Superintendent's Notebook: Opportunities for parents to partner in education

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Families are our partners. They are their children’s first and most influential educators. At the Portland Public Schools, we believe that by working together with families, we ensure success for all students.

This fall, we have launched several new initiatives to make it easier for our essential family partners in education to engage with us.

The initiatives include new Learning Guides for Families, the first district-wide parent-teacher meeting, and a new community e-newsletter.

They’re all part of our Community Engagement Plan for the 2014-2015 school year, which takes our involvement with families and the broader community to the next level.

The Learning Guides for Families are a good example. The guides are free and they’re designed for families with children in kindergarten through grade five. They detail for parents what students should know and be able to do in English language arts and math by the end of each grade. They also give families tips on how they can increase student learning at home.

The guides can help parents combat this familiar scenario: A parent asks a child, “What did you do in school today?” and gets “Nothing” for an answer. The guides suggest parents instead ask more specific questions, such as, “What’s one thing you learned today?”

The guides let families know the specific learning goals children are expected to master by the end of each grade, and suggest ways they can help children achieve those goals. In just one example, parents can help their children learn fractions by having kids measure out ingredients when cooking or baking, and then figuring out how those numbers would change if the recipe were doubled or halved.

As you know, the Portland Public Schools are Maine’s most diverse school district. So to help parents whose native language is not English become more involved in their children’s education, we’ve made these helpful guides available in seven other languages besides English: Acholi, Arabic, French, Khmer, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Research shows that the more families get engaged with their children’s learning, the better those students do in school. We believe these simple but effective guides will help parents do that. You can access the electronic versions of our guides on our website, portlandschools.org.

We’re also engaging families in district-wide parent-teacher meetings. The first one was held this fall and the next one will be in January, with a third meeting in May. These meetings enable us to have direct communication with parents at the district level.

We’re also holding Parent University 2.0, an ongoing engagement opportunity in which we meet with family groups within the community, through such organizations as neighborhood associations, social services agencies or faith-based groups. One recent meeting was with Portland’s Somali community, and it focused on how parents in that community can become more involved in the schools.

And our first ever community e-newsletter has just launched.

The e-newsletter will come out twice a year, in the fall and the spring. It will communicate successes and ongoing work at the district level and in our schools to families and other community members.

We hope that this newsletter will help all those stakeholders become empowered to participate in improving our schools, so that we can be the best small urban school district in the country by 2017.

Please sign up for the e-newsletter and encourage your friends, family and neighbors to subscribe by sending an email to superintendent@portlandschools.org with “Subscribe to e-Newsletter” in the message or subject.

Also, another way for the families and the community to engage is the Superintendent’s Book Club, where we discuss the latest in educational ideas and practices. Please join me for the club’s winter meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, at 7 p.m. at Longfellow Books in Monument Square.

I will lead the discussion of “21 Trends for the 21st Century: Out of the Trenches and Into the Future,” by Gary Marx. The book focuses on the most important trends impacting education and the whole of society today, and how tomorrow’s leaders can prepare for them.

I look forward to seeing you there.

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Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk writes this column monthly. He can be reached at superintendent@portlandschools.org. Read his blog at blogs.portlandschools.org/superintendent/.

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