Just two short years ago Prince George's County Public Schools was on the cusp of becoming a national model in the area of parental engagement. PGCPS was recognized by the Harvard Family Research Project for its innovative approaches to parental engagement. The efforts of Prince George's County Public Schools according to the Harvard Family Research Project identified the school system as an exemplar in family involvement and community outreach.
The parental engagement programs and services implemented in the system by the defunct Department of Family and Community Outreach ushered some amazing levels of parent and community engagement. In a two year span parents and community members supported the schools with nearly three million dollars in volunteer hours. This number far exceeds any similar data reported by other school districts in Maryland. One would be hard press to find any data on the number of volunteers in the schools.
In the year 2008, the Department of Family and Community Outreach created Men Make A Difference Day. This remarkable one day invitation to men and significant male role models resulted in over 10,000 fathers and other male role models visiting schools. The successful first year of the program was followed by another successful outpouring of dads and male role models visiting our schools and meeting teachers. The significance of this event cannot be measured simply by the numbers on that day, but by the continued involvement of these men throughout the school year and beyond. Fathers and overall male engagement increased significantly. In many cases their involvement increased by as much as an 80%. The example of increased male engagement represents a desire of parents in Prince George's County to be actively involved in the academic lives of their children.
However, over the past year and half we have witness a systematic dismantling of the core of parental engagement in Prince George's County Public Schools. The system has moved away from a more centralized approach to parental engagement to one that is de-centralized. This approach has resulted in a haphazard method of parental involvement. Parents no longer have a central office to contact as it relates to parental engagement, instead parents are expected to contact their neighborhood school’s principal, who have now been charged with the overall aspects of parental engagement. While this appears like a wonderful concept, it only served to add an additional expectation onto a workforce that is already in the opinion of many over tasked. Traditionally, principals have served as the parental involvement gatekeeper for their schools, however, they were not charged with the expectations of managing systemic goals and objectives for parental engagement that exist in all other schools districts in Maryland.
When one examines the efforts of Prince George's County Public Schools to have a real partnership with parents, one only need to look at the organizational structure of the system. There is no centralized office were parents can seek support for issues or concerns. There is no designated parent and community web page designed to support their inquiries. Recently, the Department of Student Services has been re-named the Department of Student Engagement and Parent Support. What does this mean? How was the public notified of this change? Does this now mean there are those within the department specifically assigned to support parents? Has a unit within the department been created with an objective to increase parent involvement?
As an individual who has studied and been involved in parental engagement and student services for over 25 years, I concur with research that suggest when parents are informed they have a higher level of engagement.
Currently, in the Prince George's County Public Schools there is little evidence of a willingness to keep parents informed beyond the superficial. Given what appears to be a reluctance of Prince George's County Public Schools to offer authentic opportunities for parents to engage and become informed, beyond a few community sessions with the superintendent what are parents to do? Perhaps the answer lies in the questions proposed to a panel of experts and the United States Secretary of Education Mr. Arne Duncan at a recent National Policy Forum for Family, School, and Community Engagement, held in Washington, DC.
These questions represent an excellent starting point for the newly elected Board of Education to begin its work on establishing a better working relationship with parents and members of the community.
- What does the future of family and community engagement look like in Prince George's County Public Schools?
- How will you incorporate federal, state, and local policies to create systemic family engagement Prince George's County Public Schools?
- How can student performance data be used to connect families and schools in a significant way?
- What roles can families play in transforming low-performing schools?
This is my opinion....what is yours?