Education & Government
Kathleen Vail Image
Kathleen Vail
Former Editor-in-Chief, National School Boards Association

How school districts can boost community access and inclusion with technology

February 27, 2024
0 min read
how school districts can boost community access and inclusion with technology

School board meetings are where elected representatives of the school community perform their duties of overseeing the governance of public schools. Those meetings, by state law, are open to the public, with open meeting laws requiring the district to publish the date, time and location of regular and special meetings. In many states, school districts must also publish upcoming meeting agendas and the minutes of previous meetings.

Beyond fulfilling the legal requirements, encouraging community members to attend your board meetings, either in person or online, has several advantages. An informed and engaged community is more likely to support bond referendums, understand the role of the board and support the district during challenging times. Cultivating a strong sense of community with involved citizens is good for the district and benefits the children it serves.

Making meetings more accessible to everyone in the community — particularly those people who have been marginalized in the past — means going beyond publishing meeting logistics on your website. Fortunately, you can use technology tools to make your meetings more accessible and encourage the inclusion and engagement of all people and groups in your community.

What you'll learn:

  • What barriers exist for community access and how to overcome them
  • How one school district increased community access and engagement
  • Other benefits that overcoming barriers brings to the school district
  • Tips on how technology tools can help

Barriers to access and inclusion

Not everyone can attend school board meetings, even when they know the time and place. Barriers to attendance include work obligations, transportation issues, and lack of childcare in the evenings during scheduled meeting times.

Lack of transportation can keep people from attending board meetings. Community members who are differently abled may be concerned about handicapped accessibility at the building or a lack of sign language interpreters. Residents who don’t speak English as their first language will not be able to understand the proceedings without translation.

People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or lower educational attainment might be put off by the educational terms and jargon used at some board meetings. Some community members may believe that only certain people attend school board meetings, and that those people are well-connected and educated. Some research shows that those perceptions often are correct.

People at school board meetings usually “are a part of the more privileged racial-and-ethnic and/or socioeconomic groups. They also tend to be connected to civic organizations or specialized interest groups,” writes Jonathan E. Collins, a professor of political science and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, in his 2021 study on school board meeting participation and attendance.

Technology tools such as board management software can make meetings, meeting materials and the other crucial pieces of board governance accessible to everyone. This access allows more community members to claim ownership in school district decision-making, not just those who can easily attend, understand, and participate in the meetings.

‘A single pane of glass’

Before the pandemic, the school board of Illinois’ Glenbrook School District 225 was moving toward using electronic tools for its board meetings. Security concerns led them to continue to print and deliver the confidential items in the board packet and agenda. However, when the pandemic pushed the board to hold online meetings on Zoom, the members and administrators discovered benefits in allowing many more people to attend their meetings. When the board returned to meeting in person after pandemic restrictions lifted, they continued to stream their meetings online.

Feeback from community members resulted in an additional camera and staff assigned to oversee the camera work, as well as closed captions and translation services during the meeting, according to Deputy Superintendent R.J. Gravel.

Glenbrook turned to Diligent Community to simplify access to board meetings and make the online experience more streamlined. Instead of having to click through multiple screens, people can access the Community portal, which Gravel calls a “single pane of glass.” Through the portal, people can see all public materials, watch a live stream with subtitles and follow along with the meeting through the posted agenda. Community members also can sign up for notifications of upcoming meetings, request to speak during a meeting and also view recordings of past meetings.

Diligent Community also assuaged security concerns: Confidential documents containing sensitive information are only made accessible to members who need access, and are stored within Diligent’s secure server.

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Transparency through Technology: By providing ways to enhance citizens' relationships with their schools, superintendents will heighten the reputation of their schools and district. Download our free guide exploring how technology can fuel and support transparency in an ever-changing digital age, bolstering the essential services superintendents provide to their communities.

Overcoming barriers leads to greater board transparency and accountability

Glenbrook, like many districts, has a twin goal of community engagement and transparency. School leaders understand that transparency and community inclusion go hand-in-hand. When more people can access board meetings, online or in person, they see decision-making in action. Technology tools that allow the public to follow along online can help them understand the board’s role and the process.

Board management software like Diligent Community enables the board and administration to track progress on goals and initiatives. Tracking helps the board and school leaders identify and make necessary changes and adjustments. Giving the public access to progress reports helps build trust with the district and the board. Community members can see that the board is paying attention to the impact of programs and initiatives and adjusting goals as needed.

The knowledge that the board takes its responsibilities as stewards of district resources seriously enhances public confidence in the district. When school boards try to make meetings more inclusive and accessible for everyone in the district, it sends the message that the district values the opinions and ideas of the entire community.

When the community joins together and all voices are heard and valued, it also fosters a welcoming and inclusive environment that helps students to achieve their highest potential.

Trusted technology tools

Diligent Community is a cloud-based software solution that is specifically designed for school boards. It is a powerful tool that can help achieve inclusion and access. As well as providing a centralized platform that enhances administrative processes, streamlines communication and improves overall efficiency, it offers a number of features to increase transparency and access:

  • Video Manager: integrated livestreaming video within public meeting agendas and minutes. Administrators can easily upload a recorded version of the meeting alongside time-stamped minutes for quick searching and enhanced transparency.
  • Public transparency website: Parents, students and the public can use the public transparency website to access meeting agendas, minutes and policies.
  • Goal tracking: Boards can create goals, projects or a strategic plan and publish goal progress directly to the public website.
  • Policy Publisher: Boards can streamline the management of the school policy lifecycle, from drafting to adoption and publishing, and leverage technology to help support inclusion, access policies and align with goals.

Find out how Diligent Community can help your board and school district increase community access and inclusion. Request a demo today.


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