The art of engaging parents through ‘old-fashioned, grass-roots organizing’

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More than 500 teachers and principals from 30 HISD campuses are learning how to get greater numbers of parents involved in their children’s education this year during a series of two-day trainings being offered by the district’s Family and Community Engagement (FACE) department.

The topic of the training is the district’s Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT), whose expansion from the nine pilot schools was approved by the Board of Education earlier this year. The mission of those teams is even more critical now, with the district’s focus on Literacy By 3.

All APTT activities this year will explore ways to boost students’ reading skills, but the groups’ success will depend heavily on whether parents attend and participate. That’s why educators at the 30 expansion campuses are learning about some of the many challenges that can prevent parent engagement, such as high mobility or bad contact information, and the most effective methods of reaching out to families so that they will want to be involved.

“I used to run political campaigns,” explained Alejandro Morúa, the general manager of FACE. “And it all boils down to old-fashioned, grass-roots organizing. These are the kinds of strategies have proven effective in building relationships with parents and bringing families to the table. They have been used by other districts like Stockton (Calif.), Washington, D.C., and Creighton (Ariz.). This is totally do-able, and it can have a real impact on student achievement.”

“My staff and I were just talking about this very subject (parent engagement) this spring,” added Jessica Tejada, who serves as the principal at Gallegos Elementary School. “We were frustrated, because the events we had for parents this past year were just ‘events.’ They didn’t really focus on anything. But APTT is more purposeful, and it will be something that can show an impact by the end of the year. We’re really excited!”

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