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Indiana's New Parent Liaison Ready to Listen

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Meet Jennifer Carlton, the enthusiastic new point person for parent and community outreach in Indiana, who—on behalf of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and the education department—is launching the state's inaugural Office of Parent and Community Engagement.

One of her first priorities is to do what she calls a "listening tour" of the state to hear parents' concerns, questions, and perspectives.

On Oct. 24, Bennett and the education department announced the creation of the office to increase its statewide outreach among parents, guardians and community members on key education issues. "P.A.C.E. is committed to providing all parents, guardians and community members accurate, relevant information on education issues and to support community engagement in the education," the education department's announcement said.

Carlton is delighted to be in what she calls her "dream job" as Indiana's first Director of Parent and Community Engagement.

A mother of three, a former 1st grade teacher, and most recently a state employee who directed interns for the state Senate, Carlton says she can draw on each of these roles as liaison between parents and the community.

"I can understand parents' need for more information. We want to make sure they're receiving accurate information," she said.

To that end, one of her earliest accomplishments was creating a web page that explains Indiana's programs and opportunities—beginning with the Parent Education Partnership, which will bring together parents from across the state to participate in the ongoing "Education Reform for Results" discussion. The group's first meeting will be in January. Parents who participate will be expected to take what they learn back to their communities and share the information through their PTA, PTO, religious, or other organization.

Asked for her first impression as to what parents want to know, she said: "How do I find the best school for my student? That's a big question on a lot of parents' minds now that there is choice. 'How do I know what's the best choice for my student in upcoming months?' and ''How do I make sure they are going to graduate with the type of high school diploma that best fits their future needs?'"

Parents will be hearing much discussion about getting their students college- and career-ready. "I want to assist parents to understand what that means for their child," she said.

Other parent-engagement opportunities through the office will be the chance to "recognize great parent leaders and community members for their commitment to education, and explore [education department] resources and information on key issues affecting our schools today," according to the education department's release.

A simple way for Indiana parents to get started is with the Parent Pledge program, Carlton explained. "It's a fun, noncontroversial way to start engaging parents about the things (they) committing to do to support their child's success."

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