The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Gallup, recently released their third annual Soul of the Community report. This study was conducted over three years in 26 cities across the United States. The study is designed to find out what emotionally attaches people to their communities and makes them want to build a life there.
Consistent in virtually every city in the study there are just a few categories that create emotional bonds between people and their communities. The top four categories include the area’s physical beauty, opportunities for socializing, a community’s openness to all people, and education. What was surprising is that jobs, the economy and safety were not among these categories.
Attachment is important because the communities with the highest levels of attachment had the highest rates of gross domestic product growth. This discovery is important because it opens up new possibilities for leaders to make informed decisions regarding policy using concrete data about what generates community and economic benefits.
In the communities that are studied, residents always rate the quality of colleges and universitites higher than the quality of K-12 public schools. In addition, less than one-quarter of residents rate the quality of their communities’ K-12 public schools highly. Nearly half rated their schools poorly and the views have become more negative since last year.
The study suggests that leaders have much to gain by improving the perceptions of the quality of K-12 education in their communities. Not only will this increase attachment overall, but a more positive view of public schools can also help attract families that will help raise the next generation of talent in the communities.
Putting this study into context
Standing alone, this study is interesting and provides some new insights about what is needed to grow the productivity of our communities and also our state. But what it also does is provide some much needed data to share with the leaders of our communities and state (aldermen, mayors, legislators, governor, etc.).
If education is one of the top categories that creates emotional bonds that attach people to our communities, it is important that all community and state leaders proceed carefully around communicating their ideas regarding education reform.
According to the study:
Gallup research proving the link between employee engagement in the workplace to business outcomes such as productivity, profitability, and employee retention helps to underscore why emotional attachment matters. Just as actively engaged employees are more productive and committed to the success of their organizations, highly attached residents are more likely to actively contribute to a community’s growth.
Rather than label schools and be openly critical–federal, state and local leaders need to focus on working with educators to improve our schools through best practices as well as adequate funding. To not do so, according to the Soul of the Community study, will actually have them working against what they so very much want to do — grow our state and our communities for economic success and to improve their ability to meet resident’s needs.
Our role as leaders in public schools is to make sure we are communicating what is working in our schools. Both elected officials and our communities need to understand how K-12 public schools are meeting students’ needs, exploring innovative ways to deliver curriculum and working to constantly improve.