A Better Way


The Charles Rolland Initiative for Public Engagement

Listen. Learn. Deliberate. Participate.


On June 6, we convened a diverse group to explore the question, If our school system was responsive to the community, what would it look like? After the event, we shifted through dozens of comments and ideas and organized the group’s thoughts into four primary objectives. Our findings?

Talking is great, but on June 6 we wanted to tap the group's insight on what needs to happen. At left, the "engage" group. At right, the "listen and respond" group.

Talking is great, but on June 6 we wanted to tap the group’s insight on what needs to happen. At left, the “engage” group. At right, the “listen and respond” group.

If our school system was responsive, it would:

  1. Listen and respond. This seems obvious, but the feedback we got is that families and community continue to feel isolated from schools and decisions that affect their children. However, attendees were somewhat to fairly optimistic about their ability to influence decisions.
  2. Be “community friendly” − that is, welcoming; easy to navigate; easy to engage with, participate in, and contribute ideas to. Special emphasis here on engage, participate and contribute. Attendees didn’t want to be passive consumers.
  3. Embed continuous improvement into the culture. Wanting to provide the best for students should be a positive experience, and efforts should be proactive.
  4. Convey that schools and education are prized resources.

The presentation linked to above adds details for each of these objectives, and offers dozens of ideas to make them reality. They include actions parents and community can take, as well as educators, government entities, and policy makers.


Participants in our June 6, 2015, “envisioning event.” (This photo, and the two below)

The premise for our public engagement initiative is simple. Solutions shouldn’t take families by surprise, or divide communities into factions.

At CPPS of Seattle, we’re creating a better way. A better way for us to listen to, and learn from, each other; a better way to participate as citizens; and a better way for public officials to interact with families and community.

  • Using the principles of dialogue and deliberation, we’re creating ways for diverse groups to move beyond polarizing camps so they can share ideas, brainstorm, and evaluate options.
  • We’re creating feedback loops among ourselves and with decision-makers so that family and community insight and experience inform the school system and drive improvement.
  • We’re sharing out examples of innovative public engagement in our Resource Bank.

DSC_0624Our first steps are straightforward:

  • Convene a diverse and engaged group to envision what “better” might be (June 6, 2015)
  • Identify steps to action (Summer 2015)
  • Build and refine tools and strategies for engagement
  • Report back on our experiences, and invite people to help us improve the work

Our goals:

  • Increase public engagement in how our schools are run
  • Use family and community insight and experience to inform the decision-making process
  • Change the culture around public engagement in school decision-making


A Better Way: The Charles Rolland Initiative for Public Engagement … Listen. Learn. Deliberate. Participate.


Charles Rolland believed in building bridges, and he invested passionately in his community.

He was a volunteer, coach, father and husband, deputy mayor, and chair of the Democratic Party in Washington State. In fact, he was the first African-American chair of either major political party in the state.

He also helped found Community & Parents for Public Schools of Seattle.

So when we started discussing the polarizing state of affairs in K-12 reform, we thought back to Charles. CPPS of Seattle was founded by families and community members who wanted to support and improve local schools, but who were concerned that parent voice was being left out of important decisions.

When it comes to meeting the needs of diverse students, parent insight and engagement is essential – and not just as partners in instruction, but also as engaged citizens who understand and can influence how our school system is run.

There are lots of ideas on the table for addressing equity. There is not a lot of listening and learning, and even less deliberation where parents and community can hear multiple perspectives and share their unique insights.

Students lose when parents are marginalized into factions, or worse, disengage.

So we’re channeling Charles.

In spring of 2015, we launched “A Better Way: The Charles Rolland Initiative for Public Engagement.” Like Charles, we believe we should be building bridges, so we’re basing this advocacy program based on the principles of dialogue  and deliberation.

charles rolland, 2005Advocacy is a lifestyle.”
– Charles Rolland, 1951-2012