Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bringing parents Into school planning

photo credit: Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture blog

Every two years, all Chicago Public Schools prepare school improvement plans, known as SIPAAAs (School Improvement Plan for Advancing Student Achievement). The latest round of plans are due in early April. Getting parents involved in the planning can be a challenge.

Last week at Orozco Elementary in Pilsen, Principal Coralia Barraza, home-school coordinator Teresa Fraga and other staff were eager to show me how they are bringing parents into the process. They translate SIPAAA documents into Spanish and get small groups of parents together to discuss what's working, what needs work, and who and how the work will get done. They use charts to keep track of parent input, and Barraza painstakingly translates their work into English for inclusion in the SIPAA.

But getting to this level of parental participation was built on many other activities that bring parents into the school building, such as workshops to teach parents, many of whom didn't go to school in the United States, how to help their children do a science fair project. Man, I wish my local grammar school had workshops like that!

The Orozco folks also passed on a tip they've learned from neighboring Walsh Elementary: schedule short meetings for parents to help with the SIPAAA right after school starts, when some parents may be able to stay for half an hour to give input.

Fundamentally, Orozco has a core of involved parents who step up as needed and who pass the word through the community to recruit parents or spread information quickly. It's clear Teresa Fraga's deep roots in the community--she's been there nearly 40 years, I think--were instrumental in building that network.

There's so much complaining in school quarters about parents not being involved, it is very refreshing to find examples where they are. If you have such examples, or tips on how schools can do a better job of tapping into parental energy and expertise, please leave a comment and share your knowledge.


Katheryn said...
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Katheryn said...

Great post! Yes, more tangible examples of parent involvement - the challenges and means of successfully involving parents in learning as well as school operations are in desperate need. Has LSNA or the school codified any of their work on parent involvement? Are they working with SLI?
Thanks! Katheryn

February 20, 2008 8:01

Patrick Barry said...

Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) has indeed laid out how they work with parents through their community learning center schools, though I should point out that LSNA works in a different neighborhood than Orozco School, which is in Pilsen.

Here's something from the LSNA web site that gives a flavor of the multiple draws that bring parents through the door:

"Our five school-based Community Learning Centers at McAuliffe, Funston, Monroe, Ames, and Mozart schools offer a variety of services and opportunities for families to become engaged. Parents are offered E.S.L. , adult literacy, and G.E.D. classes, while also leading some of the programs offered after-school to students. Students can participate in after-school programs or before school programs that include sports, art, dance, nutrition programs, and tutoring. As a part of LSNA's holistic plan, Community Learning Centers provide a space for both adults and children to unite with CPS teachers, principals, and other community members."

Another program is Parents as Mentors, which brings parents into the classroom as aides to teachers. Some teachers resist at first -- because they might perceive parents as "trouble" -- but once the programs get going the teachers learn that having another caring and trained adult in the classroom is a big help. Some parents then move on to the "Grow Your Own Teachers" program, to become teachers themselves.

Learn more at

Maureen Kelleher said...

Just to answer your other question, Katheryn, based on the network info at the SLI web site, they are not working with Orozco.

However, their work with schools on the West and Southwest sides won a national award last fall, for the third year in a row.

“Strategic Learning Initiatives is demonstrating that research-based approaches can be used to increase family and community involvement in ways that contribute to student success in school,” said Dr. Joyce L. Epstein, Director of NNPS.

For more, check out

Anonymous said...

Dr. Joyce Epstein is a consultant. This is good in getting parents together. What about the NCLB Title I, Parent Advisory Councils at schools like this? Are they organized, have they had their annual meetings, is the community being invited?

Just asking.