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Focus on Family and Community Partnerships Creates Impact

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Building trusting relationships with families and community partners can happen at any time during the school year. Two Wisconsin school districts, in particular, have leaned into their partnerships with families and their communities to meet students’ needs. 

West Middleton Elementary in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District worked to create a more positive school culture, adjust adult mindsets through professional learning, and prioritize family partnerships. 

Understanding their students and families became a priority for staff at the school. This led to their focus of strengthening the partnership between families and their school. They set a goal to meet with 100 percent of their families for conferences around their children’s education. Through persistence and using multiple approaches, the school met that goal. School social worker Emily Stockbridge described how West Middleton committed to putting families first; sometimes this meant that the school needed to adjust their practices.

“The way we respond to families now has changed,” Stockbridge said. “It builds trust for families sending their kids to school.”

Hillcrest School in the Kenosha Unified School District is an alternative school also striving to welcome families and build trust. The school places a priority on family and community engagement. Hillcrest maintains partnerships with community impact programs and has a school-based mental health therapist on site. 

Staff at the school has a high degree of parental involvement in IEP meetings, in part, because of their asset-based approach to their students.

“Parents feel like they belong here and that they have a say in things,” Melissa Szejna, school social worker, said. The focus on students and families has helped Hillcrest School to decrease suspensions at one of the fastest rates in the state.

“There is a general willingness of our counselors, teachers, administration to all work to see a kid’s behavior for what it is, know that it is something that can be worked through, and to get them back to the learning environment,” Intervention Specialist Jason Paproth said.

Focusing on the key system features of family and community engagement and cultivating a positive school culture, two schools made significant shifts in student outcomes. Implementing and sustaining equitable multi-level systems of support happens with school, family and community partnerships. To learn more about West Middleton Elementary and Hillcrest School, read their school stories in their entirety in the 2020-2021 Wisconsin RtI Center Impact Report.

Subscriber submission: Melanie Sickinger, education consultant - multilevel systems of supports on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's special education team