The Georgia C.A.F.E. Model for Authentic Stakeholder Engagement is a powerful testament of what can happen when people step out of their traditional rows and move into circles. Standing for “Circles of Adults Focusing on Education,” C.A.F.E.s bring together persons of authority with persons of influence to truly listen to one another with the intention of creating a shared understanding around complex education issues.

System Oversight, Infrastructure and Organization: 


Guidance for the C.A.F.E. work comes from the methodology and guidance of the IDEA Partnership, a national collaborative of educators and administrators, national health and education organizations and nonprofits, and family members. With the guidance of the IDEA Partnership, the Georgia Department of  Education (GaDOE) began in 2007 to develop a stakeholder model to support students, particularly those with disabilities and/or at risk challenges, with blended initiatives both in and out of the classroom.

C.A.F.E., standing for “Circles of Adults Focusing on Education,” began as a family, school and community blended stakeholder process in the highly recognized GraduateFIRST initiative under the State Personnel Development Plan (SPDG).
OSEP awarded Georgia two SPDG grant cycles, starting in 2007, to improve its systems for personnel preparation and professional development for early intervention, dropout prevention and transition services.

The goal of the C.A.F.E. is to engage educators, superintendents, principals, families and community members in an innovative, multifaceted effort to increase engagement around critical graduation issues.


The C.A.F.E Model's leadership design focuses on engagement over mangagement approach of decision making. Although a "top-down authority" approach may be need when time is critical, the C.A.F.E. Model for Authentic Stakeholder Engagement aims to bring and keep committed individuals of both authority and influence together to bridge the gap between policy and practice by authentically engaging in solution building from the start.

Stakeholder Involvement

Because C.A.F.E. membership should reflect local needs and talents, the composition of each C.A.F.E. team will be unique to that C.A.F.E. In general, C.A.F.E. stakeholder teams are made up of school, family, and community members. Participants range from superintendents to members of the clergy, to local shop owners, to grandmothers. To date, Georgia C.A.F.E. teams do not include current student members. Students can serve on C.A.F.E. working committees and play a major role in developing the local C.A.F.E. team outreach materials. Some C.A.F.E. teams conduct focus groups and/or distribute surveys to gain needed student input on school issues.

Number of participants on a C.A.F.E. team may vary. Teams that experience the most success generally include about 18 to 25 members. As the work of C.A.F.E. progresses, the number of members can be increased; the team may decide
to add members whose expertise is needed for committee work. It's critical the majority of C.A.F.E. team members commit to serving for a minimum of one year. Most C.A.F.E.s meet about five times a year with additional committee work via in person meetings, emails or conference calls.

Policies & Procedures

The C.A.F.E. Model process is either guided by or incorporated into the following: The IDEA Partnership's Leading by Convening (LbC); National Association of State Directors of Special Education; Communities of Practice; GaDOE's State Systemic Improvement Plan, "Student Success: Imagine the Possibilities"; Georgia’s Systems of Continuous Improvement Framework; 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Program Access & Delivery: 

Program Access & Delivery

The C.A.F.E. process begins by looking at district data reports that identify some of the major underlying issues preventing students from graduating and succeeding in a secondary option. The core team examines relevant research that might explain trends in the district. From this work, it identifies some possible “grounding assumptions.”  Georgia C.A.F.E. teams use facilitators from outside the school district. These trained facilitators can keep the tone of meetings neutral and move the discussion on topic; facilitator plays an essential role in helping the team examine and/or question grounding assumptions, reflect on the C.A.F.E. process, and take action; facilitator works with the team to set ground rules for C.A.F.E.
Public Awareness & Outreach Activities: 

Public Awareness & Outreach

Campaigns: Early on in the process, C.A.F.E.s typically organize a special event to kick off the work.  Campaigns are created. The campaigns mainly center on promoting the short-term goal but do not lose sight of the long-term goal. A
C.A.F.E. may choose to brand its message. Branding may include creating a catchy phrase or slogan. A logo may be designed so that C.A.F.E. communication is instantly recognizeable.

Communication: Once the content of the message is determined, the method of communication also must be established. For the content to reach its desired audience in a meaningful way, the method of communication must be focused and memorable. Each C.A.F.E. decides the best means to reach the greatest number of families and community members and then formulate an action plan to make it happen.

Additional Information: 

A Step by Step Guide: Strategies, Tools and Resources Leading Effective Stakeholder Teams in The Work to Increase Student Graduation Rates and Career Readiness

This guide details strategies, tools, and research gathered over the last decade as part of the Georgia Department of Education’s (GaDOE) ongoing work to build and enhance the “Georgia C.A.F.E. Model for Authentic Stakeholder Engagement."