Parents as Partners at Paul Revere targets all K-8 students and families, and especially students who are falling behind in academics and whose families seem the most remote from school life – the “hardest to reach.” At Revere, as at other urban schools, these are often students of color, and especially African American students.
While our African American student achievement has steadily improved as part of overall school gains in the past three years, the rate of growth for African Americans was slower than for the larger population and other subgroups. At the same time, anecdotal evidence, survey results and direct testimony showed that African American parents did not feel as connected to the school or even welcome in some cases, due to individual experiences, cultural differences and general mistrust of institutions.
Parents as Partners, designed by High Expectations, is a school-wide initiative that involves a cross-section of staff and community – from the principal to the family liaison to the parents and students. At its heart, the project builds positive relationships between individual teachers and families to support student achievement in the classroom. It aims to redefine and thereby increase parent engagement by shifting the paradigm for parent participation to one that is more parent-driven and less based on school expectations and definitions, one that makes parents authentic partners in their children’s education.
Besides the obvious challenges of achieving a fundamental culture shift, this initiative has required creative problem solving and collaboration to overcome obstacles such as time constraints and language barriers.
The (High Expectations) project targeted all families, with a focus on struggling students and African Americans. Eleven African American families initiated and completed Action Plans, several having had little or no previous contact with school. The parent of one sixth-grade African American boy, for example, agreed to monitor homework on School Loop, to sign off on progress reports and provide homework space free of distractions to help boost her child’s math facts scores by 5 points each week. The student agreed to finish homework on time and take quizzes during lunch. The teacher pledged to provide extra classroom support, lunchtime tutoring and weekly updates. This process created common language and shared models of student achievement for parents and teachers, where there had been little connection before.
Parents as Partners was part of an explicit focus on equity in all areas of school life and on closing the opportunity gap for African American students, in particular. While African American student achievement declined on average district-wide in 2012-13, at Paul Revere, African American proficiency in math jumped 21.7% (from 30.4% to 52.2%) and 8.9% in ELA (from 31.1% to 40%).
Participation in organizations like PTA, ELAC, School Site Council and the African American Parent Advisory Group grew more robust and diverse. The ELAC asked for the Action Plan tool. The departure of the administrative team at year’s end was met with solid parent participation on a community-based interview committee that helped select the new principal, evidence of a growing sense of empowerment and community among families.