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How Denver Public Schools can improve its parent engagement: a parent’s view

When the school my two children attend, Whittier ECE-8 School, had its awards ceremony and it came time to announce the fourth grade proficient honor roll, it became clear that there was a common theme for the students who ascended to the stage:  involved parents.

Research shows that there is a strong correlation between parent involvement and student achievement, so parent engagement should show up as a central strategy at Denver Public Schools (DPS). So, does it? Some examples suggest otherwise.

For example, the 2012 DPS Mill Levy?  The allocation for parent engagement was just one percent of the $49 million of new annual funding passed by voters.

Or how about the DPS School Performance Framework (SPF) – the key “grade” given to schools?  For elementary and middle schools, parent engagement counts for five percent. For high schools, two percent. Suppose you are taking a college course and one of your papers counted for five percent of your grade. How much time and energy would you put into that assignment?

Moreover, the majority of the SPF’s parent engagement score reflects the outcome of just a single parent survey. The remainder measures how well the school did in motivating parents to return said survey.

DPS: do you believe that parent engagement is critical to student success?  If so, what is your plan to “up the ante” and focus on parent education and empowerment?

I’m an active parent. I’m on a first name basis with the DPS leaders in the Office of Family and Community Engagement. So I know there are efforts afoot; but if I could be so bold, could I make a few suggestions?

  • Make it a funding priority to have parent liaisons in all schools.
  • Piggyback on pre-existing parent communications, such as SPF notices, and empower parents with research-based strategies for student success such as: monitoring homework, daily attendance, praising student efforts and just talking about going to college.
  • Lose 50 percent of the verbiage in communication pieces and replace it with graphics, examples and illustrations. Parent empowerment presupposes that parents comprehend your messages. Right now, most don’t.

I believe a parent is a child’s first and therefore most influential teacher. DPS, I hope that in the future you will communicate more effectively with parents, fervently pursue parents, expect more from parents and partner with parents as a means to your stated end of “every child succeeds.”

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.