The initial two years of the design of the structure to achieve Regional Clergy Engagement (RCE) and the subsequent inception of Religion Sector 3.0 fostered two core accomplishments, (a) comprehensive relationships among clergy regionally, and (b) the systemic engagement between clergy and the leadership of the civic sectors: government, education, social services, business. This design emerged from a process of convening Regional and Area Dialogues and Local Discussions by city, with clergy and city managers, and, by school district, with clergy and superintendents and principals.
The concept of Regional Clergy Engagement was envisioned by the Peninsula Community Foundation. The initial designated region was the Peninsula, just south of San Francisco, encompassing 440 clergy, one million residents, 600 square miles, 27 cities, 32 school districts, one county and a portion of another. As the Foundation’s newly envisioned Religion Sector Specialist (RSS), it was my responsibility to take the concept to design and implementation.
The successful formation of an entity that engaged all clergy now provided superintendents of schools and city managers with the opportunity to engage with clergy and congregations in a way that was appropriate and efficient. It extended their access to community partnerships and resource without the apprehension that they would become “associated” with a single faith, or a distinctive group of congregations.
In the Regional and Area Dialogues and in the Local Discussions in seven school districts, clergy, superintendents and principals reached two overarching findings.
First, they recognized that there was no religion component within the required diversity training for educators’ degree courses or ongoing professional development. This included programs for teachers, principals and superintendents of schools. This impacted individual teacher’s classroom capacity. It also resulted in a lack of comprehensive institutional policy at the district and school level regarding religion related educational issues (a) responding to student religion based matters, (b) negotiating religion within wide ranging classroom content, and (c) formation of appropriate, system wide policies and practices.
One outcome of the Local Discussions was my presentation of Trainings and Consultation in Multi-Faith Awareness with three segments: (a) augmenting standard cultural diversity training with a religion component, (b) an overview of the structure of the religion sector institutions, and (c) modes of engaging the religion sector’s primary institution, the clergy and congregations, as community partners.
Second, they recognized an unprecedented design enabling the potential for clergy and congregations to support the schools in achieving aspects of their core mission, largely articulated around a range of items which would result in “more students successfully completing 12th grade and advancing to a range of options for further training or schooling.” This includes support for preschool, reading readiness, regular class attendance, sustaining summer learning, student health and safety, community college mentoring, etc.
In fall, 2005, I convened a gathering with several clergy and four superintendents of school districts to solicit recommendations for an initial project to capitalize on this unprecedented capacity to engage every clergy person and congregation in the service area of each school district. The superintendents were asked to make recommendations based on their evaluation of needs and on options identified in the Regional Dialogues and the school district Local Discussions.
The superintendents’ overwhelming consensus was “access to parents,” in response to the current limited options to secure critically needed parent engagement. This would include a compendium of strategies to assist parents in supporting their children’s academic excellence and personal safety.
Early in the process, clergy and educators recognized that the proposed ideas for components of each a project were divided into two categories. This division of categories related to the commitment to maintaining the relationships and functions appropriate to institutions of religion and “state.” There were proposed components that were clearly appropriate and those which would require the formation of policy for school districts and for the clergy and congregations that would insure that they did not blur the lines of their distinctive functions.
For clergy, this process could not have been successful without the inception of a Regional Clergy Engagement which afforded them the structure to collectively examine and frame policies and procedures to successfully guide the involvement of clergy and congregations.
The proposed project linking schools with parents and schools, had virtually no basic limitations related to consideration of religion and state parameters. It would utilize tools such as the now existent regional clergy database, congregation websites, congregational mapping by school districts, the project specific “Congregation Certificate” and “Congregation Tracking Chart.”
There were three core elements of Regional Clergy Engagement that were prerequisites to this project. First, the capacity to code, in the clergy database, the school districts of each congregation. This technical capacity would provide the mechanism for the schools to provide clergy with early information on the dates of events such as Back to School nights, Weeks of Respect, school contact information, etc. Clergy would be able to include this information in congregation websites, monthly bulletins, sermons and weekly worship announcements. Community agencies would also be able to share information on pre K, post 12, after school and summer programs to augment and extend educational success.
Second, the process which enables schools to engage parents at congregation sites and provide speakers and resources on educational and safety issues. This engagement can be provided in language and cultural specific formats. Utilizing the Congregation by School District Based Mapping and the Cluster Based Mapping, schools are able to engage parents in clusters of congregations, in geographic areas or by delineated demographics.
Third, the design of the education specific “Congregational Certificate – Education” which enables the educational professionals and congregational leadership to systemically and effectively galvanize the resources of all congregations in a mutually designed partnership on behalf of the multiple levels of support of all children in the community.
Over fifteen years, I have provided consulting support in response to numerous requests related to individual situations in educational institutions: pre-school, K-12, undergraduate and graduate schools.
The most significant advance in understanding the current context and formulating policy and practices came as the result of a contract with one school district. Following a Local Discussion with clergy and the superintendent and principals, the superintendent recognized the lack of established context to understand and address ongoing matters with a religion dynamic throughout the district and at the individual schools. This consultation was initiated with a 10 hour contract and extended through two additional 10 hour contracts. Each phase of the 30 hours provided the insight into the next appropriate step in fully achieving the comprehensive outcome which was the goal of the superintendent. Contract involvement included:
- Superintendent’s management team meetings
- Superintendent’s management and principals combined team meeting
- Meeting on campus with each principal
- Campus site review with principals
- Follow-up meetings with selected principals on a “case study” item identified by them
- Ongoing review and analysis sessions with the superintendent to configure each step of each aspect phase
The findings from the meetings and sessions are now incorporated in Religion Sector 3.0 educators’ diversity trainings, education based consultation, formation of a curriculum for schools of education, and programs for educators’ professional development.
These findings are incorporated in the Trainings in Multi Faith Awareness and consultation for institutions in each of the community sectors: government, education, non-profit, business and religion.
Rabbi Jay Miller RELIGION SECTOR 3.0
1.0 On the Town Square 2.0 Walls of Separation
3.0 Alignment: Among Congregations – Within Society