A coalition of city parents have come together in an effort to build family and school relationships. Check out www.bptparentengagement.com. They write about engaging the community in this commentary:
Over the past several years, education research has shown us that effective parent engagement can positively affect school culture and improve student achievement. The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University found that, “a school that actively welcomes and sees parents as important stakeholders with valuable knowledge and expertise can build trust and support throughout the community that is necessary to build and sustain reform.” Across the country, parent engagement is widely accepted as a key lever of school improvement.
In Bridgeport, where we are undergoing one of the most dramatic transformations our public school system has ever seen, the role of parents in school reform is crucial. As parents of Bridgeport Public School students, we know the importance of having families actively engaged in their children’s education and embraced as full partners in improving their schools. We also acknowledge that for many parents in Bridgeport this has been difficult. Some schools can be unwelcoming, services and tools are often difficult to find or understand, communication can be lacking, and relationships between schools and families can be tense. We’ve experienced many of these challenges ourselves.
In December of 2011, we came together as a city-wide group of parents to address these problems head on. Supported by a collaboration between Excel Bridgeport (a nonprofit education advocacy organization) and the Bridgeport Parent Advisory Council (PAC), our group engaged in a problem-solving process to first identify the barriers to parent engagement in Bridgeport and then devise solutions to directly address those challenges. Our group, which included a diverse cross-section of Bridgeport parents from various schools and neighborhoods, decided to focus on finding solutions for increased parent engagement in Bridgeport schools.
With the encouragement of Superintendent Paul Vallas and the Bridgeport Board of Education, we began to rewrite the school district’s nearly 10-year-old parent engagement policy. We looked at over 50 parent engagement strategies from urban school districts across the country (from Bridgeport to Denver). We openly discussed the barriers that Bridgeport parents encounter when engaging with their children’s schools. We recognized the programs and structures already in place for parents and then devised and adapted strategies to make sure they were a right “fit” for Bridgeport.
After countless hours of discussion, we finalized a policy that centers on six principles we believe are critical for effective parent engagement in Bridgeport Public Schools:
1. A welcoming school environment
2. Clear expectations (for both parents and schools)
3. Robust communication (between home and school and school and home)
4. Effective access (to schools, educators and resources)
5. Parents’ skills and knowledge (that enable them to help their child succeed in school)
6. Strong family-to-school relationships
Throughout the process, we sought the advice and input of the Bridgeport community. We distributed draft copies to parents during report card conferences in April, invited feedback from educators, and presented the policy to the Executive PAC and other community organizations. At the May 16th Bridgeport Parent Convention, we presented the policy to more than 250 parents in attendance and asked them to vote on it. Of those parents who cast their ballots, the vast majority voted to send the policy to the Bridgeport Board of Education for review and approval. On May 29th our work was presented to a joint meeting of the Board of Education Policy and Community Engagement Committees. They have established a panel of all the stakeholders to review and edit the draft. The deadline of July 15th was set for presenting to the full board.
After investing over a hundred hours, many late nights and some weekends, we have created a policy that addresses the obstacles to parent engagement directly and sets Bridgeport up to fully engage its parents in the public schools. Our goal is to gain approval for this parent engagement policy from the Bridgeport Board of Education with the hopes of district-wide implementation in the 2012-2013 school year.
Throughout this process, we’ve come to realize how deeply important it is for parents to be at the center of school improvement and not just as receivers of information but as builders of change. In creating this policy, we acknowledged the problems in our district, but rather than focus on them, we chose to envision something better and work towards a solution.
We have set up a website www.bptparentengagement.com. It has the current policy, the proposed policy in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and a petition for parents to show their support.
We are proud to be proof that Bridgeport parents care about their schools and are ready, willing and able to work hard to engage in meaningful school reform.
Susan Errichetti (Parent at Multicultural Magnet School and Central Magnet High School; District PAC Treasurer)
Cecile Lobo (Parent at Winthrop School)
Jessica Martinez (Parent at Luis Muñoz Marin School)
Laura Maranon (Parent at Multicultural Magnet School and Central High School)
Ondrea Moore (Parent at Bryant School; District PAC Vice President)
Regina Scates (Parent at Hall School)
John Wilkins (Parent at High Horizons Magnet School)