Family Involvement Week: Highlight on Gainesville, GA

 //  Nov 25, 2013

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.



Parent Educators and Families working together Gainvesville City Schools