Bringing parents to the table

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Interim Commissioner Wayne Lewis
Interim Commissioner Wayne Lewis

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – the federal law that governs K-12 public education – is 1,061 pages long. But tucked in within those hundreds of thousands of words are four words that I think are incredibly important for our schools and our students.

In ESSA, the phrase “parent and family engagement” is used in lieu of “parental involvement.” While that seems like a minor change, I think it is a big shift in how we think about the relationship between families and our schools.

Involvement is passive, it can be temporary. You can be involved in a television show, but that doesn’t mean that involvement brings about any lasting changes in anybody’s life.

Engagement is active, it is an ongoing process. When people are engaged in an activity, they are doing more than just watching what is going on. They are hands-on and have an active stake in the outcome.

Getting parents engaged with their children’s schools beyond the occasional open house hasn’t always been easy for us in Kentucky. While unintentional, some of our school practices and structures make parent engagement much more difficult than it should me. And while I know that everybody has an overflowing schedule filled with too many things to do and not enough time to do them in, schools have a responsibility to engage families in meaningful ways and to remove barriers to that engagement.

School-based decision making councils often meet right after school dismissal. While it may be more convenient for the educators who serve on those councils, it can cause an economic hardship for the parents who have to take time off from their jobs to make those meetings.

 Regardless of their background, there is not a parent in this Commonwealth that doesn’t want the absolute best for their children.

At the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), we’re working to find new ways to involve parents in the decisions we make. The Commissioner’s Parents Advisory Council  advises us on many of our new and existing initiatives. We’ve also sought input from parents on our new accountability system, School Report Card and changes to the state’s graduation requirements. We seek parental input whenever we revise any of Kentucky’s Academic Standards. You also can stay in the loop about issues by signing up for our ParentInfo e-newsletter.

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A great opportunity for parents to become involved in their child’s school in October is Kentucky Safe Schools Week, slated for Oct. 21-27.

Headed up by our colleagues at the Kentucky Center for School Safety (KCSS), schools across Kentucky will be partnering with parents, local lawmakers, first responders and their community to bring awareness to school safety issues and initiatives to enhance school safety.

This year’s theme is “BE INCREDIBLE, Reveal Your Superhero!” KCSS is asking students to ban together with school staff and the community to create a safe “family-like” culture at their school and fight against bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, conflict, hate and violence while spreading empathy, compassion and respect.

To learn more about how you can become involved in Kentucky Safe Schools Week, visit the Kentucky Center for School Safety’s website.

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