Last month, I had the great fortune to be flown to Washington, DC by Education Week, where I was honored as one of sixteen nationally recognized “LEADERS TO LEARN FROM.” I was so very humbled and honored that family engagement was brought to the forefront of education, by such a prestigious organization. Other leaders were recognized for their work with education technology, extended learning time, student voice, and other important education topics. We were all featured in a special Education Week report and got together in person in Washington to meet and learn from one another. The entire experience was awesome!
Back at home, I work as the chief parent and community engagement officer for the Springfield, Mass. School District. I have the opportunity to work with a phenomenal team that is as passionate about this work as I am. Over the years, we have been able to create a plan that focuses on coordination, collaboration and alignment to ensure that families are afforded the same high quality educational experiences as other educators. This can only happen with strong relationships and intentional emphasis on building parent capacity.
Parents are a student’s first teacher. But it is impossible to expect that they can be effective partners with credentialed educators when they are not provided similar opportunities. Educators must understand the importance of linking student achievement and parent capacity-building if schools are going to make the necessary gains. But in order to effectively do this, we must be willing and able to meet parents where they are; the same way we reach students in the classroom.
When I first started in my role as the chief parent and community engagement officer for the Springfield, Mass. School District, I totally shifted my thinking about how I needed to work with families. More importantly, I was completely energized about how I wanted to work with families.
I started a new initiative called the Springfield Parent Academy, which aims at helping families to help their children do better in school and also helping parents themselves succeed. This approach lets parents – as well as other caregivers – really shine as role models for students. I began establishing and developing authentic relationships with parents and families that I whole-heartedly believe are just as nurturing and compassionate about their kids as I am about mine! This epiphany remains the driving force for the passion that I have for family engagement.
Education Week provided an opportunity for me to reach well beyond the community that I serve. From the report to the event videos, I have heard from many other education leaders that they heard our story of success and want to implement their own versions of the Springfield Parent Academy. I couldn’t be more proud. THANK YOU!
Patricia A. Spradley is the chief parent and community engagement officer in the Springfield, Mass. School District. She was recently recognized by Education Week in their third annual “Leaders To Learn From” special report.