A Day at the Department of Ed-Parent Connections

In both November and January, members of Mom Congress had a chance to meet with Department of Education staff and leadership to discuss how we can build better relationships between parents/families and our schools thus creating stronger communities of learning for our children. Out of these meetings with the Department of Education have comes some really great ideas and partnerships. As part of the growth and outreach of these conversations, a meeting of over 80 parent and community leaders from the United States were brought together in Washington, DC on April 20, and encouraged to communicate and collaborate with the Department and one another to build bridges to engagement and break down barriers. 

Opening the day was Brenda Girton Mitchell (Dir. Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships) She spoke on how we need to create a culture of excellence & academic success for all children and that parents are essential to that process who need access and should not be seen as educational outsiders. That our school communities need a relationship with all the adults in the lives of children. That this is OUR partnership (ie, these are OUR schools). We need to make a TIME investment: Transformation/Information/Motivation/Expectation.

Next, Carrie Jasper (Dir, Parent and Family Engagement Outreach, Dept. of Education) spoke next about how the voices gathered in the room are important and "what you tell us makes a difference." That we are really one group and can no longer work in silos. Our collective goal should be to build a better future for all children and that together anything is possible. As a focus group the goal is to continue to work together and concentrate our efforts, deciding on tasks to bring us into readiness for collaboration/strengthen accountability. 

Myrdin Thompson and Carrie Jasper, April 20, 2012

Continuing with opening remarks was Anna Hinton (Director, Parental Options and Information). She presented to us about "Reframing Family Engagement" and how we need to be moving from individual responsibility to shared responsibility. Spoke of the need to create "demand parents" who are partners in learning and that with an understanding of the data they will have a stronger ability to make the best decisions for their child/ren (and assume any role they wish in education). Ms. Hinton spoke of the collaborative work the department has been doing with Karen Mapp (and others) on these issues and how we can best achieve goals. 

David Johns, Jose Rico, and Zollie Stevenson also spoke, echoing the sentiments of previous speakers: that collaboration and clear communication is the key. Jose Rico said that the vision for public education needs to be shaped by parents-we need to be willing to shape that narrative/story. 

With Jose Rico, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

I was asked to participate in a panel along with HUD, PTA, Nation Report Card. Each of us emphasized how engagement may look and feel different to families and that by understanding data (RC), policy PTA and community HUD, we can reshape current definitions of engagement and create better pathways to student success. In essence, positive family engagement in education is about a community sustainability. If we want to have a livable city we must tap into all our resources, all our citizens and work toward common goals. If we share and educate our families about the variety of supports that our schools and community can provide them then we help them return that support. 

The breakout sessions among the conference participants generated great ideas as well as keen observations and sometime criticisms concerning how the Dept of Ed has been working and how they can work better. We will not all agree on certain issues, as we all come from different backgrounds in education and from different communities. However there is one thing we can all agree on: the children of our country, regardless of zip code, regardless of whether they live in an urban, suburban, or rural community, deserve the very best educational opportunities that can be offered. That parents and families, working as respected partners, are essential if these opportunities are to be used to the best advantage of the students in their learning communities. 

That together, we truly can, make a difference. 

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