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Know Your Community and Community Power Structures. Dr. Sandi Estep EDAD 731 School Community Relations Governors State University. Know your community. Know the formal leaders in the community Know the informal leaders in the community Know what is important to the community

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Know Your Community and Community Power Structures

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Know your community and community power structures

Know Your Community and Community Power Structures

  • Dr. Sandi Estep

  • EDAD 731 School Community Relations

  • Governors State University

Know your community

Know your community

  • Know the formal leaders in the community

  • Know the informal leaders in the community

  • Know what is important to the community

  • Know the friends and enemies of the school

  • Know your intended audience

First step

First Step

  • Collect information about the make-up of the community

    • Power structure and how decisions are made

    • Identify the media, reporters and how to get to know them

    • Get to know your school ‘neighbors – go door to door to say hello

    • Ask neighbors to conduct a Tea

First step continued

First Step … continued

  • Expectations of the “responsible parties”

  • History of the district – do not repeat errors and you avoid pitfalls

  • Identify friendly and hostile groups

  • Learn where there are opportunities to build relationships

  • Gap analysis of the level of understanding of the schools, programs and policies.

  • Identify how public opinion develops in this community.

  • Changes that are going on in the community

  • Identify the leaders and who influences those leaders

  • List of all organizations and social agencies.

Studying the community by collecting and analyzing data in three categories

Studying the community by collecting and analyzing data in three categories

Sociological Characteristics

The Power Structure

Opinions and Attitudes towards education in your community.

Sociological inventory

Sociological Inventory

  • Customs and traditions

  • Population Characteristics

  • Communication Channels

  • Community Groups

  • Leadership

  • Economic Conditions

  • Political Structure

  • Social Tensions

  • Previous Community Efforts

  • Sources of information

Power structure

Power Structure

  • Why should you go through all the trouble of identifying the power structure of the community?

    • Building public support for schools

    • Involving all responsible parties in the process

    • Improving student achievement

    • Developing two-way communication

Know your community and community power structures

Whether a school system is excellent or mediocre depends on how all people (regardless of their power position) work together –how they communicate, relate, are involved, participate and share. A public/community relations program is aimed at focusing on the relationships of all those people with an overall goal of improving student achievement.

Power structures defined


  • Bagin and Gallager (2001) define power structures as “an interrelationship among individuals with a vested interests who have the ability or authority to control other people, to obtain their conformity, or to command their services.”

Types of power structures or models of power structures

Types of Power Structures or Models of Power Structures:

  • Types of Power Structures or Models of Power Structures:

  • 1.Power Elite

  • 2.Pluralist

  • 3.Amorphous or Inert

Know your community and community power structures

Elite Power Model

Power Elite

Small elite group or individuals that represents industrial, financial, and commercial interests in a community.

Highest concentration of power

The Community

The elitist’s decisions flow downward through a community.

Lowest concentration of power

Power elite

Power Elite

  • The elitist model views power and control as being held by a very small, very influential group(s) or individual(s).

  • They control or have power over the financial, industrial, and commercial interest of a community

  • People with considerable influence and power.

  • They usually have control over political, social, and economic decisions.

  • Their power often comes from their position in the community or from personal or corporate wealth.

  • They dominate a community through the power of their position

  • The clergy, a politician, a leader of a racial group, or others who hold power positionare often long established members of the community, perhaps spanning many generations

  • They have a vested interest in the community

Pluralist model

Pluralist Model

  • The pluralist model of power structures is one that is followed by political scientist. Political scientists believe that there is no central power elite. They believe that power in a community is diffused. This model claims that there are multiple centers of power.

  • various members of a community occupy positions of power that are related to specific issues

  • These groups are often silent until an issue that effects them arises

Amorphous or inert model

Amorphous or Inert Model

  • the absence of an identifiable power structure in some communities

  • Power is either absent, or even worse, it is latent

  • are not actively involved in school or political issues. They will support and maintain the status quo

  • is very little movement toward educational reform activities or the introduction of experimental programs

  • look to the superintendent to make decisions for them.

Three stages of power the maturity of the community

Three stages of power – the maturity of the community

  • Young, New, Growing community – may be more pluralistic since the elite have not established themselves.

  • Second Stage: Specialized power which relates to specific issues.

  • Third Stage: older, stable community – power groups are fused into a single unit or person

Important for an administrator to know who has power and influence in a community

Important for an administrator to know who has power and influence in a community

  • A proactive administrator will build relationships with those who hold power in the community and involve them early-on in the decision making process.

  • Ignoring the power structures can result in the undermining of school improvement

  • The goal is to create dynamic partnerships with representatives from the community power structure.

  • Administrators need to be aware that there can be rapid and unexpected shifts in power among these groups.

Understanding power structures

Understanding Power Structures

  • 4 research studies of the elitist and pluralist models:

    • Kanawha County, West Virginia (Pluralist Power Study).

    • Middletown (Muncie), Indiana – Power Elite Study

    • Yankee City and Regional City. (Power Elite Studies)

    • New Haven (Pluralist Power Study)

What was learn from these studies

What was learn from these studies ?

  • Identify all power structure groups in your community.

  • Conduct a needs and values assessment to know what is important to members of your community.

  • Involve representatives from all responsible groups in the decision making process.

  • Learn how to involve your community by attending professional development workshops or seminars.

More lessons learned

More Lessons learned…

  • Be a proactive leader.

  • Be flexible and avoid treading on tightly held dogma. Flexibility does not equate to weakness. It can be a sign of secure and responsible leadership.

  • Decentralize the decision making process.

  • Delegate responsibility to subordinates in order to make decisions that reflect the desires of those closest to the issue.

  • Be prepared to respond quickly to specific problems or issues.

  • Learn to be an active listener! Ask questions and then just listen.

  • Become a member of service organizations in the community. This is an excellent way to build relationships with many power brokers.

  • Use informal situations to gather information.

More lessons learned1

More lessons learned

  • Keep an ear to the ground and find out what the word-on-the-street is. Do not hesitate to ask that question directly. Many citizens will be flattered that their opinion is valued.

  • Learn who is a reliable source of information and be able to differentiate that from gossip. Some sources may be self-serving and tend to exaggerate the sentiment to the entire community when it may only be of importance to them.

  • Share the synthesized information with other administrators to check on the of the assessment of who holds power in the community.

  • Use common sense along with the information about the power structure of the community.

More lessons learner

More Lessons Learner

  • Never lose sight of the reason for doing all of this: Increased opportunities for success for all students.

  • Know that a proactive approach to forming school-community alliances can thwart negative pressures brought to bear on schools by some power wielders.

Values and inequities influence school community relations


  • The purpose of American schools is to provide a literate citizenry that can up hold the values of our democracy. This is core to the survival of democratic institutions.

  • many arguments and legal complaints regarding the equity of the educational opportunities provided in one community compared to another

  • Schools have resorted to community fund raisers to try to bring an equitable solution to sorely needed resources

  • Other monies come through state and federal grant programs

  • Digital divide. Students in very poor school districts do not have the same technology advantages as students in wealthier districts

Distributive justice

Distributive Justice

  • Distributive justice questions who is entitled to what amount of a public institution’s resources.

  • Rescher has promulgated a principle of utility that asserts that goods and services should be distributed according to the greatest good for the greatest number.

Fair exchange

Fair Exchange

  • Peter Blau (1967) has described this phenomenon of people expecting certain benefits from their institutions as fair exchange

  • individuals do not want to feel ignored by institutions they support

  • Only in the area of special education do we set policies on what is good for the individual student’s educational program rather than the majority

  • Handing out apples…

Summary of power structures

Summary of Power Structures

  • Schools need to intelligently deal with power structure(s) so they better take the time to know who they are.

  • Power structures are controlled by people who want to shape the community.

  • How do they influence?

    • Through rewards –advancements, higher social or economic status, monetary gains, influence on the school board to hire/fire administrators or increase salaries.

    • Through punishments

The schools and power pressure

The Schools and Power Pressure

  • know the history of dealing with these power structures on past issues

  • protection the school district has when influence gets out of control

    • Laws

    • Policies

    • And a well planned C-R program that is thriving in the schools and the district. That is, a well-informed citizenry can be a force that power brokers are reluctant to deal with. These people will take the issue public and power elites do not like to be in the limelight.

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