Family Involvement Week: Highlight on Gainesville, GA

In celebration of national Family Involvement Week and as part of Scholastic’s ongoing commitment to comprehensive and effective family engagement, we’ll be highlighting a series of best practice implementation.  For National Attendance Month, I wrote a post about Gainesville City Schools' comprehensive approach related to attendance and truancy. This week, I’m happy to share the district’s successes around family and community engagement

As explained in this year’s Education Development Center study on the district’s approach to all learning supports…

“Gainesville has been particularly challenged with meeting the needs of its growing Hispanic population. This community has grown quickly in recent years and is now quite large, and the schools have had little experience bridging the cultural and language divides. One Board Member commented that Hispanic parents do not always know how the schools work, nor do they trust the schools to welcome them. In order to bridge this divide, each school now has a bilingual (Spanish/English) Parent Involvement coordinator. Most of the parent coordinators are from the Hispanic community and they have been very successful at reaching out and building trust with the Hispanic community. The Board of Education member interviewed was very excited by the fact that the schools are now able to directly engage Hispanic parents in supporting their children’s education. In the past, the schools’ involvement had been limited to the families of students in crisis, or had been mediated through Hispanic churches.

Now, the use of Scholastic’s Read and Rise strengthens and leverages efforts by all parties. Read and Rise is a family and community engagement initiative designed to empower families to help their children’s literacy development. The program’s adaptability and strength-based approach was a natural fit for the district. Read and Rise serves as an anchor to help further connect and strengthen home, school, and community collaboration.”

I recently spoke with Gainesville’s Superintendent Dr. Merrianne Dyer and she shared some additional insight regarding their improved strategies and results.

Q. Can you provide a snapshot “before and now” of the district’s approach to working with community partners to further reach and engage families?

A. Previously, we had good relationships with community partners but our collective meetings were mostly focused on providing updates of individual work, rather than identifying overarching issues/barriers and finding strategies to best leverage resources and areas of expertise. Read and Rise has provided a platform for more effective cross-sector collaboration. For example, we now offer the program’s workshops, called “Family Conversations", in partnership with our elementary schools as well as community partners such as the Gainesville Housing Authority, Boys/Girls Club, Head Start, Adult-Literacy Programs, United Way as well as local companies.

Q. What have been the most important and effective strategies to increase family engagement?

A. We’ve been able to embed the program’s strength-based and literacy focused methodology into all of our outreach. We consistently provide a relaxed and relational atmosphere where families are validated for what they are already doing for their children while also learning about new ideas and resources from the district and each other. We are also very intentional about finding ways to empower families. For example, the whole community is invited to be part of our Family Nights and we’ve moved toward families identifying the event “themes” based on the topics they want to learn more about. Another example which I believe is both a strategy and outcome, is how we’ve followed up with family members who have finished the Read and Rise program and volunteered to “co-lead” the workshops in community settings such as the Housing Authority.  This has helped the program and all outreach to expand in an intentional but organic and family-led way.

Q. What are some of the outcomes related to family engagement that you are most proud of?

A. We’ve seen outcomes related to both our “process for collaboration and engagement” as well as shifts in family attitude, knowledge, behavior and skill.  We have increased family confidence and strengthened the relationship between the district and families. I also believe we’ve helped create a strong network and community among family members.  For example, parents who have participated in Read and Rise are now gathering together on their own and being proactive about engaging with respective schools. Teachers have an entirely different kind of relationship with our families now and this felt and seen each and every day.  I’m also proud of some of our recent data related to family engagement including overall parental satisfaction increased from 78 percent to 93 percent and in pre and post Read and Rise surveys, more than 92 percent of participants reported an increase in supporting their child’s literacy development within the home. And most recently, our Title 1 schools, where we’ve had increased family engagement, were ranked as ‘High-Progress Reward Schools’ which means they are among the top ten percent of Title I schools in the state that are making the most progress in improving the performance of  “all students.” This as an example of how we believe our family engagement is having a direct effect on school and student achievement outcomes.

Congratulations to Dr. Dyer and the entire Gainesville community for the extraordinary difference you are making. You can read more about Gainesville’s implementation of Read and Rise in this recent article

This week and always, we look forward to hearing your stories and ideas about how we can continue to ensure literacy and learning rich environments in all of the places where children live, learn and grow.



Helping kids get financially literate

Many states across the country have integrated financial literacy into school curriculum. This article describes some of the programs equipping Cincinnati teachers with information and classroom materials. Sparked by a 2010 state bill mandating the integration of economics and financial literacy into 9th grade curriculum, schools and banks have been working together to educate students of all ages. Local banks and teachers agree that teaching students to be savvy savers and spenders lays the foundation for personal financial success.

Programs currently in place include Teach Children to Save day, an annual event that brings bank volunteers into K-12 classrooms to teach lessons on the importance of saving. "For me, for you, for later" is an early childhood initiative that’s the result of a partnership between PNC and Sesame Street Workshop.

Does your community have a framework for teaching financial literacy? How do you help instill good saving and spending habits?

"Four score and seven..."

"The world will little note, nor long remember," President Abraham Lincoln said on a Pennsylvania battlefield 150 years ago today. Little note? Lincoln's eulogy to the Civil War dead is among the most iconic, memorable, moving, and [insert adjective here] in the English language.

Why does the Gettysburg Address still hold such power? Lincoln's knowledge of the Bible and Shakespeare cannot be discounted. In 2007, Adam Gopnik wrote in The New Yorker that "Lincoln had mastered the sound of the King James Bible so completely that he could recast abstract issues of constitutional law in Biblical terms, making the proposition that Texas and New Hampshire should be forever bound by a single post office sound like something right out of Genesis."

What exactly Lincoln said on the battlefield at Gettysburg—in the days before there were recording devices—remains a matter of dispute. Personal preferences have also played a role in the transcription of history. As Gopnik notes: "The Centralia Sentinel, of Lincoln's home state, wanting nothing to do with fancy talk, had the speech begin, simply, 'Ninety years ago....'" The Sentinel didn't even get the number right!

Gopnik struggles to determine precisely what Lincoln said during his presidency and what was said about him, including at his deathbed. Was it, "Now he belongs to the ages," or "Now he belongs to the angels"?

In the end, Gopnik concludes: "The past is so often unknowable not because it is befogged now but because it was befogged then, too, back when it was still the present."

For all we think we know about Lincoln, 150 years later, he remains unknowable.

To centralize or not to centralize? That is the question.

One of the interesting trends occurring in education right now is the decentralization of decision-making.

Increasingly, more and more decisions about teaching and learning are controlled by the principal, and not by the central office staff of school districts.  One of the best examples of this has been the change in structure of New York City schools over the past 10 years, where principals are more empowered to make local decisions, and the central office makes fewer.  In other situations, this trend is connected to a rise in charter schools.  The Recovery School District in New Orleans is a great example of this, as decentralization has been coupled with a shift to more of a charter-based model.

Stay tuned for a debate on this issue in years to come.  On the one hand, complete decentralization empowers local principals, respects the knowledge of the local team, and encourages innovative ideas.  On the other hand, the lack of any centrally-led initiatives can make it hard to systematically tackle large, complicated, district-wide problems (for example, a district wide literacy achievement gap.)  Plus, a decentralized model only works when school principals are strong instructional leaders - and with the many demands they are wrestling with (the Common Core, effective implementation of new teacher evaluation systems, etc.) many of them struggle to adapt to the new demands of their roles.

So what's the right answer?  The most likely outcome will be a combination.  Already, hybrid models are emerging which give more power to local schools, while maintaining a targeted set of district-level initiatives targeted at the most critical, complicated issues.

Building student interest in nonfiction

After hearing a sixth grader say, “ I hate nonfiction, Mrs. Miller. It’s so boring. It’s all about dead presidents and whales,” Texas teacher Donalyn Miller went on a mission to engage students in the “dazzling world of nonfiction.” Miller suggests five ways for teachers to build an appreciation for nonfiction in a recent article in the always excellent Educational Leadership magazine.

1. Do more nonfiction book talks:

When endorsing books (with a book commercial or short testimonial) to your class, be sure in include nonfiction books and magazines alongside fiction, poetry, and graphic novels. Showing you as the teacher value nonfiction will increase their awareness and build interest.

2. Read nonfiction texts aloud:

Engage students and build background knowledge by reading nonfiction picture books, poetry, articles, and excerpts aloud to students. Use librarians as a resource to find nonfiction texts that align with an upcoming unit of study.

3. Use nonfiction as mentor texts:

Find nonfiction texts that can serve as writing models for descriptive writing, figurative language, and imagery.

4. Pair nonfiction texts with texts on related topics:

Relate real-world topics by pairing nonfiction with fiction, poetry, and other nonfiction texts.

5. Provide access, time and supports:

Keep nonfiction texts related to the curriculum in your classroom and encourage students to skim these texts as a warm-up to science or social studies lessons. Invite them to locate text features such as maps, charts, photographs, and glossaries.

Find award-winning books, read reviews, and check out blogs and websites to find high-quality nonfiction texts. Miller recommends The Nonfiction Detectivesa blog written by librarians. You can also find nonfiction book lists on our Common Core site.

A moment to reflect and resources for the classroom on Veterans Day

Happy Veterans Day to all of our men and women who have served over the years. Thank you for all that you do for us.

I find myself consistently in awe of these heroes. It is a wonderful thing to see their stories told during this time of year. It is also important to hear of their struggles and how we can support them when they are deployed and further, continue to support them when they come home.  Thanksgiving is around the corner and their service, and the service of their families here at home, is definitely something for which we can all be thankful. 

Teachers, if you are still looking for ways to celebrate Veterans Day in your classroom, the Scholastic Teacher site has everything you may need here. And a stellar list of books is available on Top Picks.

Tech classroom management strategies

A recent Ed Week article by Liana Heitin shares solutions to common management challenges that arise from using iPads and laptops in the classroom. The strategies below have helped schools across the country deal with these issues.

Wander the Room

There is no replacement for teachers physically walking around the classroom when it comes to keeping students on task. One teacher mentioned that iPads tend to be easier to monitor than laptops, as they lay flat on the desk. Consider using programs such as Hapara, which allows teachers to monitor students’ desktops at once and from afar.

Create a Sense of Value

To keep devices in good condition, building responsibility is key. Explicitly teach students how to open and close the devices, carry them, and turn them to show a partner. Assign a device to a student, so they use the same one every day and are responsible for reporting tech issues.  

Put Students in Charge

Designate one or two students to serve as technology monitors that pass out and collect devices. Establish procedures for running out of battery power, and create a charging station in an area of the room (try to keep cords out of walkways). Find a way to store headphones, such as hanging them on a hook or storing them in a plastic bag labeled with the student’s name.

Teach Tech Terms

Define technical terms, such as “close” and “sign out” to clarify what state the device should be in during a lesson. Find a digital organization system (see this post on Google Drive) to share documents and track student work.

Lastly, try to channel tech-savvy students’ curiosity. One school hired a student over the summer to crack their firewall system, while another teacher has students create videos demonstrating tech tools.

Do you have any management tips for your “wired” classroom?


Subscribe to EDU RSS