The Role of Civic Knowledge in Public Education and How School Officials Can Expand It


  • John Poynton St. Vrain Valley Schools (CO)
  • Don Haddad St. Vrain Valley Schools (CO)
  • Carole J. Makela Colorado State University


Civic Engagement, Parent Engagement, Public Education, School District Administration, Public Participation, Public Deliberation, Social Capital


From the early twentieth century to the present, citizen participation in U.S. public institutions—particularly schools—has continually decreased. The trend has been linked to the bureaucratization of public schools and their increasing reliance on expert knowledge—in place of civic knowledge—for solutions to school- and education-related problems. The purpose of this paper is to share and report the results of a citizen training program designed to expand civic knowledge, engage citizens in educational issues in their school district and raise the district’s capacity for public participation in district affairs. Simultaneously an objective was developing and refining a model for school districts and other institutions ready to increase the public’s role in problem solving and decision making.

The program—known as Leadership St. Vrain—expanded civic knowledge by providing citizens information about school district operations and management (know-how) and relationship-building opportunities with key decision makers (know-who). This article focuses on the experiences and participation of the citizens from a mixed-methods study that collected data using two original survey instruments, follow-up interviews, and archival documents. Of five training domains studied, this paper focuses on findings for the domains of knowledge, relationships, and action as well as the secondary ripple effects of know-how and know-who from participants to others who did not participate in the training.

Author Biographies

John Poynton, St. Vrain Valley Schools (CO)

John Poynton, Ph.D., serves as the Executive Director of Organizational Development and Communications for St. Vrain Valley Schools, Colorado's 8th largest school district. Poynton completed his doctoral studies at Colorado State University where he continues to research strategies for raising the capacity for public participation in public school districts.

Don Haddad, St. Vrain Valley Schools (CO)

Superintendent St. Vrain Valley School District located in Longmont Colorado.

Carole J. Makela, Colorado State University

Professor, School of Education Colorado State University






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