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

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


>>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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 achievement.>>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 in academic achievements.>>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?>>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 program.>>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 high.>>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.

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