Parents Take the Reins of WA Charters’ Parent Leadership & Engagement Programming

For Immediate Release | July 28, 2016

Steering Committee Launches in Partnership with Somali Parent Education Board to Develop Parent Leadership Curriculum Kicking Off at Two School Sites in the Fall

BURIEN, Wash. – In partnership with the Somali Parent Education Board, a local grassroots organization, WA Charters is convening a parent steering committee to tackle questions about how best to support parents’ agency in their children’s public schooling. The new parent steering committee, which met for the first time last weekend, will inform how WA Charters defines its future role in facilitating parent engagement work. In addition, the parent steering committee will co-develop in the coming months a curriculum for a parent leadership program to launch in the fall at two charter public school sites in Seattle, Summit Sierra High School and Rainier Prep.

“Our hope and intention is that curriculum developed by parents and tailored to the needs of parents will attract others to participate in the program and more importantly, be effective in helping to improve school culture and strengthen student outcomes,” said WA Charters CEO Tom Franta. “We hope the current momentum around parent engagement work will grow to reach broader communities.”

Among the parent steering committee’s early findings is that, while research shows a strong correlation between parent involvement in a student’s academic career and successful academic outcomes, the notion of “parent engagement” remains an unfamiliar concept about which many parents feel skeptical. Particularly for parents who had different schooling experiences than their children currently have, deconstructing the silos separating school and home life constitutes both a huge undertaking and just the beginning.

Based on parent and school feedback and the success of the pilot, WA Charters plans to expand the parent leadership program to reach parents at other school sites in the near future.

At the parent steering committee’s initial convening, eight parents from Summit Sierra High School and Rainier Prep met for the first time at the Burien Library. They convened on a Saturday around a table, dialoguing and sharing personal stories and past experiences interacting with the local school system.

What unfolded were candid stories from the parents, many of whom, prior to becoming parents, had no familiarity with navigating the American public education system. One parent described his homeland of Somalia, where the formal education system came into establishment only a few decades ago and there is a strong cultural disconnect between school life and home life.

The first meeting of WA Charter’s parent steering committee confirmed the critical importance of parent leadership in public education. When provided the safe space, parents come together, confide in one another, build relationships, and identify the themes and steps necessary to help build parents’ confidence and skills to engage in their children’s schooling. Through describing their experiences with their children’s schools, WA Charter’s parent steering committee explored what parent engagement means to them and what they would like it to mean in the future.

About Washington’s Public Charter Schools

Charter schools are a type of public school, approved and overseen by a state or district authorizer. Like all public schools, they do not charge tuition, they are open to all students, and they are publicly funded. However, charter public schools are held more accountable for showing improved student achievement. In exchange for greater accountability, teachers and principals are given more flexibility to customize their teaching methods and curriculum to improve student learning.

Washington’s charter public schools are helping to close the education equity gap. More than 67 percent of charter public school students in Washington are students of color, as compared to 43 percent statewide. Two-thirds of charter public school students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, as compared to 45 percent statewide. At four of Washington’s charter public schools, this number exceeds 70 percent.

In some communities, traditional public schools are meeting the needs of local students. But in other communities – particularly communities of color that struggle with poverty – they are not. In Washington, African American, Latino and Native American students are scoring between 15-20 percent lower on state assessments. According to mid-year assessment results, students at Washington’s charter public schools are making impressive gains in reading and math.