Today’s Chronicle has an opinion piece about a proposed parent involvement resolution currently before the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District in greater San Jose. Authored by trustee Gustavo Gonzalez, the resolution would require parents whose children attend district schools to volunteer 30 hours a year at those schools. Of course, because Alum Rock Union’s schools are public schools, the 30-hour requirement would be unenforceable. Still, Mr. Gonzalez thinks his proposal is an important step:
“We need to get rid of the excuses,” Gonzalez said. “People say that our parents don’t want to be involved, and that’s just not true, that’s a myth. This is about changing the culture, which has to happen if we’re going to make this work.”
Above all, SFUSD is committed to changing the power dynamic between teachers and parents and the relationship between the educational system and the communities we serve. We must acknowledge how this power dynamic has historically disempowered parents in our most marginalized communities from advocating for higher expectations and better outcomes for their children. As a district, we are committed to working with, and listening to, our partners to reach deeper and systemic levels of engagement. We know that “listening to families is more than a favor to parents; it is essential to children thriving as learners.” As we intensify our interaction between parents and schools it will lead to greater levels of understanding, mutual learning, and shared leadership. Partnerships will evolve. As we hold each other accountable for raising expectations for all students, we expect to see the culture of change and social justice we seek to create in our schools.
Our families have consistently maintained that they want to be a partner in their children’s education, and to share governance of our schools. Moreover, years of research, and our district’s best practices, provide documentation that when parents are effective partners in their children’s education, students are more likely to earn high grades and test scores, enroll in higher-level programs, pass their classes, earn credits, be promoted, attend school regularly, graduate, and go on to postsecondary education. Recognizing the voice of our families, as well as the research, SFUSD is committed to honestly and effectively partnering with every parent to educate every child well.
We also recognize that most barriers to parent involvement are found within school and district practices, not within parents. Indeed, research has shown that schools can take deliberate actions which enhance parent engagement. The actions shown to have most impact on achievement are “(1) school efforts to reach out to parents, to engage them directly in the processes of strengthening student learning; (2) teacher efforts to become knowledgeable about student culture and the local community and to draw on this awareness in their lessons; and (3) strengthening the network among community organizations, to expand services for students and their families.”
I think that pretty much sums it up. Encouraging parents to be engaged in the education of their children is not about telling parents what they have to do or compelling them to show up; it’s about creating an environment where parents feel welcomed and where their experiences and input are valued. Of course, the parent engagement plan is just a start and there is a long way still to go — most of our schools continue to struggle with truly engaging all of their parents.