The Racine Unified School District recently made a significant change to how they engage with parent volunteers. Now in its second year, the newly named Parent Leadership Network continues to hold meetings to provide updates with time for parents to network and learn about important things happening at the schools, with an additional aim: put some more action behind the meetings by building parent leadership capacity.
Family and Community Engagement Specialist for the Racine Unified School District, Felicia Howell, explains, “parents want to do the work. Many of them already have leadership skills. This is an opportunity to build on leadership skills they already have, and for us to increase communication and connections for positive home and school relationships.”
Biological parents, guardians, grandparents, and foster parents are recognized as experts on their children, able to serve and learn with the Parent Leadership Network. The network offers training and supports to build leadership skills, foster family engagement practices, and solidify relationships with building staff.
There are several benefits for those participating in the Parent Leadership Network, including:
- Stay updated and informed;
- Gain knowledge to improve student learning;
- Offer input and voice to key decisions at schools;
- Provide guidance to plan and implement family engagement initiatives;
- Participate in training and earn a certificate; and
- Access local, regional, and national resources.
So far, Howell said things are going well, “I look forward to looking at the strategy every year and leveraging it to meet the needs of RUSD and the families in the schools.”
Howell meets with parents every two weeks at their schools. Each October, the Parent Leadership Network certificate training series kicks off with a half-day leadership skills training, culminating with two additional coaching sessions in November and January.
When asked what she would say to other districts looking to foster a similar Parent Learning Network model, Howell said, “Have patience. Remember first of all the families are volunteering. It takes time to get things up and running. Remember that families have priorities too--sometimes life gets in the way. Meet parents where they are.”