‘School Board School’ opens door for community to bring ideas to improve, change school system

Ask three people how to improve their school system, and you’ll get four different answers. Public schools are one of the few institutions that touch everyone: from students who learn and teachers who educate to community members who care and organizations that hire.

While many in the community have a personal stake in education, it can be difficult to connect with decision-makers.

Enter School Board School, a local nonprofit that, according to founder Elisa Hoffman, is building a diverse coalition of education advocates and aspiring school board members and equipping them with the knowledge and network to drive systemic change.

Elisa Hoffman, founder and executive director, School Board SchoolDuring the past two years, SBS saw the community in Cincinnati had passionate ideas for change but needed better ways of engagement. “There’s no ‘one person’ who can solve everything. We all have life experiences and input that’s needed,” Hoffman says. “I always say to think of building a rocket ship. If you build a rocket ship in your basement without any community input, you won’t get off the ground. That leads to your house burning down.”

The question became how to get those great ideas from community members to the decision-makers at Cincinnati Public Schools. That’s where the idea of an Education Policy Pitch Night came in.

CoHear, the lead engagement partner for Cincinnati Public Schools, had led Policy Pitch Nights for the city of Cincinnati since 2018. Anyone who lives or works in Cincinnati was invited to submit policy ideas on ways to improve the city. CoHear was eager to host an Education Policy Pitch Night with School Board School that connected Cincinnati Public Schools and the larger community.

CoHear shared on the local Mayerson Academy podcast, StrengthsWatch, how the night was fueled by collaboration and relationship-building between the three organizations and the community.

Building relationships can unearth ideas and solutions for effective change from everyday experts who may not have a way to connect with the people in charge of their schools. One pitching team member shared that, “We’re in the school community, and even I found it to be difficult to navigate. How much harder must it be for people who don’t have that access?”

School Board School opened to both Policy Pitches and Practice/Procedure Pitches submitted from the community and ideas flowed in. The most common theme among the submitted pitches was supporting students’ mental health. Seven pitches were chosen by a committee of community members, including pitches from two students.

The judges' panel were CPS board vice president Carolyn Jones, assistant superintendent for secondary education Shauna Murphy, (former) interim CPS superintendent Tianay Amat, and the policy & equity committee chair of the CPS board, Mike Moroski.

Pitches included:

  • “Building a More Equitable and Descriptive School Finder,” presented by Jackie Wilson
  • “Creating Equitable and Inclusive Dress Codes,” presented by CPS student Jordan Dean
  • “Creating an Equity Plan,” presented by Eunique Avery
  • “Supporting Students' Mental Health Needs,” presented by Tai Sykes

Presentees were encouraged and supported through practice sessions to narrow their pitches to be compelling and concise. All other pitches that weren’t picked to be presented were sent to the CPS Board.

Turnout was impressive for the first-time online event: 165 people attended the Education Policy Pitch Night to vote and show support. The event itself was electric. Even online, the audience energy around the pitches was palpable, with dozens of comments like, “What a great idea! Our kids really need to see more teachers who look like them! I love to see our students advocating for their peers!” according to Hoffman.

As one community member shared, “Even though my pitch wasn’t chosen, I was empowered to share my idea at my local school. We’re moving forward.”

View all the pitches from the January 27, 2022, Education Policy Pitch Night on the School Board School page here

The application window for the next School Board School cohort is open through June 21, 2022. See https://www.schoolboardschool.org/ for details. 

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Read more articles by Miyah Byrd.

Miyah Byrd is a storyteller and advocate based in Ohio. Her work has been featured in KIIONA Magazine, Forge, Human Parts, and ThriveGlobal. She is a former educator whose interests include food insecurity, green energy, and the self-sufficiency of the black community.