March 1, 2022

Sarah Mathias

How to Build Community Trust for Positive Change in Your District

4 minutes

As an education leader, you know building trust with your community is critical to addressing challenges and creating strategies for positive change. 

In this episode of SchoolPR Drive Time, ThoughtExchange Account Manager, Kailey Metcalfe, Highline Public Schools’ Chief Communication Officer, Catherine Carbone Rogers, and Assistant Director of Communication, Tove Tupper, explore the challenges and opportunities that arise when engaging parents, staff, and educational partners. They also share successful strategies for addressing them. 

See how ThoughtExchange helped Washington state’s Highline Public Schools gain and maintain trust with their community and pass a stubborn bond.

Trust helps pass a stubborn bond

Highline was dealing with overcrowded schools and derelict buildings, but leaders were confident they could rectify the situation with a bond. When they lost the referendum by 200 votes, they were surprised. A second loss confirmed they needed a new strategy. Why was the community rejecting the bond? 

After launching an Exchange, they discovered that the community wasn’t opposed to the items in the bond package, but rather how staff had allocated amounts for the items. The community didn’t trust the school district to make these kinds of decisions—that was a problem.

Understanding this allowed leaders to develop a solution to rebuild trust. They created a Citizen Advisory Committee to lead the charge. And although the resulting bond wasn’t much different, it passed with 67% of the vote. 


Carbone Rogers says, “Trust is the currency of a superintendent, school district, and especially a school PR practitioner. You cannot reach your goals as a school district if you don't have the trust of the community because your efforts will be blocked at every opportunity. If you have trust, you’ll be able to pursue the goals and vision you have for your schools.” 

So how do education leaders build trust to mitigate challenges? Start by listening to your community to understand where they’re coming from. When people feel heard and involved in decision-making, they’re much more likely to support, not sabotage a strategy or decision.

Trust builds alignment during a pandemic

Building trust is challenging and time-consuming. And the COVID-19 pandemic has made it especially difficult. School districts are navigating so many unknowns and the constantly changing conditions are creating anxiety in the community. Education leaders often need to make big decisions based on conflicting opinions.
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However, building trust with their community during the bond process, helped education leaders through the pandemic. Early on, they used ThoughtExchange to discover their community’s questions and concerns and address them in mass format. 
Metcalfe says, “This is a time of polarization and education leaders need to find alignment in their communities more than ever so they can do their work effectively and efficiently.”
And Tupper adds, “Trust is good for morale, motivation, and collaboration. The more trust you have it's going to increase your loyalty and the willingness of people to support your district and community.”

Their words resonate whether you’re trying to pass a bond, dealing with student recruitment and retention, or navigating a pandemic. ThoughtExchange has tools to help you succeed.

Talk to one of our education experts to see how we can help you build trust with your community.

Sarah Mathias
Sarah discovered her love of words when she penned her first journal in grade 4—she hasn’t stopped writing since. With a BA in Sociology and an MPC in International/Intercultural Communication, Sarah honed her corporate writing skills in the travel insurance and fashion industries before working with ThoughtExchange. She brings her collaborative spirit and commitment to antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion, along with her penchant for grammar jokes.

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