Engaging all parents is key for DeKalb schools’ success

In less than a year, a new board and administration have made significant progress toward stabilizing the DeKalb County School District. We replaced a budget deficit with an operating surplus. We have worked diligently to meet and exceed the expectations of our accrediting agency. And, we are confident the district will be lifted from probation.

A growing number of our internal and external stakeholders are embracing a new sense of hope and optimism.

Significant improvement in student academic achievement and career readiness requires a renewed commitment. We need to engage, build capacity and leverage the assets of parents, grandparents, adult guardians and mentors who have become isolated, uninvolved and disillusioned. But, deficit-driven strategies rarely succeed.

First, let us celebrate and appreciate the thousands of dedicated parents who contribute their time, energy and resources in support of our schools. Their support and encouragement are invaluable. Unfortunately, too many parents have abdicated to teachers and schools the critical responsibility for inspiring and educating their children .

Better trained and educated teachers, administrators and school board members are absolutely critical. And yet, the ultimate teachers are parents. The first teachers – those who instill a zeal for learning from birth to kindergarten – are parents. Parents must teach and enforce discipline, manners, respect for authority and encourage their children to love learning and aspire for greatness.

Take a look at three of DeKalb’s highest-performing high schools. The DeKalb School for the Arts, Chamblee Charter High School and Arabia Mountain High School were ranked among the 15 highest-performing schools in Georgia by U.S. News & World Report.

You can’t identify these schools by race, geography or socioeconomics. What they all have in common are parents who are actively engaged in their children’s education.

The same can be said for successful charter, theme, magnet and traditional public schools throughout the district. In fact, the very definition of a charter school is one in which parents are fully engaged in their children’s education. Do we fulfill our obligation to students and society by offering high-quality educational opportunities only to those students with the most-engaged parents? Every school and teacher should expect and encourage constant parental engagement.

Current public education reform strategies have been hampered, if not completely derailed by one glaring miscalculation. Non-participation by some parents in PTA or other school-based activities does not equate to a lack of love or concern about their children’s education. Other factors must be acknowledged and considered. Economically disadvantaged parents who struggle to provide food, clothing and shelter for their families operate under a different set of priorities. Language and cultural barriers, and covert and overt class bias among school personnel also contribute to a lack of parental engagement.

Despite these realities, I reject the debilitating notion that some parents are too impoverished or uneducated to be actively engaged in their children’s education. Every parent, no matter their economic status, can and must encourage and enforce educational accountability. This rejection is accompanied by a firm commitment to provide training and technical assistance to loving parents and adult guardians who lack the skills and resources needed to support student achievement.

The Bridge Initiative is a comprehensive strategy designed to improve growth and achievement outcomes among students from economically disadvantaged families. The cornerstone of the initiative involves building capacity among economically disadvantaged parents, adult guardians and mentors to support student achievement.

The Bridge is not a magic wand but it is a carefully devised plan that will produce incremental and verifiable success.

This is our challenge and opportunity in DeKalb: We will work to engage all parents in the educational careers of their children. And by celebrating our current and reclaimed parent partners, we will improve educational outcomes for all 100,000 students in DeKalb County.

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Michael Thurmond is superintendent of the DeKalb County school district.