no substitute for community outreach despite the fact that it’s slow, personal, and constant.  The power of asking people, “What do you think?” and telling stories is crucial; the power of nurturing relationships is invaluable.
  • A major finding from the interview phase of our project was that there needs to be more coordination among the organizations that support our public schools.  The findings of our dialogue groups underscore this need for more cooperation, communication, and alignment among the city’s great educational nonprofits.
  • Our public schools really do reflect the bonds between us.

Next Steps: Action Phase

Overall Strategy

PEPS will invite participation in the creation of Change Process Models for each of the major themes generated by the community.  We’ll work together to:

  1. Further refine and define the desired outcomes of each of the major themes (What is the change we seek?);
  2. Identify what is and isn’t working to achieve the change, including: creating a map of existing efforts—successful and otherwise—and working to understand obstacles and barriers to change; and
  3. Generate 3 to 5 wild ideas—actionable steps—that would unleash the desired change.

Things We Can Do Now!

Throughout this process we also heard many creative ideas for increasing public support for public schools.  In addition to the creation of Change Process Models, PEPS is working now on a couple of these idea, including:

  • Enrollment Fair Welcoming Committee: We’re committed to creating a community presence welcoming families at the upcoming School Enrollment Fair.  We’d like to be able to show Fair participants that the community cares about our public schools and give them refreshments and other goodies that will make them feel welcome.
  • Public School Lecture Series: Organize a public lecture series to create a dialogue about the importance and role of public education in our City, and society in general.  This can be done in conjunction with an already ongoing series or organized by PEPS with interested partners.  (Having the lectures at school sites to increase the public’s exposure to schools is also a goal.)  We tried to enlist Diane Ravitch during her upcoming West Coast book tour, but we didn’t find out about the tour in time. But we’ll be looking for other opportunities.
  • We’ve added a page to the PEPS website to collect good stories about community support for public schools. We’d like to hear your stories about the things people do (large and small) to support schools.  In creating a Change Process Model for this theme, we seek to discover cool ways to record people’s stories and cool ways to get those stories out to the general public.

In the next couple of months, we’ll be inviting people to work on change process models.  We’ll also be moving forward on the above ideas.  If you can help with any of these projects, please let us know.

We can be better.  We have wonderful untapped resources and our job now is to figure out how to get them out of the ground and in use.

This is not about school reform, or improving the education system. That was never our focus and it never will be.  This is about the community being better friends of our schools.