Vision of Inclusive Community Engagement, “VOICE”
A Design Development Study to support school leaders in engaging
African American Parents
Peter I. Parenti
Doctor of Education
University of California, Berkeley
Professor Tina Trujillo, Chair
The ideal American education system is assumed to operate with democratic, inclusive, student-focused principles. Towards that end, recent California legislation emphasizes a local, community-based process encouraging parents and staff to share information about student needs, reason through problems, and make decisions together. However, while research strongly indicates that parent engagement is a primary factor in determining student success, school leaders and educators perpetuate a culture of racial inequality whereby African-American families are disenfranchised, and their students underperform.
The purpose of this study is to re-conceptualize leadership so that current practices become more proactive and racially inclusive. At the core of this design is a focus on shared leadership that empowers African American parents to profess their values and concerns, to influence decision-making, and to participate more fully in the school community.
The theory of action is based on three essential elements that support change: understanding inequities and their impact on student success, developing transformational leadership, and engaging and empowering parents. I incorporate these elements into a series of action-oriented team meetings and community engagement events. Learning by doing becomes the vehicle by which school and community leaders challenge the status quo.
Based on the findings, I argue that the theory of action is strong. The design contributed to an observable improvement in the participants’ abilities to understand specific issues of inequity, to understand strategies that are effective at engaging African American parents, and to understand the qualities of leadership needed to address issues of inequity in public schools. The findings inform a set of design principles that drive future iterations. Primarily, school and community leaders need to reduce their dependence on rigid agendas that control participant behaviors, open dialogue with parents on issues that are difficult to discuss and resolve, and be willing to engage in emotional debates about issues related to race and discrimination. However, there were several limitations in the degree to which the design principles are readily transferrable to similar settings.