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Involving Parents in Partnerships to Boost Student Outcomes

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Successful school, family, and community partnership programs can be elusive. How do schools successfully get parents involved?

Research from the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) identifies eight "essential elements" for effective leadership as it relates to these programs.

The keys: leadership, teamwork, action plans, implementation of plans, funding, collegial support, evaluation, and networking.

"We help district leaders work with schools in ways that improve student success," says Joyce Epstein, founder and director of NNPS, located at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore.

Among her findings: "Districts and schools that organized programs with these [eight] components had higher-quality programs, greater outreach to parents, and more parents involved from one year to the next."

As of Sept.15, 2011, NNPS counted 1,257 schools, 138 districts, 22 states, and 54 organizations among its partners. Members are committed to developing and maintaining strong programs of school-family-community partnerships linked to school improvement goals.

"Schools that work on this don't just emphasize test scores. They're very creative," says Epstein. Her organization collects case studies of how schools partner with parents to improve specific goals, from reading, math and science to behavior, college and careers, and multicultural awareness.

For instance, a St. Charles, Mo., elementary school conducted a Parent University. A Naperville, Ill., elementary school organized mini-courses that involved parents and local experts in topics as diverse as Irish dancing and playing a game of life-size chess. And a middle school in Washington State turned a Dairy Queen into a Math Center for a night.

NNPS wants to engage district leaders to plan and link goals to support elementary, middle and high school in that community.

"A district leader who is an expert on partnerships can guide and be legitimately influential to help all schools in the district. The interim result is a focus on parents. The end result is greater student success," Epstein says.

Another way her organization supports school efforts is by publishing books, such as the just-released Multicultural Partnerships Involve All Families, a research-based book for schools serving culturally diverse elementary and middle school students.

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