A group of parents and students gathered around a table with crafts on it. There are books on shelves behind them.

In April, Kenwood Elementary (Jefferson County) was the first school to receive the Family Friendly Schools certification. Photo submitted by Jill Handley.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is partnering with the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, through its Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools, to encourage intentional family engagement through the Family Friendly certification.

Kentucky is one of 12 states to receive the Statewide Family Engagement Center grant from the U.S. Department of Education to provide comprehensive support for systemic and effective family engagement policies. Through the grant, the Pritchard Committee for Academic Excellence established the Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools, to focus on open communication, learning opportunities and shared decision-making power across the Kentucky education system. In addition to KDE and the Prichard Committee, schools also are being supported by staff from Berea College Partners for Education, Learning Grove and the National Center for Families Learning.

“I am excited about this partnership between KDE and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence centered on family engagement,” said Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass. “The United We Learn vision supports the inclusion of families as partners in their children’s education. The Family Friendly Schools certification helps schools honor our families’ full identities, languages and experiences and foster the authentic relationships needed for the future of education in the Commonwealth.”

The Family Friendly Schools certification is a part of the Kentucky Family and School Partnership Guide, released by the collaborative. The guide also includes a school self-assessment, family engagement guide, online training modules and digital playbook. Many of the resources provide direct examples of how to focus on the five main areas of family engagement: relationship-building, communication, shared responsibility, community partnership and advocacy. 

Brooke Gill, the family engagement director for the Prichard Committee, believes these resources are an opportunity for schools to intentionally strengthen family-school-community partnerships. The certificate places a significant focus on engagement efforts centered in equity and community partnerships. 

“In order to be certified, you have to prove that your engagement efforts are equitable, and you are reaching the hard-to-reach families,” said Gill. “We want to see family engagement efforts that are getting the families that never show up.”

A woman and child smile as they hold a sign that reads: "A Kenwood Elementary Distinguished Scholar Lives Here" with a cartoon bear on it.

To apply, anyone can the complete the application on behalf of a school. Applications are reviewed monthly and scored by a subcommittee of the Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools Advisory Council. The certification requires five steps:

  • Score Level 3 in overall score on Kentucky Family and School Partnership Self-Assessment;
  • At least two school staff members, two family members and one building leader must complete the Kentucky Family and School Partnership 101 Modules;
  • Develop a Family Engagement Action Team;
  • Have an evaluation process for continuous improvement and equitable outreach; and
  • Submit an application each year.

The application window runs through Nov. 1. KDE will track the number of certified Family Friendly schools as a measurement for improving family and community engagement in Kentucky schools.

Currently 60 schools, all a part of the Family Friendly Schools Learning Network, are on track to complete the certification. In April, Kenwood Elementary (Jefferson County) was the first school to receive the certification.

“Schools achieving Family Friendly status have demonstrated a commitment to embracing families as equal partners in student education. Kenwood Elementary is a bright spot in the Commonwealth,” said Brigitte Blom, president and CEO of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. “It has built the capacity of school leadership to understand and implement more effective family engagement best practices.”

The Prichard Committee will recognize the first schools to receive this certification at the June 16-17 Groundswell Summit titled: “What Does a Great School Look Like?” This event is sponsored by KDE and registration is open for any educator, family leader or school administrator eager to learn more about equitable school-based innovations that support family and community partnerships. Schools can learn more about the certification by visiting the Family Friendly Schools webpage.