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More School Districts Develop Parent-Engagement Programs, Departments

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Family-engagement advocates who have worked on the sidelines in an effort to support schools say there are promising signs that more school districts are implementing system wide strategies to effectively involve parents in their children's education.

The commitment to parent-engagement efforts has shifted from feel-good, one-time events to school districts establishing departments and hiring staff dedicated to promoting parent involvement. I detail the increased emphasis on family engagement in school districts in an Education Week story published earlier this week.

"Instead of constantly knocking on the door, I feel like the door is open, and we're invited to the table," said D'Lisa Crain, the Family-School Partnership Department administrator for the Washoe County district in Reno, Nev. "Now, I feel like family engagement is a natural part of the discussion."

With debates raging over the Common Core State Standards and standardized testing, there are definitely still some educators who don't consider parent-engagement a priority. But as more states include family-engagement in their teacher-evaluation systems and other programs, educators are starting to take parent-engagement strategies more seriously. Some philanthropic groups are providing financial support for parent-engagement programs as well.

"Now, people realize the need to develop more robust family-engagement plans carefully linked to children learning in and out of schools and also develop the capacity of teachers to implement those plans," Heather B. Weiss, the founder and director of the Harvard Family Research Project, said. "It can't just be math help in 3rd grade."

The growing interest in family-engagement is most evident in the upcoming National Family and Community Engagement conference, which will be held in Chicago on June 22. The three-day conference was sold out weeks ago. In only its second year, the conference, which is hosted by the Washington-based Institute for Educational Leadership, doubled the number of registrants to 1,000 this year.

"Many national leaders are in a collaborative spirit, which is helping to gain traction and is providing a mechanism for sharing high-impact strategies," S. Kwesi Rollins, the director of leadership programs at the Institute for Educational Leadership, said. 

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