Maryland Loves Linking Families, Communities, and Schools as Partners
During School Transformation Team meetings in Maryland's SWIFT partner schools, one might hear questions like:
-What happens when schools begin to think differently about developing trusting partnerships with those outside of the school building?
-How can schools creatively engage families in school governance?
-What are best practices for family partnerships and where can schools find resources to implement them?
Asking and answering such questions is part of using the SWIFT domains and features as a framework for achieving each school's vision. For several Maryland schools, the Family and Community Engagement domain is a high priority. As a result, the schools are showing a lot of creative excitement and enthusiasm for engaging family and community in new ways. Keep reading to learn how business is not as usual in three schools.
Welcome to West Side Elementary, Allegany County, MD Public Schools
The West Side Staff quickly learned the “my pleasure” motto used by the Chick-fil-A restaurant in their community when school administrators served breakfast on the staff’s first day back to school in August 2013. This experience helped to create a philosophical shift to view families like valued customers, and set the stage for them to become essential members of the school team. These relationships became even more important as staff members began to reach out to all families to form a common bond around educating their children – together.
On the staff’s first day back to school in August 2014, they gathered at Western Maryland Health Systems to learn the rhythm that medical teams rely on during emergencies. This rhythm involves each emergency team member contributing his or her expertise to a well coordinated, rhythmic response that saves lives. West Side staff invited families to join them in creating a similar collaborative rhythm for providing quality education to all their children. As a result:
-Family voices are heard through meaningful surveys and personal connections.
-Home-school communication is two way, with one-third of families responding and taking action based on the survey.
-Parents sit on the Leadership Team and have an active role in decision-making.
-The staff looks at families differently than before; now, families are viewed as essential teammates.
-Staff takes an interest in and recognizes community businesses for what they do.
-Staff, families, and community partners collectively formed the school’s vision and mission.
-Families say that West Side Elementary “feels like a family.”
Welcome to Cecil Manor Elementary, Cecil County, MD Public Schools
On January 28, 2015, Cecil Manor Elementary (CME) turned itself into Cecil Manor University by offering families a chance to learn together through an evening of classes, dinner, and fun. Families selected their classes based on need or interest. Students received a homework pass and a certificate of completion. The courses they offered included:
-Literacy Instruction and Interventions
In addition to University night, CME provides multiple on-site and on-line opportunities for families to access support for their children’s learning.
Welcome to Gilpin Manor Elementary, Cecil County Public Schools
Gilpin Manor staff are diving into strategies to engage families in school governance. Three promising practices have emerged thus far:
-clearly define family engagement and school governance
-develop electronic surveys that families can complete while at the school for various fun activities that draw the largest number of families
-utilize family focus groups to address specific school activities, such as awards ceremonies
Principal Dingle reports survey and focus group findings already altered several existing school-based practices, as well as opened up conversations for more authentic family engagement around academics. Community groups also have an active presence in supporting Gilpin’s vision for family engagement and trusting partnerships.
Teamwork at its finest!
Maryland partner schools could tell many more stories like these from West Side, Cecil Manor, and Gilpin Manor. Trusting Family and Community Partnerships are recognized as a #1 priority among most SWIFT partner schools and districts in the state. We are redefining what it means for families and schools to partner that are meaningfully engaged in school-based decision making and working side-by-side toward achievement for all students. Teamwork at its finest!