Are you a school interested in applying for the Family Friendly School certification, but not sure how to start? The folks at Pine Knot Elementary School just completed the process and it is simpler than you may think. In our desire to provide an intentional focus on relationship building with parents and members of the Pine Knot Elementary community, I set out on a mission to certify Pine Knot Elementary as a family-friendly school with Rebecca Blakley, district-wide services supervisor for McCreary County Schools. The desire to see parents in a more inclusive, active role in the operations and decision-making at Pine Knot Elementary drove the leadership team to seek certification.
In the beginning, it seemed like the process might be long and difficult. To determine the best way to approach certification, I made a call to Jenny Hobson, a representative from Berea’s Partners for Rural Impact program and an integral part in the Family Friendly School’s certification process across the state.
Hobson provided valuable guidance as Pine Knot Elementary began the process to achieve certification. Hobson provided help through one-on-one call support to answer any questions that came up in the certification process. She also held virtual monthly Zoom visits for schools across the state working towards certification, guiding them through the application process. This allowed for a collaboration of ideas across districts as well. Lastly, Hobson made a personal visit to Pine Knot Elementary to sit down with us to discuss improvement ideas and review initial scores.
To begin the process, Pine Knot Elementary utilized members of the school’s leadership team, including the principal, assistant principal, teachers, counselors, curriculum leads, PBIS coaches and interventionists to complete the self-assessment. The leadership team utilized this time to review all characteristics and identify growth opportunities. Through this process, we uncovered how many of the components were already a part of what was being done at Pine Knot Elementary every day. From this, an action plan was developed to improve the overall score on the Kentucky Family and School Partnership self-assessment tool. Those actions included work on the re-establishment of a parent-teacher organization (PTO), family engagement nights led by our project-based learning students, a school-wide science fair and a Volunteers in Public Schools recruitment booth during parent-teacher nights. Pine Knot Elementary has also incorporated “reading grannies” who volunteer to help with various reading initiatives across the building.
The next step was to provide training opportunities for teachers, administrators and parents. Pine Knot Elementary’s site-based decision-making council and Assistant Principal Shane King stepped up to the plate, utilizing part of their meetings to complete trainings and assessments. The Prichard Committee’s Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools website has a simple-to-follow, two-part self-paced learning module and assessment survey. Once all members of the team completed the training, they each scored Pine Knot Elementary on the Family Friendly Schools rubric. The school’s leadership team members, parents, teachers and administrators had all determined that Pine Knot Elementary had met the score criteria needed to qualify for certification. When the scores were released, I was confident that Pine Knot Elementary was ready to apply for certification, so I immediately began to compile the evidence. Much of the evidence collected came from organizations within the school, including Save the Children and Youth Service Center Coordinator Tasha Cox, whose extensive work to support families in and out of the school proved to be one of our most vital assets. The collection of parent survey data and collaborations with local businesses to support families led to a significant amount of evidence for the certification process. Once the evidence was collected, the application was submitted and I received an email a few weeks later letting us know we’d been approved.
The certification process was a much simpler task than I originally thought. Schools across the state of Kentucky have developed extensive family engagement initiatives in the most creative ways, so the hard work has already been done. The Family Friendly Schools certification process gives schools a chance to explore those engagement strategies in depth and provides schools an opportunity to build an action plan to address the areas needing improvement. The Family Friendly Schools certification process provides a structured framework for ensuring that schools are focused on their efforts to be inclusive to both families and the community.
The McCreary County School District has enjoyed the success of Pine Knot Elementary becoming a Family Friendly School and is now seeking an opportunity to expand that by pursuing certifications for every school in the district this year. Each school’s digital learning coaches are now spearheading the efforts to engage more families in their child’s learning, involve them in the planning and decision-making process, which will improve the overall quality of the educational experience for everyone involved. I encourage all schools to take the time to pursue the Family-Friendly Schools certification. It was a great tool for not only identifying our school’s areas for growth but a great way to acknowledge the partnerships and steps that we were excelling in. The adage, “It takes a village” has never rang truer in McCreary County Schools. You can find all the tools needed to guide you through the certification process on the Kentucky Family Friendly Schools website.
Charlotte D. Barnett is a curriculum specialist/interventionist/PBIS Coach at Pine Knot Elementary School in McCreary County. She can be reached at email@example.com.