Family and Community Collaboration Strategy: Including Student Voice in District Decision-making

Districts can engage students in decision-making by:

  • Involving students in strategic planning to ensure their needs are reflected in district priorities and funding.
  • Forming student advisory committees that provide ongoing opportunities for collaboration with district leaders.
  • Valuing student perspectives alongside those of families, community members, and educators.

“I wasn’t used to interacting with … higher-ups like that, but I’ve enjoyed it. It’s taught me I have to make communications with other people. I have to establish connections.” — Student

Student perspectives offer vital information school districts can use when planning how best to engage families and communities. Yet, incorporating student voice in district decision-making is not a common practice. Creating ongoing opportunities for students to partner with school leaders in important planning and strategy decisions is a key element of family and community collaboration (FCC). If a district commits to including all voices in their community, youth voice can’t be ignored. To ensure district decisions represent all community needs, district and school staff must be accountable to students.  

Download Strategy Spotlight

While there are many ways to integrate youth voice and student perspectives, this strategy spotlight highlights two examples.  

  • Involving students in strategic planning: Moreno Valley Unified School District, in southern California, hosts a virtual meeting each month to train students on the annual strategic planning process. Though all districts in the state are required to create Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) and collect family feedback, Moreno Valley goes the extra mile to teach students how the process works, ask for their ideas, and ensure their perspectives are represented. Moreno Valley also offers paid internships for students so they can learn about the district’s inner workings, like nutritional services or the superintendent’s office. These work-based learning experiences help youth build meaningful connections to the educational system and the people in it, while at the same time helping them develop college and career skills that set them up for their own future success.   
  • Forming student advisory councils: Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District, located just outside Cleveland, OH, also uses student advisory councils with the superintendent to review specific policy issues. The superintendent brings policy questions to a high school group that meets monthly and a middle school group that meets quarterly. Topics have included the dress code, cell phone policies, and school climate. According to the superintendent, student voice was critical to making sure the district’s decisions reflected all groups’ needs, saying, “I truly believe that students that are thoughtful and empowered within their school spaces make the spaces better, but also hold all the adults accountable.”   

It’s really a reflection of our community. The kids are really empowered to change things.They have to have those vehicles and training in order to do that.” — Superintendent

Tuscaloosa City Schools, in Alabama, instituted student advisory councils to ensure that students can inform and advise the district’s top decision makers. Principals and teachers at each high school nominate about 15 students to serve on the council, which meets in person with the superintendent each quarter. Each meeting centers on a mix of topics suggested by the superintendent and students in the council. Students also help administer school-wide surveys to gather ideas from the broader school community and discuss them with the superintendent. In 2022-23, topics included school safety, the dress code, and unity among schools in different parts of the district. Student suggestions informed revisions to the dress code, as students shared that the previous dress code disproportionately targeted female students.  

Elevating student voice strengthens planning and decision-making and is an important step for any district’s journey in creating productive and welcoming learning environments. District and school staff can borrow and adapt these strategies to ensure student voice informs policy and planning decisions, and to promote collaboration and trust between all members of school communities. 


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