How can parents help their children succeed in school?

By Peter Wright, CSBA Policy & Programs Officer

“Engaged parents = student success.”

So said the panelists to a full room of attendees at a Dec. 5 session on “Parent Engagement: Creating the Conditions for Safe and Supportive Schools” at CSBA’s 2013 Annual Education Conference and Trade Show in San Diego.

The research agrees.  Several decades of rigorous academic study has shown that family involvement in their children’s education is a significant predictor of academic success.  President and CEO of Families in Schools Oscar Cruz went even further to advance the idea that “parent engagement is the gateway to civic engagement.”  That is, by empowering parents to take a prominent role in their children’s education they will also be setting a model for future generations to play an active civic role in their communities.

Fellow panelist and executive director of CADRE, or Community Asset Development Re-defining Education, Maisie Chin, is very much an exemplar of civic engagement. Her organization has spoken with over 10,000 parents in order to fuel grassroots-inspired reform in South Los Angeles.

How can school board members promote authentic parent engagement?  According to the panelists, it is not just up to parents to reach out to schools—engagement should be a two-way street.

“The parents and schools have a joint responsibility in developing a strong school-family partnership,” said Cruz.  Nods of approval were seen around the room from conference attendees.

San Bernardino City Unified School District Board Member Abigail Medina encouraged fellow board members to actively encourage parent input.  “If parents won’t come to us, how can we go to them?” she asked, suggesting visiting neighborhood centers and civic organizations like churches.

Medina also encouraged school district leaders to be thoughtful and receptive to the times when parents can most fully interact with them.  Distributing a survey to capture areas of interest to parents and their preferred times and methods of communication is a good start.

School district and county Local Control and Accountability Plans provide excellent opportunities for school district and county leaders to form new relationships with parents, as well as enhance existing ones.  According to the panelists, if school district leaders genuinely engage parents in the LCAP process they will find enthusiastic allies in their children’s education.

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