A lifelong resident of eastern Kentucky, I reside in beautiful Menifee County nestled between Cave Run Lake and the Red River Gorge. I have spent the last 16 years of my career working in education in my hometown to try to identify ways I can serve my school and my community. Menifee Central (Menifee County) is a Kindergarten through 8th grade school with a population of about 650 students. As a first-year principal, I had the unique opportunity to open this new facility.
With several challenges facing us as we merged two elementary schools to open one new school, the opportunity to participate in the Family Friendly Network sparked the interest of my administrative team. One challenge was the task of transitioning to in-person learning after the pandemic. As a new school, we had to develop a new mission and vision that focused on supporting the well-being of all our students and additionally providing support to our families. I wanted our school to be focused on building genuine relationships with our students and our families. Our district college and career navigator from GearUP shared the opportunity to join a partnership with the Family Friendly Network that would allow our new school to potentially be certified as Family Friendly School.
Once we were accepted into the partnership with the Family Friendly Network, we were provided the support and guidance to make significant changes to increase parent involvement. Our first step was to create a Family Engagement Team composed of two administrators, two teachers, two parents and community partners. As a team, we participated in professional learning provided by the network. I also worked to attend online network meetings where I could collaborate with other schools that shared their progress and the ideas they utilized to increase family engagement. The professional learning modules were a valuable tool in helping us understand our role at school and our job of collaborating with our families. Our team also was provided support from the family training coordinator who visited our school and provided supportive feedback during zoom meetings.
As we began the process, our Family Engagement team used the assessment tool provided by the network to gauge the current state of our schools to determine our strengths and areas for growth. As a team, we knew one of our first steps would be to create a welcoming environment so we created a family friendly space near the entrance of our school. This space was quickly utilized to conduct parent meetings, including admissions and release committee meetings, and parent engagement meetings about attendance and behavior. We collaborated with community agencies and our family resource and youth services center to place informative materials for parents in the room. We also received a donation from GearUP that allowed us to put an interactive board in the room to display information about our school. This space has impacted our school because it shows we want to work with our parents by providing an inviting space where we communicate openly and allows us to collaborate to ensure the success of their child.
We knew we also needed to make other positive changes to get our families more involved in their child’s education so our school-based decision making council reviewed and updated our Parent Engagement Policy. Redefining family engagement has been a powerful change in our school helping us to understand that we must create an active partnership with all our families to promote the child’s learning and development. Our new policy focuses on encouraging our parents to communicate high expectations, monitor their child’s performance, provide a supportive environment at home for learning, guide their child’s education and be an advocate for their child. We also included family engagement as a key activity in our Continuous Improvement plan and monitored our progress by using the assessment tool provided by the network.
Our school applied for the certification in April. The Family Friendly Network did a great job of communicating its expectations and the requirement for certification. The Menifee Central Family engagement team documented our work throughout the year to help us complete the certification document. We included evidence in our narratives of hosting multiple family nights, increasing two-way family communication, including survey data collected from our families, pictures of parent conference nights, minutes from our Family Engagement Team meetings and our multi-tiered systems of support meetings to show our focus on using data to provide tiered supports for identified students, and updated policy and continuous improvement plan. We were able to complete the application for certification at our own pace and within the timelines established by the network.
Menifee Central will continue our process of continuous improvement by creating lasting partnerships with our families. Our mission and vision are dedicated to this work and we plan to create genuine partnerships with parents by increasing two-way communication, increasing home visits and utilizing parent survey data. With the network’s wonderful support from our family training coordinator, we are already planning a face-to-face support session to obtain feedback on our next steps in transforming our school into a partnership school. It is our commitment to connect and actively communicate with our families to promote the overall well-being of each of our students.
Kelli Abney is the principal of Menifee Central (Menifee County). In summer 2022, the school was one of the first five Kentucky schools to be certified by the Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools as a Family Friendly School.