Damian Johnson smiles for a photo

Damian Johnson

My name is Damian Johnson and I am the superintendent of Jenkins Independent Schools.  My family has a long history with this school system, as my mother, brother, my two oldest children and I are all Jenkins graduates.  With this history and having worked here for over two decades, I am well aware of the decline in family participation in the educational process, especially since COVID-19.  When I became aware of the Family Friendly Certification and learned what it entailed, I felt this would be the perfect opportunity to not only refocus and streamline our family engagement efforts, but it would also send a strong message to our parents and community that educating our students is a partnership.

Our district decided to work on this initiative in order to assess and improve our current family and school partnerships. We also aim to build the capacity of school leadership to understand and implement more effective family engagement best practices.

We began by assembling a team of staff that would best represent our students’ diverse needs. We included the family resource coordinator, Save the Children coordinator, Gear Up College and Career counselors, the high school and elementary school principals and two parent representatives. We met in person to kick off the certification process and assign each person tasks to complete the certification process. Since it was hard for such a wide range of stakeholders to meet regularly, we had several informal meetings with members of the team to assess our progress. Sometimes the administrators would meet or talk with the parents, other times the coordinators would meet with one another, and other times the Save the Children coordinator (the primary person collecting information for the certification process) would meet with school principals to evaluate the evidence collected and add it to the application. 

We learned about the certification from other schools that we have visited and worked with that were already Family Friendly certified. We then reached out to our Gear Up College and Career counselor to use her connections with Jenny Hobson and Partners for Rural Impact to help us on our Family Friendly Certification process. This partnership helped us complete the application and created another connection to help us reach our goal of improving family engagement and exemplifying the characteristics of a true family friendly, neighborhood school. 

At first the application process seemed daunting. It felt like a lot of evidence had to be collected all at one time. After working with Jenny Hobson and with our family engagement team in small groups we were able to divvy up the work. It made the certification process much easier. 

We already had many family engagement initiatives in place as well as several partnerships with outside agencies to provide students with a diverse range of services. We also have several partnerships with outside agencies to provide career pathway services for students in high school. However, the certification process did make us aware of ways to improve our initiatives to continue to be recertified. We plan to make the suggested changes with the goal of becoming Gold certified in the future. 

We plan to keep our Family Friendly Schools work alive by addressing the considerations for recertification in regularly scheduled meetings. For example. in CSIP, Family Resource Advisory, Save the Children Family Engagement Team meetings we will work together to strengthen our multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) programming, encourage more feedback from families, create a “go-to” staff member in order to engage with families and support families in being an advocate and support system for their students. 

In closing, this certification process was a worthwhile endeavor.  I am proud of the efforts of my team, who recognized the impact this work could have on our students’ educational career and who try diligently to improve family engagement and the school/home relationship on a daily basis. Our district is better for having taken part in this process and we will continue to strive to improve our family engagement in order to meet our district mission to “ENCOURAGE our students to do their best and ENGAGE them in the educational process so they can EXCEL to their fullest potential!”

Damian Johnson is the superintendent of Jenkins Independent Schools.