What parents do at home matters, and strong collaborations between schools, parents and the community are important to student success. An emphasis on the importance of parent engagement is spreading across the region, and the Road Map Project is taking aim at developing a robust regional parent engagement system. While pockets of excellence have existed for years, many new parent engagement programs are now coming online. Now is a very exciting time for the field of parent engagement in our region.
In Seattle, the school district and Seattle Council PTSA have joined forces to support the Family Connectors University (FCU) program, a free 10-week course designed to empower parents to get involved in public education by emphasizing the power of connecting with the right people at a school, asking questions and effectively monitoring a child’s learning.
Where FCU goes further, however, is in developing close relationships with local postsecondary institutions, including Seattle University and North Seattle Community College, to provide the program and its parents with staff support and college credit. After graduating from the program, parents are asked to pick a project, such as establishing a PTA or a family engagement action team, and to commit to work on the project for the following year. To date, 59 parents have completed the full training, and the district has plans to expand FCU in the future.
Bernardo Ruiz, the district’s director of School-Family Partnerships and Equity & Race Relations, said he has witnessed an undeniable effect among the parents who have completed FCU.
“Our goal is, in three and a half years, to have completely changed the culture of the district,” Ruiz said.
Photo and reporting courtesy Curtis Cartier
Thanks to the support of the community, a sparkling new $30 million facility in the Renton School District is strengthening early education by housing three preschool programs in one location. Meadow Crest Early Learning Center, located on the site of the former Hillcrest Elementary School, puts one roof over children in the federally funded Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) preschool programs, as well as those in state-funded Inclusive Preschool. The programs had previously been scattered at separate sites throughout the district.
Bringing the programs together in one building offers several advantages, said district Superintendent Merri Rieger.“It’s a wonderful opportunity for parents and educators to see how the programs work. Kindergarten teachers can see the kind of instruction that happens in preschool settings, and vice versa. Educators can all work together on what is needed to get kids ready for school, socially and academically,” Rieger said.
In fall 2013, there were 600 students at the center, and that number is expected to rise to 650 by the end of the 2013–14 school year. The staff at Meadow Crest is specifically knowledgeable of and sensitive to parents of young children and view parents as critical partners to children’s education.
“This is a district and a community that believes in supporting all kinds of learners,” Rieger said.
Meadow Crest was born when Renton voters approved a 2008 bond measure that funded construction of the center. It’s part of a city comprehensive plan that aims to revitalize the area.
Below is a video about Meadow Crest courtesy of the Puget Sound Educational Service District.
More than $18 million in new funding for English language learner (ELL) students was included in the 2013–15 Washington State budget thanks to a joint advocacy push by the Road Map Project and OneAmerica, a statewide immigrant rights group.
In Washington State, ELL students receive formal ELL support services until they reach a certain level of English proficiency. Despite being equipped with basic English skills, many ELL students continue to struggle after reaching state English proficiency standards because they have not yet learned enough academic language to do well in their core courses.
This problem surfaced in data reviewed by the Road Map Project English Language Learner Work Group as well as in reports from ELL students and parents. In 2013, work group members and OneAmerica brought immigrant and refugee parents, students, teachers, administrators and allies to the state capitol in Olympia to ask that ELL students receive up to two years of additional support. The efforts were successful, and the advocates secured $18.8 million in new funding for the Transitional Bilingual Instructional Program, the state’s main funding stream that supports ELL services in schools.
“Often, ELL students fall into the opportunity gap when they move out of ELL-supportive programs and are expected to meet standards. In Olympia, we made the case that the only way to eliminate this gap is to target efforts and provide additional supports as these students are transitioning,” said Roxana Norouzi, education policy manager at OneAmerica and staffer for the Road Map Project’s English Language Learner Work Group. “This is the first time Washington State has made this targeted investment. If used wisely, it could become a model for the rest of the country.”
Devin Pegues wants to go to MIT and study electrical engineering. His sister Ericka is hoping to attend medical school at Rice University. In a couple years, the junior and sophomore at Federal Way High School and TAF Academy may see their dreams come true thanks to a lot of hard work and plenty of help from their mother, Penny Howard, who is a graduate of Federal Way Public Schools’ Parent Leadership Institute.
The Parent Leadership Institute is one limb of a multi-armed approach that FWPS has taken in its focus of engaging more South King County parents as partners in their children’s education—a practice that numerous studies show can produce better test scores, more effective schools and, ultimately, more successful students. The program begins with a “Partnership 101” booklet or workshop, which includes the creation of a short involvement plan that parents and students fill out together. The plan covers parents’ education goals for students, questions for teachers and administrators, and a host of partnership ideas parents and students can discuss to promote a long-term vision for success from cradle to career.
The workshop and booklet, however, are only the start. Once the plan is laid out, parents like Howard get dedicated support from a broad network of parents and staff team members dedicated to helping them see the goals they laid out on paper become reality.
“My involvement helps secure more success for them,” Howard said. “And I’ve seen people who don’t have that involvement, and the system often doesn’t work for them.”
Howard’s notion that students with involved parents are at an advantage over their peers is backed up by the Harvard Family Research Project, which, in 2004, looked at 129 schools around the country and found a 4.5% increase in students’ standardized test scores in schools where a comprehensive parent-engagement program was in place.
In 2009, the Harvard Family Research Project profiled FWPS as being one of six school districts around the country that have a fully realized parent-engagement approach that includes a decision-making Parent Advisory team. In particular, the researchers noted the district’s hiring of a full-time family partnership director, who works directly with parents to make them “informed, prepared and involved” in their students’ progress. In this case, Trise Moore, a 22-year education veteran, is that director and has been for 10 years.
Moore’s job is to recognize that parents can often be an untapped resource, and develop ways to promote opportunities for them to be engaged in their children’s education that are linked to academics and meaningful to them.
“We invite parents to facilitate conversations with each other, with teachers and with their children,” Moore said. “Teachers may change from year to year, but parents remain with their children from cradle to career.”
While Howard’s two children are in high school and already thinking about college, younger students benefit equally from having a parent or guardian active in their education.
Grace and Charles Ssebugwawo have four children, ages 13, 11, 5 and 1. Both parents are graduates of the district’s Parent Leadership Institute and all three of their school-age kids have benefitted from the help that their parents provide at home. The parent-engagement program has been so rewarding, in fact, that Grace Ssebugwawo has gone on to a leadership role and now actively recruits other parents to join.
Leadership roles on the district level within the institute are awarded to 12 to 16 new parents per quarter who show an interest in improving the program overall. Such parents meet with Moore every two months and play key roles in making decisions about activities connected to the institute. They also help plan various district and school-level activities, in addition to quarterly Collective Impact meetings for a variety of stakeholders throughout the school year.
“I work with other parents all the time,” Grace Ssebugwawo said. “I try to take what I learn and use it in my own home and then show them how to do it. Everyone benefits that way.”
In early August, the Road Map Project and several partners convened 21 staff members from all seven Road Map Project school districts for the first-ever High School and Beyond Leadership Institute. This four-day event brought together middle, high school and district-level staff who support college and career readiness in their districts. As part of the institute, participants gave feedback on current projects going on across the region, including Race to the Top and the new DiscoverU day (more information coming soon). The group also participated in professional development sessions and connected with leaders from other districts.
This event provided a unique opportunity for staff from different districts to meet, share successes and discuss common challenges. We hope the connections and conversations from the institute will support the participants’ amazing work to build the college-going culture and improve college readiness and access in our region.
Partnering organizations included the Puget Sound Educational Service District, the South King County College Access Network and the Seattle College Access Network. Thank you to everyone who helped make the institute a success!
Despite there being more students eligible for the College Bound Scholarship than ever before, the Road Map Project region signed up 94% of eligible 8th graders by the June 30, 2013, deadline! This accomplishment is the result of hard work and collaboration among schools, districts and community-based organizations, as well as the support provided by the Washington Student Achievement Council.
Regular data reports provided by the Washington Student Achievement Council allowed schools and districts to target outreach, ensuring that College Bound-eligible students could take advantage of this opportunity.
At Mill Creek Middle School in Kent School District, school counselors, district personnel and staff from community-based organizations were able hold information sessions for College Bound-eligible 7th and 8th graders. In just two weeks, Mill Creek was able to bring their sign-up rate to 92% and boost Kent School District to 98%.
Aki Kurose and Denny International, two of the larger middle schools in Seattle Public Schools, were able to leverage relationships with Seattle College Access Network members to reach out to eligible students before the end of the school year. School staff and partners used phone calls, letters and 8th grade promotion ceremonies as an opportunity to talk to students and parents about the College Bound Scholarship and enroll them in the program.
Federal Way Public Schools was also able to use weekly data reports to inform their College Bound sign-up strategy. Through targeted outreach during the last few weeks of school, Federal Way Public Schools was able to sign up more than 175 students for the scholarship, ensuring they have the resources needed to pursue a college education.
To read more about the College Bound Scholarship, please click here.
For more than 20 years, John Muir Elementary School in South Seattle and Powerful Schools, a nonprofit organization, have partnered to help increase achievement and offer more opportunities to students. During summer 2012, this collaboration expanded outside the school year with a pilot program aimed at reducing summer learning loss.
The school’s principal and teachers teamed up with Powerful Schools staff members to select 87 struggling kindergarten through 5thgrade students to participate in the program. For five weeks during the summer, the students met for day-long sessions that included both instruction and enrichment activities. The school’s preschool was also involved and provided care before and after sessions.
The pilot’s results were very encouraging. Based on a comparison of spring to fall Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) scores, summer learning loss was eliminated and, on average, students made good gains in reading and math.
The Kent School District and Green River Community College have teamed up to create iGrad, a program aimed at helping students who dropped out earn a high school diploma, college credentials or career skills.
iGrad, short for Individualized Graduation and Degree program, is located in a strip mall in Kent and relies on a more personalized and supportive approach to help students succeed. Participating students can choose from four options: Kent School District high school diploma; Washington State high school diploma; GED; and associate’s degree or certificate. All routes are intended to help students come back into education and advance career prospects. The popularity and need for the program are evident in its dramatic increase in enrollment.
The program began in the fall of 2012 with 159 students. As of Nov. 1, 2012, iGrad was serving 368 students. Once enrollment reaches 500 students, an expansion plan will be developed.The program is the first to be formally approved to implement the landmark legislation called the Youth Re-Engagement Act, HB 1418 (2010), which created a statewide dropout retrieval system with a single regulatory framework. The objective is to make it much easier to work across systems to serve older youth who have either dropped out of school or would not graduate before the age of 21. As a region, we need the talents of all our young people. This partnership is a great example of what we hope will encourage all youth to reach their full potential.
Many students have an area of significant skill and mastery and would like a way to receive credit for that knowledge without sitting through a semester of class. This sounds like common sense but until recently, it was hard to do.
In 2011, Seattle Public Schools saw an opportunity to help its growing population of English Language Learner (ELL) students get credit for native language skills by taking a test rather than a class. Students by the hundreds have expressed interest in this competency-based crediting approach. From October 2011 to June 2012, the district had 207 students earn world language credits using the competency method and 90% of them were awarded the equivalent of four years of credit for their demonstration of knowledge.
Highline Public Schools is also a pioneer in this arena. The district piloted the program in 2011 with 21 students and all of them earned world language credit. In the 2012–13 school year, the program is being scaled up and 600 students are anticipated to earn credit in more than 30 languages.
This new approach took off in 2010 when the State Board of Education developed policy encouraging districts to give credits for language competency. Getting world language credit in this manner is especially helpful for ELL students because it frees them to take other classes. The new crediting approach also helps students meet college entry requirements because two credits of world language are required by Washington State four-year colleges.
Too often, we see few low-income and minority students enrolled in the most challenging courses, but the Renton School District is working hard to change this practice. Over the past two years, the district has doubled Advanced Placement (AP) participation by low-income students and tripled AP participation by Black and Hispanic students. At the same time, pass rates on AP exams have remained relatively stable.
Renton’s leadership is working closely with teachers and principals to provide the types of resources and support they need to expand AP offerings. Equal Opportunity Schools, a nonprofit, has also been a strong partner in working with the Renton School District to help them identify the causes of participation gaps and target “missing students,” those who are qualified but not yet enrolled in challenging classes. Many of these students have over a 3.0 GPA and/or a teacher who believes they are ready for higher-level course work. Now these students are being encouraged and supported to enroll in AP classes. The College Board has also provided strong support to Renton teachers and administrators in building their AP program.
The Renton School District intends to continue its efforts to increase AP enrollment among under-represented groups so their participation is more in line with AP enrollment rates experienced by White, Asian and higher-income students while building the capacity to help all student groups experience improving success rates.
Highline Public Schools has made notable progress in improving math proficiency and narrowing the opportunity gap. Over the last four years, the district has shown steady increases in its 7th grade math scores, moving from 36% to 54% of students meeting the standard. Highline Public Schools has implemented a blended-learning model to improve math achievement for K–8 students. This model combines great teaching with online learning by using tools, such as the program ST Math. The use of online tools has helped increase parents’ involvement in their children’s education because these tools can be used at home as well as in the classroom. These tools have been especially effective for English Language Learners because they do not rely on extensive English language fluency.
While the district has made good gains overall, one Highline school deserves particular recognition. At Chinook Middle School, the percent of 7th grade students meeting the math standard has increased from 25% in the 2008–09 school year to 60% in 2011–12. Hispanic students, the largest student demographic at Chinook Middle School, made an even more impressive jump from 20% in 2008–09 to 57% in 2011–12.
The Auburn School District focuses on early literacy using a two-pronged approach: improving kindergarten readiness and powerful primary grade teaching. The resulting improvements in early literacy have been significant. Comparing 3rd grade reading scores, Auburn has made big gains (increasing from 68% to 84% proficient over four years) while the rest of the region has remained flat. Auburn’s progress was even faster for low-income students, closing the achievement gap by half.
The District has a unique partnership with independently run preschools to strengthen instruction. It funds professional development and provides instructional materials. The District also offers literacy screenings for kids entering kindergarten, and provides a pre-kindergarten course for at-risk students before the school year starts.
The District is expanding full-day kindergarten and has worked to ensure uniform quality of early literacy instruction. New assessments allow teachers to know the literacy level of each student. Teachers also have time for collaboration and other supports to use these data to improve the quality of instruction.
Schools in Federal Way have seen a huge increase in the number of seniors signed up for the SAT, a test used in the college admissions process, thanks to a district policy that foots the bill and offers the test during the school day.
School officials say seniors have responded en masse to the innovation, and sign-up rates jumped from 25 percent last year to 83 percent this year. Testing this year was held on Oct. 17, as part of Federal Way Public Schools’ College Preparation Day.
According to the district, providing college testing during the school day and at the district’s expense is unheard of in the state and may be unique in the nation. The new approach helps increase participation by students who work on the weekends, who may not have transportation to get to a testing site on a Saturday or for whom there are financial barriers, school officials said.
For more information, head to the Federal Way Public Schools website.