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Promoting Parent Engagement

Several experts offer tips for district leaders wanting to institute powerful programs.

Rebuilding relationships with parents is the central concern, says author Soo Hong, who cautions that achieving understanding between schools and parents “does not happen overnight.” Hong, who wrote A Cord of Three Strands about the Chicago immigrant parent program, suggests opening up school buildings to parents beyond traditional open house and back-to-school nights to allow them opportunities to help in classrooms.

Linda Serrato, deputy communications director of Parent Revolution, says schools also should give parents a second chance if they don’t at first respond to calls for participation. “It’s new to them to have a voice,” she says.

Providing parent information in different languages, having a place in the school where parents can meet, and having administrators make themselves available for weekly coffee and conversation with parents can also be effective ways to craft a foundation for mutual understanding, says Hong.

Marilyn Price-Mitchell, co-founder and president of the National ParentNet Association, says schools can also begin by asking themselves key questions, such as “What could be different at this school if we really had a family-school partnership?”

Joanna Brown, Chicago’s Logan Square Neighborhood Association lead education organizer, says it’s also crucial for schools to choose strong community partners who can structure, organize, fund and sustain a parent engagement program. “It’s not the schools that primarily drive the program,” she stresses, “but the community organization.”