Portland schools hope to boost parent, community engagement

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PORTLAND — The School Board on Tuesday was scheduled to hold a first reading and workshop on a document aimed at improving parent and community engagement.

The Parent and Family Engagement Manifesto, which was created by the community youth advocacy group Portland Empowered, was developed to encourage families to stay involved in their children’s education. As part of the work, an ad hoc committee will be established to review and revise the School Department’s parent partnership policy.

Portland Empowered is run through the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service and funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. The organization’s goals are to develop emerging student leaders from under served communities and to increase parent involvement.

The manifesto, as written by Portland Empowered, asks Portland Public Schools to engage with parents and communities in several ways, citing research done by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

The first “values face-to-face relationships.” The document encourages this through “frequent opportunities for in-person communication,” rather than just emails and robocalls, with parents, teachers, board members and administrators. The manifesto says strategies should involve parents who can serve as ambassadors with other parents in their communities.

Another way to encourage involvement that was identified by the manifesto is by creating “safe spaces where everyone is welcome and valued as an expert.” The document states parents and families “need to bring their experience and expertise as equal partners in the students’ education.” Portland Empowered feels there is a need for active participation by all parents, “especially those who face extra barriers.”

Portland Empowered also seeks to require parents, schools, and communities to work together to improve results: there needs to be “a shared understanding of ‘student success’ that reflects the visions of parents and youth as well as educators.”

The manifesto also wants the district to “work hard to include the whole range of voices in decision-making processes.” It goes on to say that parents should be aware of possible changes before they are made at either a school or district-wide level, and that opportunities for input should be widely shared. “Schools should track how many parents are involved in decision making, and consider who is not represented in those discussions.”

The document also proposes engagement that is “accessible to parent and community leaders from diverse backgrounds.” Portland Empowered stated there is a need to engage all types of families, and that meetings and gatherings should be held in places, times and formats that are “accessible and friendly to parents.” It also states that parents and school personnel should have easy access to quality interpretation whenever needed.

Finally, the group wants to see sufficient resources devoted to the effort. “Lack of funds is no excuse for leaving families out,” the report said. “We must work together to identify what it takes to do parent engagement right and to find the necessary resources.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.