A New Day: Family, School, and Community Engagement in Education Reform

Uploaded by sedl on 09.08.2012

>> ANNA HINTON: I am Anna Hinton, Director of Parental Options and Information in the
Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. On behalf of
the department I’d like to thank our partners – National PTA, Harvard Family Research
Project, United Way Worldwide, and the National PIRC Coordination Center for helping to make
this series possible. The department recognizes that family engagement is an essential ingredient
to improving students’ academic achievement, so we really seek to utilize this webinar
series to the masses and to emphasize the need to think systemically about the way we
engage families in their children’s education. So our first installment, which was about
two months ago, really laid the foundation for our future webinars in this series by
one, offering a new research based definition for family, school, and community engagement
and two, by really emphasizing it and reframing the conversation around family engagement,
beyond random acts of engagement, to more systemic efforts of family engagement that
are driven by data, supported by research, and aligned to instructional goals and linked
to learning. So today’s webinar really takes us a step further. Based on feedback we received
from the field regarding our first webinar, we recognize the need to provide more examples
of how to do this work in a [unintelligible] way. So the second webinar will examine how
funding streams, particularly Title I funds, can be used to implement strong systemic family
engagement work and it also speaks to the ability of school districts to support school
level family engagement efforts and institute capacity building mechanisms to assist with
the implementation of systemic family engagement. To facilitate today’s webinar, Mishaela
Durán, Director of Government Affairs at the National PTA, National Office of Programs
and Public Policy will serve as our moderator. At the National PTA, Mishaela’s responsible
for developing public policy recommendations, representing PTA before congress and the administration,
National Coalition, and educating and mobilizing PTA members around critical public policy
issues. Kicking off our agenda today will be opening remarks from our Assistant Secretary
of Elementary and Secondary Education here at the Department of Education, Dr. Thelma
Meléndez de Santa Anna. Dr. Meléndez is responsible for administering over $14 billion
in Title I Part A funds. She directs, coordinates, and recommends policy for programs designed
to assist SEAs and LEAs with improving the achievement of elementary and secondary school
students. Following Dr. Meléndez’ remarks will be presentations from Susan Shaffer,
Director of the Maryland PIRC, and Barbara Scherr, Family Involvement Coordinator at
the Maryland State Department of Education. After their presentation we will take a few
minutes to address some of your questions before we reconvene with Michele Brooks, Assistant
Superintendent of Family and Student Engagement at the Boston Public Schools. Now I will turn
it over to Dr. Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Elementary
and Secondary Education at the US Department of Education. Thank you.
>> DR. MELENDEZ: Thank you very much Anna. I’m excited to open up this discussion today
as I know you share my belief that family engagement is key to ensuring that all children
learn and that they have a chance to succeed. I was superintendent of the Pomona Unified
School District in California. Family engagement played a key role in our efforts to provide
every child with an excellent education. I believe this webinar is a great opportunity
to discuss with your colleagues specific strategies to improve family engagement in your own schools
and districts. In just a few minutes you’ll be hearing from four speakers who will discuss
innovative partnerships and strategies that are working locally and statewide to promote
and strengthen family engagement especially in our low performing Title I schools. Before
we get into the discussion however, I want to talk broadly about the importance of family
engagement in the Administration’s overall efforts for school reform. As most of you
have already heard, the blueprint supports family engagement in a number of ways. We
are working to enhance transparency in school report cards about academic performance and
school climate for parents and we’re giving families a voice and an opportunity to engage
in their child’s school. The proposal includes Title I family engagement provisions. These
requirements provide starting points for districts’ and schools’ family engagement activities,
but the work should go beyond these requirements to meaningfully integrate family engagement
into overall plans to improve student achievement. Because Title I is a major federal funding
stream for family engagement work, we are putting more resources into family involvement
because we know we need to do more and we need to do it better. We’re proposing to
double funding for parent engagement from 1% - 2% of the Title I dollars or a total
of $270 million. At the same time, in order to drive innovation, we will allow states
to use another 1% of the Title I dollars, about $145 million, for grant programs that
support and expand district level evidence based parental involvement practices and we
will allow community based organizations including the parental information and resource centers
to compete for these funds along with districts and other non-profits. Given the persistence
of the achievement gap and the growing body of research that shows the importance of implementing
family engagement in a comprehensive manner rather than piecemeal random acts programs,
there is a need for more meaningful integration of family engagement in school and district
improvement plans and a recognition of its value in promoting learning. We want to see
districts and schools move away from viewing family engagement as a checklist of activities
that they do to comply with Title I requirements. Instead, we want to see them develop outcome
focused strategies that are [audio gap] student learning and to schools’ overall plan for
improving student achievement. For this to happen, family engagement needs to be systemic,
integrated, and sustained, not a set of isolated, stand alone activities. We recognize that
strengthening family engagement involves strategies that are designed to help families understand
what they can do at home and in partnership with schools to improve their children’s
learning to help empower families to become better advocates for improving their children’s
education and schools and to provide families with more decision making governance roles
to help shape the direction of the district and school policies. These efforts should
include providing families with information about their children’s academic performance
and their school’s performance and providing this information in a way that families can
use, that help affect change. Other components needed to strengthen family engagement work
in state’s, districts, and schools include strong state level partnerships that pool
resources and talent to help districts and schools build capacity to carry out family
engagement work and capacity building mechanisms, as Anna mentioned, to help districts and schools
develop the infrastructure, personnel, strategies, and incentives, engage families and understand
how to link that engagement to student learning. Well, it’s true that there’s no simple
one size fits all answer as to what an effective family engagement program looks like. We do
know that parents need to be active partners with teachers and educators and that we need
to remove barriers to parental involvement in schools. I want to leave you some questions
you should all consider as we move forward in our work to improve family engagement and
make it a critical part of all of our schools. First, why is it so critical that strong innovations
emerge within family engagement work especially within Title I schools? What is at stake for
these children? What do we stand to lose if we don’t effectively engage families in
turning around low performing schools or if teachers and leaders [audio gap] don’t come
to understand the value of meaningfully engaging families? To help you think through these
questions as it applies to our own work on the ground, you’ll hear from some specific
best practices from Maryland’s PIRC and State Department of Education, The Boston
Public Schools, and the National PTA on what has been some successful and innovative strategies
in improving family engagement. We hope that you find this information helpful and we look
forward to working with you to ensure we can provide the right support to schools and districts
to improve and strengthen family involvement. Thank you.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Thank you for your thoughtful remarks Dr. Meléndez de Santa Ana. Dr. Meléndez
de Santa Ana champions systemic family engagement at the district level, making it one of six
essential components of school reform and promoting unified school districts. Dr. Meléndez
de Santa Ana’s work truly departed from random acts of parent involvement be it onetime
events or add on programs. Instead, she really develops systems’ capacity that integrates
and sustains meaningful family engagement in her core district priorities. So what does
this look like on the ground? How did she do this? Just to name a few things, she established
family resource centers that provided technical assistance to schools to implement family
engagement plans. She shared best practices on reaching all families through a lot of
innovative strategies. She also created standards for welcoming family environments in every
school and she even included family engagement as a metric for principal evaluation, but
it is so wonderful to have such a strong champion for family engagement who also has a practitioner
lens at the Department of Education. So thank you again Dr. Meléndez de Santa Ana. While
our district level family engagement such as the work implemented by Dr. Meléndez is
essential, it is also critical to have state level systemic family engagement that supports
this work on the local level. The State of Maryland has been a national guiding light
for statewide systemic family engagement that targets resources to Title I schools and other
under resourced communities. The next presentation is going to focus on the innovative partnership
between the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland State Parental Information
and Resource Center. I’ll refer to this as the Maryland PIRC. This presentation will
demonstrate how strong state level capacity supported the implementation of innovative
programs, such as Tellin’ Stories, to reach families and underserved communities. It is
my pleasure to introduce our next speakers, Barbara Scherr and Susan Shaffer. Barbara
Sherr currently serves as the Family Involvement Coordinator at the Maryland Department of
Education. She began her career at the Park School in Baltimore County as the director
for their after school program. She later worked as the Assistant to the Childcare Coordinator
in the governor’s office for children, youth, and family. For the past decade Barbara has
worked in the area of school, family, and community involvement at the Maryland State
Department of Education. Susan Shaffer is the executive director of the Maryland PIRC
and the President of Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, a non-profit whose mission is to build the
capacity of educational and community based organizations to support low income and culturally
diverse children and their families. She has more than 35 years of professional training,
management, consultation, teaching, and material development experience in family engagement,
gender equity, and multicultural education. Susan has also authored several books and
publications related to parenting, family engagement, equity and cultural proficiency,
women’s history, and disability. I would like to now pass it over to Susan and Barbara.
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: Good afternoon. What I would first like to do is to welcome all of you.
We’re very happy to be with you this afternoon. Our presentation objectives include the following:
We’d like to talk about why does relationship work? What kind of structures are in place?
Why it’s value added? What are the mutual benefits? How does relationship work? What
kind of collaboration, partnership planning, and assessment that we engage in? What we
feel are the benefits of a successful relationship. What are some of the strategies and what are
the outcomes? Overall, these relationships, we believe, are the engine that [drives] successful
collaboration in support of student learning. We know that we can’t do this work alone.
To be successful, we rely on multiple collaborations and partnerships throughout Maryland. Those
include our own staff, our state and local PTAs, our LEAs, other federal programs, Title
III Special Education, Title I, other program partners in Maryland, the Maryland Family
Network, the National Network of Partnership Schools, and our military families, as well
as other community and business organizations.
>> BARBARA SCHERR: In order for partnerships to work you must be intentional about the
work you are doing as well as working together. Obviously, this is not work that can be done
alone. We all, as state leaders, share a common mission - fostering meaningful engagement
for families, strengthening families and school partnerships, and building capacity among
educators, parents, and community and business partners.
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: We know that each state has its own unique characteristics, issues,
and personality. We are fortunate, in Maryland, to have the longest term superintendent in
the county, Dr. Nancy Gramsick, who’s been at the job for nineteen years. That consistency
helps up to implement this common mission.
>> BARBARA SCHERR: Ultimately, the value added in sharing the responsibility with other organizations
is an integrated and coordinated family engagement effort. These relationships help to limit
duplication of effort. We’ve created a statewide presence through clear and consistent communication
that is truly two-way. As you can see on the slide, the communication between the State
Department of Education and the PIRC - we are in contact with each other all the time.
The SEA, the State Department as well as our local school systems and our stakeholders
in the district level, as well as the PIRC relationships with our local school district
stakeholders as well, is ongoing and they have complete access to the districts. This
includes also accountability and feedback as well as keeping each other in check by
reassessing what we do through feedback from our district stakeholders as well as dialoging,
as state leaders, among the PIRC, the PTA, and the SEA.
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: What is essential to this relationship is the building of trust. Those
of us that work directly with families know that this is something that we cannot bypass.
The same way that we build trust in relationships with families, you have to do the same thing
with partners. You cannot bypass this step. What we’ve seen in Maryland is the benefit
of this statewide infrastructure that we have built that creates visibility and a platform
for all of the partners that are involved and ultimately, more services for families,
and more implementation of services that create higher performance in school.
>> BARBARA SCHERR: Through our defined roles, we are able to support each other. During
a time where we have limited resources, there’s no time better than now where we need to work
together to support each other in the work that we do.
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: We collaborate with state and local PTAs, for example. Last year we
launched, the first in Maryland, parent involvement month in October. We did that in collaboration
with our state PTA, the SEA, and the PIRC. What we’re working on now as another example
is the first nontraditional foster parent PTA in the country that will be chartered
by the Maryland PTA.
>> BARBARA SCHERR: Another example of this collaboration at the state level with the
PIRC and the PTA and the State Department of Education is we developed an alliance that’s
modeled after NCCI, the National Coalition of Caring, Involvement, and Education that
we refer to MAFIE, the Maryland Alliance for Family Involvement and Education. This is
a network of Maryland educators and education organizations committed to sharing information
around strengthening school, the family partnership, and the recommendations of the Maryland Care
and Advisory Council, which I’m going to talk about in the next slide, as well as the
Maryland PTA standards. Members of the alliance include the State Department of Education,
PTAs, PIRC, and other stakeholders. Through MAFIE we are able to offer what we like to
call [audio gap] conversation a year. We use the National PTA standards are our guide in
organizing these conversations. In fact, we’ve had Ann Henderson join us to discuss welcoming
families and building partnerships. Sheri Johnson, the Director of Programs for National
PTA to discuss supporting success. We’ve had presentations on national models like
the National Network of Partnership Schools and the [unintelligible] model and most recently,
we had three local school superintendents address standards [audio gap] sharing power.
I want to point out that this truly speaks to a shared responsibility in that, as an
SEA, we recognize our limitation both financial and human to provide professional development,
which we believe is key to our work and we are limited in being able to do this and through
MAFIE, we are able to provide these opportunities for education around family engagement.
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: What we’re trying to do with MAFIE as well as create these real life
experiences and practices for the educators who can then bring them back to their local
school. The synergy of all of these collaborations creates what we believe to be a systemic family
engagement program. It also helps to really make each organization, each agency, bigger
than we really are so that we have more statewide influence. This trust helps to build what
we call a culture of partnerships in Maryland and higher performance in [audio gap] particularly
those low performing schools. If I may add, that Maryland is the number one school system
in the country evaluated by Education Weekly. So family engagement is not the only innovative
strategy, but it is considered essential and because it is embedded in all of the programs
that we do, we’re able to [see] the success in Maryland.
>> BARBARA SCHERR: I would just like to share a little bit about our framework at the Maryland
State Department of Education. In the fall of 2003 our State Superintendent created the
Maryland Parent Advisory Council that included 120 stakeholders including educators, parents,
and community representatives and this was co-chaired by our State Superintendent and
State PTA President at that time. The council was charged with making recommendations to
our State Superintendent and our State Board of Education on one of our five state educational
goals that families will be involved in education. The council presented 21 recommendations at
a state board meeting in August of 2005. All of these recommendations were accepted by
the state board and these recommendations currently serve as a framework for family
engagement. I want to mention that both the PIRC and the PTA have been very supportive
to this work because it truly is a shared responsibility, as the title of the report
reflects. So this gives you a quick and dirty overview of our framework within the state.
I’m going now to focus on our approach to building capacity at the state’s local and
school levels when it comes to family engagement for Title I and how what we do is aligned
to our overarching framework. This is what we like to call the wedding cake to students’
success which is a snapshot of Title I at the state, local school, and classroom level.
In Maryland we have 24 local school systems. Just like many states, we have urban, rural,
and suburban areas. At the state level, the way we support and carry out our Title I is
we have an annual monitoring where we visit our districts once a year to monitor the eleven
components of Title I. We also provide a training on building capacity for school teens, which
we’re going to talk about in a few minutes, as well as provide ongoing technical assistance
to all 24 districts. The PIRC and the PTA are also instrumental in supporting the work
that we do for Title I.
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: The State Education Agency is able [audio gap] to do this work again,
with the support of its key partner. The Maryland PIRC, which provides statewide support with
our goal of building capacity for family engagement and student achievement, and then the Maryland
State Parent Teachers Association which provides leadership development and family engagement.
For example, we work with the PTA to provide training to the Title I schools and in turn,
we support their board approved diversity plan at the school level. What you see as
central and core to this wedding cake is that family engagement is one of the core innovative
strategies for student success.
>> BARBARA SCHERR: At the local school system level, as you know, all district, all school
systems must have the parent involvement policy. We also have family involvement coordinators
and ELL family outreach coordinators, who are designated by their local superintendents,
to be the point of contact for family engagement in the school district. We also work with
our Title I coordinators and encourage these partnerships between the family involvement
coordinators, the ELL family outreach coordinators, as well as Title I coordinators to support
the work at the district level as well as to the school level. At the school level,
each school must have a plan for how they’re going to implement Title I for parents and
what that plan would look like. All schools must have a part of their plan, which is part
of their school improvement plan, and that serves as the blueprint for family engagement
and then they must also have a plan that is distributed to parents, which would be in
a more family friendly format. In many states, schools don’t like policies so we refer
to them as plans. At the classroom level, the school-parent compact, I believe, is where
the rubber meets the road. This is the essential conversation that takes place among the parents,
the teacher, and the students of how to support student success. Ultimately, the value added
and building capacity and sharing the responsibility is for our students to succeed. Now, how do
we do all of this? As I mentioned in the previous slide, we conduct an annual Title I program
review or monitoring for all eleven Title I Part A components, which takes place in
the winter. We do a follow up visit with each district once in the spring and if needed,
in the fall. Our monitoring is mirrored after the Federal Student Achievement and School
Accountability Tool or some of you may know as SASA. When we were monitored by the feds
during the 2007 – 2008 school year, we had several findings in parent involvement for
areas where districts were out of compliance – these are findings - against the [SEA].
We knew that we needed to take action. Susan and I had a conversation about the need to
build capacity of educators and parents around the requirements of section 1118. At that
same time one of our local school systems had actually developed their training on the
schoolparent compact, which we borrowed, if you will, and we have built on that training
and developed the training to build capacity around family engagement and Title I to include
all the requirements under section 1118 – the district level policies and plans, school
level plan, and school level compacts. An area that we added in Maryland is that all
local school systems, in their district level plan or policy, as well as all schools in
their school level plans must include how they share information with parents about
the PIRC. Again, recognizing our limitation of resources, the PIRC has helped sponsor
many of these trainings and get them started. Now in order for us to get the training started,
we had to lay the groundwork. First, we had to get the support from our state Title I
director, Maria Lamb, who has been extremely supportive to the work that we do. Trainings
were coordinated with local Title I coordinators and they had to be there for the training.
Additionally, trainings needed to be coordinated with the PIRC as they supported many of them.
Our own Title I staff at the department needed to be on board and educated on the requirements
of section 1118 as well. This next one is a very important one. The only way we would
agree to conduct a school team training is if, at the training was at minimum, an administrator,
a parent, and a teacher. Those school teams had an average of five participants. Often
at least two parents were part of a team. Teams also had guidance counselors, community
partners, [HIPPY] home visitors and other representatives. The advertised training in
Title I coordinators help to recruit the school team. Last, my partner [unintelligible] and
I will review school level plans and school parent compacts, so we were familiar with
what schools were doing and could give them feedback on their plans and compact as it
relates to compliance. While it sounds like we’re honing in on compliance, at first
we have been, but now we are able to focus on meaningful engagement. The first two and
a half hours of our [audio gap] training is spent on the research and requirements and
then we move on to the school plan and the compact. At several of these trainings the
PIRC had a role. Their role was to cover the research part of the training as well as to
support the teams as they were working on their present compact. A big part of this
training is to provide time for schools to work on their plan and compact because sometimes
finding that time for schools is challenging. At some training we actually had peer reviews
where schools would review another school’s plan and/or compact feedback. The half day
is focused on the school level plan and compact as part of that training. We’ve recently
created a second part of this training which we call review, revise, renew where we walk
through, with school teams, the process so they can review their plans and tweak things
as they need to, look where there are challenges and what changes can be made for the following
school year. Additionally, we’ve created tools to support our local school system in
schools that are very transparent to the law. Developed checklists that are usually on a
one-pager with the exception of the district policy and plan, which is a page and a half.
We use these tools during the training and encourage both districts and schools to use
them as they work on their plan. We’ve come a far way. We began the training in the 2008-2009
school year. That school year, when we conducted our Title I monitoring, there were 67 findings
where areas local school systems and their schools were out of compliance across the
state. Out of eleven components, we were number one in finding, which is not where we wanted
to be. This past school year you can see there were significant changes going on at the local
school system level, which we are very proud of. Again, as a result of the feedback we
received as presenters, you could see participants having those, “Aha!” moments, school administrators.
You could see the [unintelligible] more comfortable and had a better understanding of, just not
the requirements, but the importance of family engagement and parents truly appreciated the
opportunity to gain knowledge and understand their role. Some of the lessons learned – I
want to highlight just a couple of them. Not all administrators buy into family engagement
nor does school team work come naturally. Just as organizations, we must be intentional
about our work. Schools must, too, be intentional about family engagement especially since leaders
of buildings set the tone and if they don’t buy in, it makes it harder for the team. Time
allotted for school teams to work on their plans and compacts must also be built in.
The training provides a starting point, not the final product. Susan is going to share
and talk about an innovative model, Tellin’ Stories, that truly builds capacity for school
communities and it’s one that we really support and encourage our school [unintelligible]
get in.
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: The Tellin’ Stories program, which we partner with Reaching for Change,
a non-profit located in the district of Colombia, helps builds parents’ self confidence and
facilitates collaboration to improve schools using parents’ and caretakers’ cultural
strengths to build mutual respect and form coalitions amongst families from different
ethnic groups. This is a program that meets families and educators where they are and
practices the philosophy of families as a resource. The next four slides will give you
some specific examples of Tellin’ Stories projects. As you’re looking at them, I want
to give you an overview of their goal. The important part of Tellin’ Stories is that
family engagement becomes embedded as an essential ingredient to support the mission of the school
to improve student learning and create a positive school climate. The whole school takes ownership
and families become part of the engine to create change. When you build community, you
strengthen school, and trust is a key predictor of school quality. Parents decide to get involved
based on the relationships that they create within the school. Once this community is
developed, only then can family engagement become self sustaining. We do weekly evening
meetings. We provide opportunities for parent leadership training, but we begin this program
with community building where Tellin’ Stories creates opportunities for families to connect
to each other and to their school, often for the first time, through the power of story.
Next we work with families to gather information and develop skills. Parents gain the tools
they need during regular parent meetings to analyze the school climate, the facilities,
and the quality of teaching and learning at their school. Finally, we identify and prioritize
concerns. By families learning to ask the right questions, they prioritize their concerns
and determine who has the power to address them most immediately and effectively. They
take action. These actions run from getting a crossing guard for a busy intersection near
a school to bringing in anti-gang people to work with their parents and work with their
children and families. Parents have asked for assistance around transition between elementary
and middle and middle and high school. They’ve increased interpreting services when they
are necessary and they partner with community based organizations so that they really develop
a safe, healthy, and learning environment for children. Finally, we evaluate the work
continuously in order to sustain the work. Every aspect of this program involves action
and reflection. Tellin’ Stories involves all key stakeholders in assessing our work
in order to increase our impact. The sustainability relies on the initiative and development of
local leader. We provide youth training and childcare, so this becomes an activity/an
event for the entire family. It is finally linked to learning. We do this through academic
achievement committees where the families sit on these committees and provide feedback
through roving readers where we increase the literacy not only of the children, but of
the families themselves. They learn to conduct classroom observations and they participate
in parent teacher dialog. This sustainability relies on the initiative and development of
these local leaders. What are the keys to success? Again, always a principal who has
a vision and commitment to parents as genuine partners in the education of their children.
The sustainability requires that all key stakeholders assess the work in order again, to increase
impact. Family engagement is embedded as a core strategy that supports academic achievement,
that is it not an add-on, and that we were able to do this so that we create a whole
school buyin so that everybody is a contributor and everybody helps to increase student achievement
and improve and perform. Some of the goals that we’ve attained are increased parent
engagement, increased knowledge for parents to be able to work with their children at
home and improve school climate. We’ve heard stories from parents who have lived in the
same apartment buildings who didn’t know one another and now go to the grocery store
and share stories and assist one another with parenting responsibilities. The overall progress
from 2007 to 2010 is we’ve served eighteen Title I schools within eight school districts.
Almost 1,900 parents have participated and we have developed leadership skills in 108
parents who have then participated in cross city parent leaderships between Baltimore,
for example, and the district of Colombia. The outcome you can see on the next slide.
I won’t go into that. I’ll just mention that the percent of the student scoring proficient
or better in reading or math on the Maryland State Assessment in ten Maryland schools increased
in 2009. So what are our take home messages? Perfected partnership. We have to be intentional
about our work. We have to be purposeful and make these linkages to student learning and
>> BARBARA SCHERR: Always keep your eye on the prize, which is really to look at how
we are developing and establishing and supporting our families and it’s really supporting
that home-school partnership, as well as high levels of cooperation and coordination, reduced
duplication of effort and increased efficiency in outreach capacity. One of the things that
I’d really like to say about these effective partnerships is when we have a training, we
don’t invite the PIRC or the PTA just to come and introduce themselves and talk about
what it is they do. They truly have a role in the work that we do. I would say that that
also works both ways when the PTA invites us to participate in their activities and
events as well as the PIRC – the State Department of Education has a role more than just saying
who we are and how we support the work that we are doing.
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: We truly have seen the benefits of this statewide infrastructure where we
really believe in the shared responsibility and we practice it. Strong ties make each
organization and agency better able to provide systemic capacity building and integrated
services for families and students to increase academic achievement and that works for all
of our families so that family engagement becomes a central, innovative core instructional
strategy that must be embedded and not siloed. It’s center. It isn’t isolated.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Great. Well, thank you for that informative presentation Susan and
Barbara. This is truly a remarkable collaboration between PIRC, PTA, and the SEA. I know that
other State Departments of Education are really looking to Maryland for ways that they can
replicate this statewide framework. I do have a question from our participants beginning
with Myrdin Thomson. Her question is how do we get past a cultural attitude that has removed
parents from advocacy and sees them merely as a fund raiser to offset dwindling school
budgets? Many schools would claim strong parental engagement, but the definition is loose and
usually based on fund raising activities rather than programs and partnerships.
>> BARBARA SCHERR: I think that what we’ve seen is that parents, in order to build and
sustain family engagement, true family engagement, they have to be part of the solution. They
have to have the skills to be able to be on a level playing field with those that are
making decisions. They know their children best and if we only include them as part of
fund raising, then we are missing an entire resource of families who have tremendous contribution
to provide.
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: I would also like to add that building capacity is so critical. When
you’re talking about building capacity for educators so they understand the importance
and know how to work with parents as well as building capacity of parents so they too
know how to work with educators.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Thank you. Our next question is from Debbie Rude and her question is how
successful are you relative to holding schools accountable for both the classroom compact
and the parent involvement policy? I know you touched upon that, but could you delve
a little bit more deeply?
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: Through our monitoring, when we monitor our school districts, we randomly
select schools that we will be reviewing all of their documentation, which as we all know,
how important documentation is. We review school level plans, those that are in the
school improvement plans, the plans that go home to parents as well as the school-parent
compact. We work with the district to ensure that the plans and the compacts are meeting
the requirements and we give feedback to schools and do the district as well.
>> BARBARA SCHERR: I’d like to add to that. I think that the other thing that we’re
trying to do in Maryland is provide incentive so that school districts see the benefit of
family engagement. Nothing speaks more loudly than success and it has a great ripple effect,
so that if we’re doing something successful in one school or one district and other schools
and other districts want to get on board, and because of the kind of communication that
goes on between PTA between the SEA and PIRC, we’re able to communicate that to other
schools about what’s going on and how these successes are making [audio gap] in academic
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: Also through our monitoring, we have seen, as you saw in this slide, significant
decrease in our findings and this goes across the board of our school level plan as well
as our school parent compacts.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Great. Thank you. I have another question. I apologize in advance for
mispronouncing the name, Wangui Njuguna. Her question is given that states and districts
are struggling with budget shortfalls, will there be additional dollars available for
family engagement? Where does the 2% set-aside or the $270 million come from? That question
is directed to the Maryland Department of Education and also to Anna Hinton at the US
Department of Education who can answer the question about the 2% set aside.
>> ANNA HINTON: I’ll go first. So the 2% set aside is an increase that the department
is proposing from the current existing 1% Title I set aside to support family engagement
activities under section 1118. So the department is proposing an increase for that particular
[set-aside], so that’s where the 2% comes from.
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: I would just like to add. I believe, and I say this all the time, what’s
good for Title I schools is good for all schools. The additional 2% will truly, I think, make
a difference in our districts and our schools.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Thank you. I really like the example about implementing the Tellin’
Stories program in Title I schools to break down the communication between schools and
family, especially for parents who may have had a negative school experience themselves.
At first glance, I think social scientists may perceive storytelling to be a fluffy,
feel good program, but it is clear that this program is much more and that you have demonstrated
strong outcomes. How important is evaluating data and outcomes in the implementation of
these parent focused programs?
>> BARBARA SCHERR: Data is absolutely critical. We cannot do our work well without having
access to that data. Every aspect with the work that we do with Tellin’ Stories involve
collecting data, having evaluation at each session we do, reviewing that session among
and with the key stakeholders. We involve the key stakeholders and outside evaluators
in assessing these programs so that we can increase our impact. Sustainability relies
on good evaluation and on the initiative and development of these local leaders who will
then look at this evaluation and make assessments and judgments about the way they can either
adapt or expand that program.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Great. Well, thank you Susan and Barbara, again. Unfortunately, that
is all the time we have for questions on the Maryland Partnership. I would now like to
transition to our next presenter, Michele Brooks, at Boston Public Schools. Like Maryland,
the Boston Public Schools has received national attention for its district wide work in engaging
families to raise student achievement. In fact, the late Senator Kennedy, who chaired
the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, drafted legislation to replicate
Boston’s family engagement strategy across the country as he truly understood that we
would not be able to close the achievement gap if families were not engaged in their
children’s education. It’s an honor to introduce Michele Brooks, who current serves
as the Assistant Superintendent for Family and Student Engagement for the Boston Public
Schools. She is a parent activist, education organizer, and advocate whose work of empowering
parents to change structures and policies of schools and districts spans over twenty
years. Ms. Brooks began her work in 1990 at the J.E. Burke High School in Boston where
she founded the first high school family center in a Boston public school. In 1999 Ms. Brooks
moved on to become the founding director of the Boston Parent Organizing Network, a collaboration
of over 30 community based organizations. It is my pleasure to introduce Michele Brooks.
>> MICHELE BROOKS: Thank you Mishaela. I want to begin by just saying that the work that
I’m presenting today is the result of approximately eighteen months of development. About two
years ago, when I assumed the position of Assistant Superintendent for the Office of
Family and Student Engagement, we began to review the work underway. There were a list
of accomplishments and activities and a number of them were very impressive. However when
we posed the question, “What is different because of this work?” We were really hard
pressed to produce evidence of the impact of our work. In addition to that conversation,
we had also been looking at the acceleration agenda that had been unveiled by Dr. Carol
Johnson. Given that the research clearly demonstrates that the work that is most impactful is linked
to learning, we knew we had to align our work with the district goals for the acceleration
agenda. So we began this journey to define and focus the work in ways that aligns the
engagement of both families and students to the acceleration agenda and academic targets
in ways that were measurable in order for us to weigh the impact of our work. It was
incredibly important for us to be able to say, “Because we’ve done this work, this
is what is different.” It was also very important for us to have data to inform the
continuous improvement of the work. The process of defining, organizing, and facilitating
the work became the framework for building the infrastructure and implementing the strategies
in a systemic way. My presentation today is going to center on the definition of systemic
engagement as introduced by Dr. Karen Map, a member of the National Working Group on
Family and Community Engagement. The concept of systemic engagement also draws on the work
of Dr. Richard Elmore, Phillip Schlechty, and the Public Education Leadership Group.
I believe that it provides a guide for developing strategies for systemic engagement. As I move
through this presentation I will draw references to the aspects of systemic engagement. That
it is focused on an instructional core. It engages multiple stakeholders. It is connected
across various settings and impacts school culture in ways that create shared power and
responsibility. I want to provide a bit of the Boston context. Boston has always had
a very strong parent activist community dating back to 1970. Since 1995 there has always
been a position in the Boston Public Schools that directly reports to the superintendent
and that is focused on family engagement. In support of building the capacity of schools,
a dedicated staff person in the form of the family community outreach coordinators was
established in 2004 that took the work to the next level. The current structure is Office
of Family and Student Engagement and when Dr. Carol Johnson came on board, she added
student engagement under this umbrella of family and community engagement. In my role
as Assistant Superintendent for Family and Student Engagement, I serve as a member of
the leadership team, along with the academic superintendents, who oversee schools and other
department heads that lead the work across the district. Having policies that require
accountability around aspects of family engagement provides the base for our work. We have been
really fortunate that the district’s leadership has intentionally elevated family engagement
as one of the four key strategies for achieving the acceleration agenda. There’s a universal
acknowledgement in Boston Public Schools that family engagement is essential to the accomplishment
of the goals of the acceleration agenda. Title I not only provides a framework for producing
[unintelligible] facts of engagement, but it also creates an opportunity for a more
effective beneficial implementation. We like to call this accountability with a purpose.
In addition to the family engagement policy, which was established in 1996, and I must
say that that policy still stands because it was such a progressive policy that was
established by parents and parent activists in the city. So in addition to that, we have
the seven essentials the whole school improvement, which is the district’s roadmap for reform
and all of the work in Boston, is aligned to these seven essentials for whole school
improvement. The sixth essential is partnering with families in the community to support
student learning and engagement. The wonderful thing that provides legs for our work is that
the seven essentials actually give examples of what partnering with families in the community
should look like in the classroom, in the school, and at the district level. Our dimensions
of affected teaching and pirncipalship have been developed to really create a standard
for effective teaching and effective school leadership and both of them include partnerships
with family and community. I just want to stop here and say that the evaluations of
the teacher and principal have also an indicator around family and community engagement. So
this work is tied not just to a set of standards that give a framework for how principals and
teachers should be in the classroom and in the school but there it’s also tied to the
evaluation. Boston Public Schools has an achievement gap policy that speaks specifically to our
efforts to eliminate the achievement gap in Boston. One of the key themes throughout is
not just cultural competency, but partnering with families and communities to build the
cultural competence of our school. So it’s been not much of a challenge in terms of walking
into this foundation. The challenge has been that there’s a mental model for family engagement
that still sees it as customer satisfaction and participation and not one that is focused
on the core enterprise. For us, the core enterprise happens in classrooms and in schools. So as
we define the work, our core enterprise identified the unit of change as classroom and that’s
where we focus our work – classrooms in schools have become our unit of change. Family
engagement is one of the variables that impact the instructional core, which is defined by
the public education leadership project as the relationship between teacher and student
in the presence of content. We firmly believe that family engagement is a lever for improving
student outcomes. When we reviewed the research, we found that the most measurable impact of
family engagement is in the areas of increased attendance, decreased discipline occurrences,
and consistency in academic performance. We use these as intermediary outcomes in examining
the linkages between family engagement and improved student achievement since we know
that attendance and disciplinary issues are directly related to student performance. After
a process of collective analysis to deconstruct our work, what emerged was the realization
that the work of the district level office should not be direct service. It would be
an expensive and ineffective undertaking given the prevailing mental model of warm fuzzy
random acts of engagement. The role that emerged was one of capacity building – building
the capacity of schools, families, students, and staff and building the capacity of each
stakeholder to actively engage with each other in a partnership focused on student learning
and school improvement. The work is organized around a set of value statements. The district’s
vision for family and student engagement is at every school will welcome every family
and every student, actively engaging them as partners in student learning and school
improvement. There is also a set of core beliefs around family schools and partnerships and
how they must co-exist that drive the work. One of the things that we learned as we researched
best practice is that we didn’t have to start from scratch. We utilized existing resources
and adapted them for the Boston context. This allowed us to move quickly to establish our
infrastructure. An example of this is the adaptation of the National PTA Standards of
Family School Partnerships. We took those standards and we modified them to fit the
Boston context and added student engagement into the standards. Basically, what these
standards do is they form the core of our work. All of our work is focused on those
standards because we believe that they provide a broad range of capacity building opportunities.
We also redesigned the central role, establishing the role of engagement facilitators whose
role it is to work with academic superintendents and central departments to support the development
of effective engagement strategy in school and to collaborate across departments to ensure
that aspects of family engagement are included in every department across the district. Our
family and community outreach coordinators, which were established in 2004, provide a
bridge for the culture of home and culture of school. They’re in 31 schools and they
actually focus now on building the capacity of that school that they’re in to effectively
engage families. Setting up this initiative or making it with this initiative allowed
us to create a space to develop a set of conditions for building the capacity of family engagement
in schools. It allowed us to experiment with some things and to develop some performance
agreements around professional development, around family engagement action teams that
worked on the school’s family engagement plan, around participating in our Parent University
and from all of the compliance pieces such as Title I and Seven Essentials of Whole School
Change, we established five core elements for family and student engagement. These five
core elements are home school compact which is laid out in Title I section 1118. In Boston,
we have school parent council, those are the parent groups, the local parent groups, in
each school and they’re supported by BPS policy. School site councils are supported
through the Mass ed. reform and our BTU contract. The school site councils are Boston Public
Schools’ shared decision making model that exists in every school. With all of these
five core elements, we’re able to collect the artifacts and establish a baseline for
the work of engagement in schools, but it’s not enough for us to just collect these artifacts
and have it become a piece of paper that’s in a file that collects dust that schools
will pull out and hand to us when we ask for it. What we ask for is evidence. So for every
core element, there is evidence. With the home-school compact, not only do we want to
know that your home-school compact has been developed with parents and teachers at your
school and that you have copies of signed homeschool compact on file in your school,
but we want to know how do you use that home school compact? It’s our expectation that
home-school compacts will be used as a way to connect with parents whenever there’s
an encounter with parents. That it’s a living document that is used by the classroom teacher
that is used across the school to reaffirm that agreement that has been developed in
the home-school compact. For us, again, that’s accountability with a purpose. I want to add
that this work is about eighteen months in the making and this is our first push this
year for full implementation. Our baseline numbers and school response have all been
collected over the last year and our full implementation began this year. These elements
in the five core family engagement element will provide a basis for our accountability
process. We will be developing public reports on the state of family engagement in each
school, so each school will be able to see their indicators and where they stand with
those indicators. One of the major pieces that is happening is that the district has
established a baseline with a district wide school climate survey and that also provides
us with data on where schools are in terms of the perceptions of families and students.
One of the things that, as we begin to roll this work out, one of the things that we really
wanted to make sure happen was to really focus on that core enterprise and our unit of change,
that we develop some very clear strategies to help schools understand what the link to
learning was. So in collaboration with the office of accountability we were able to ensure
that the whole school improvement plan for every school includes a family engagement
strategy that is directly linked to the school’s instructional strategy. For many schools this
was a stretch and our department spent most of last year scanning best practices and linking
engagement to learning and aligning those best practices to the academic targets of
the district. As a result, we were able to develop a set of toolkits. The toolkits include
high impact strategies. The toolkits include descriptions of strategies, step by step instructions,
and re-soliciting [unintelligible] implementation. The critical piece of developing these strategies
is that they are based on four key criteria - that the strategy is focused on a specific
group of students, such as maybe all first grade student or students who are struggling
with a specific math concept. The second criteria is that it is organized around a specific
set of learning tasks such as learning a set of high frequency words. Number three, it
has a home learning activity that engages parents to help students with the learning
task such as a game, a word game, home activity that parents can be directly connected to
in helping the student learn. Number four, that there is a way to communicate between
the parent and the teacher regarding student progress with the learning task and also for
celebrating success. So these high impact strategies have been used and disseminated
with a number of schools to help them really hone in on having that family engagement strategy
in their whole school improvement plan directly linked to the instructional strategy that
they have indentified for their whole school improvement plan. Another strategy that we
have really focused on, that has been extremely successful for us, is Parent University and
that is a primary strategy for building the capacity of families to become partners. Our
classes focus on child development and learning from cradle to career. Our collaboration with
the BPS Early Childhood Education Department provides parents with strategies and opportunities
through play to learn groups to help them to understand how to stimulate their child’s
learning at an early age. Our collaboration with the Office of High School Services has
been very helpful in helping us to produce a guide that helps parents understand whether
their students are on track for graduation and we provide the kind of training in classes
at Parent University for parents who understand that. Our core curriculum at Parent University
is focused on four strands – parents are teachers which help parents understand about
childhood development and how their children learn and how to set up learning at home.
Our advocate strands helps parents to understand how to navigate Boston Public School and exactly
what the learning standards are, what their child should know and be able to do at each
grade level. We’ve collaborated with the Office of Curriculum and Instruction, really
focus those kinds of classes so that parents walk away not baffled by education speak,
but really empowered because they now have the tools to help the child be successful
in learning at home and they know what to look for when their homework comes home. They
also have some context for their conversations with their teacher. Our family learning guides
have also been part of that collaboration. When we look at really measuring progress,
we have collaborated with the office of research assessment and evaluation to really look at
the school climate survey and to really be able to provide that baseline and help schools
understand what areas of improvement they need. We’ve also begun some real focused
data collection for Parent University and developed some indicators that would help
us to measure the impact of this work. While we all know that it’s difficult to claim
[causal] lengths between family and student engagement, we also know that the correlations
are strong. So we’ve been really focusing on developing that data. With Parent University,
one of the correlations that we’re developing is linking our Parent University participation
to the student ID of the parent’s child student ID and we’re going to begin to look
at changes over time to see if we’re able to draw some very strong correlation. The
challenge for us is in implementation because with implementation it’s leadership that
matters. The reason why this work has moved forward so quickly is Dr. Carol Johnson has
been the [standard bearer] for the work and has really set the tone for the amount of
collaborations that have happened across this district. Has the work been challenging? Yes,
very much so, but it is changing the way that we engage families and students, but there
is still some resistance.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Thank you Michele. I wanted to leave ten minutes for questions so sorry
to interrupt…
>> MICHELE BROOKS: That’s okay.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Everyone, Michele’s slides are on the PowerPoint set and I’m going
to go ahead and start taking some questions from our participants. I’ll start with a
question from Sheila Bazemore. Her question is did you work with your higher education
institutions to integrate family school partnership and their teacher education program? Some
of our other speakers may want to chime in as well.
>> MICHELE BROOKS: In Boston we have been connecting with some of the higher ed. institutions
and have been having conversations. We’ve gone and we’ve done presentations in classes
and have engaged in conversations about developing stronger offerings in the teacher education
>> BARBARA SCHERR: In Maryland we’ve worked with Towson University and the University
of Maryland College Park as well as local community colleges to bring them aboard in
terms of the kind of family engagement programs and services that we’ve offered. It’s
really been a two way communication in terms of them informing the work that we’re doing
and we informing the work that they’re doing to have family engagement be more central
to their teacher education program.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Thank you. We received a number of questions about principal leadership.
So the next question is how do we focus on getting principals to support higher level
of parent engagement?
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: I believe that it’s around training building capacity for principals
and school leaders to really understand the significant role that parents play in their
child’s education, but also the importance of the partnership and how by working together
with families, that it will ultimately support their child’s student success.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Great. Michele?
>> MICHELE BROOKS: I think that it’s critical that principals understand that this is about
partnership and that their job becomes easier when they partner with families and understand
who their families are and how to partner with them.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Great. Our next question comes from Nancy Meléndez-Giron. Her question
is are there studies or information about effective parent involvement at high schools
or the transition levels of critical periods in which students are transitioning from middle
school to high school, high school to college?
>> MICHELE BROOKS: I know that Nancy Hill has done some work specifically on middle
schools and that transition and family engagement at that level. I believe also that Karen Map,
when she was at the Institute for Responsive Education, they did a study on high school
family centers and the impact of family engagement through the family center. I think that’s
what comes to my mind very quickly.
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: Anne Henderson has also been working at the high school level and
she has recently developed a set of [unintelligible] on how to engage families and make purposeful
linkages between family engagement and student achievement and giving strategies for how
to do that at the high school level.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Thank you Susan and Michele. Our next question comes from Marjorie Fujiki.
The question is how do you ensure that immigrants, especially non- English speaking parents,
are involved? Have you been able to hold meetings with those people separately in their native
language? How do you reach out to them?
>> SUSAN SHAFFER: With the Tellin’ Stories program in Maryland, those are really our
target families. We’ve worked primarily with immigrants low income African American
families. Our sessions are done in both English and Spanish and what’s wonderful to see
is the English speaking parents, who will begin to interpret for our Spanish speaking
parents, and our Spanish speaking parents, most of whom are not literate in their own
language, understanding that helping their children at home does not necessitate that
they have a high school or college education, but it depends more on the skills and the
expectations that they set and the partnerships that they form within their school so that
they build those kinds of support systems for their children. It’s worked very, very
effectively. In fact, we had one situation where at a community meeting when they were
defining new boundaries for schools, there were so many of our parents there that they
actually needed translators for our English speaking parents.
>> MICHELE BROOKS: In Boston we have been running, over the last year, Parent University
and we also have a year long ESL class for parents with a curriculum that not only teaches
them English, but teaches them how to become more engaged. Through Parent University, about
40% of our parents were non-English speaking parents because we have offered our classes
in Spanish. Next year we’ll be expanding to two other languages. So engagement is very
>> BARBARA SCHERR: For the Title I trainings that we’ve done, there are trainings where
we have had interpreters there. We also encourage the relationship between our ELL family involvement
coordinators to work with the Title I coordinators to ensure that all populations are involved
and that here is extensive research as well as to ensure that information is translated
so families and parents have the opportunities to know what is going on and be involved.
>> MISHAELA DURAN: Thank you Barbara. Barbara was our last speaker in case those of you
who were wondering. That actually concludes today’s webinar.