The last few weeks have been exhausting and yet exhilarating at the same time. For 13 of the last 16 days I’ve been on the road, connecting with state educational leaders, family engagement advocates and a host of other professionals – all focused on the advancement of family engagement at every level of our educational system.
Several months ago NAFSCE began an important partnership with the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to support eight states in the development of birth through grade 12 family engagement frameworks. Think of these frameworks as roadmaps for family engagement, providing every professional and parent with a clear path to the adoption of evidence-based, relational and sustainable family engagement at all levels of child development. This would not have been possible without the vision of the Maryland Department of Education who, through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, developed a similar framework in their state. That effort was followed by this collaboration with CCSSO and its partners to support the development of such frameworks in other states.
NAFSCE’s role includes providing online programming, a state repository, and a communication platform to support the consortium of states, but my favorite aspect of our work is the opportunity to provide technical assistance (TA) to each of the participating states. We are doing this in collaboration with the Policy Equity Group. What a wonderful opportunity to transform policy and practice and to work closely with these talented and dedicated state teams which include, among others, representatives from the state’s education department and their office for early childhood. As part of this effort, we are working with each state to implement NAFSCE’s Opportunity Canvas, which engages state stakeholders in assessing the state’s strengths and weaknesses in advancing high-impact family engagement.
What particularly excites me about this project is the way states are intentionally engaging internal and external stakeholders in framework development efforts. We don’t want to push these plans on families and community organizations at the final stage and expect a rubber stamp approval. We know that developing these transformational frameworks or roadmaps is just the beginning, and taking them to implementation is where the rubber meets the road. These state stakeholders will not only be involved in the development efforts, but they will co-own these plans and become ambassadors for their advancement.
So, at the invitation of our state teams, I’ve taken to the road to support their efforts, and to present to their stakeholders. In February I traveled to Pennsylvania, and over the past two weeks to Massachusetts and South Carolina. The Pennsylvania event, led by Sue Polojac and her talented team was held in Harrisburg the morning after the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. A little celebrating the night before didn’t prevent more than fifty stakeholders from coming together to discuss their definition for family engagement, learn about national frameworks that support this work, and consider how their framework would meet their state’s unique needs.
In early May, I traveled to Massachusetts, where an impressive team led by Donna Traynum (Mass DoE) conducted three stakeholder events in different regions of the state, with more than 160 diverse stakeholders attending! From the minute the meetings began there was an energy in the rooms that was inspiring. In fact, that was true for all three states I visited. Participants understood and embraced that this project was different than others, and they truly were going to be part of the solution. They talked about the importance of “meeting families where they are” and really understanding how that plays out in planning.
Last week I traveled to South Carolina, and my meetings there exceeded my expectations on many fronts. I learned that South Carolina’s state Superintendent, Molly Spearman, has ingeniously engaged state religious leaders to work in partnership with the SC Department of Education to advance education statewide. More than 1,500 churches across the state provide resources and a unified message in advancing education priorities. She reinstituted an Office for Family Engagement with two full-time staff, led by Yolande Anderson. The office coordinates and orchestrates efforts with staff of several other departments in an exemplary approach to advancing policy and practice for this work. More than 70 people attended their successful stakeholder engagement event with additional meetings planned over the next few months. The next day I was pleased to join representatives from several departments within the Department of Education to debrief the feedback of external stakeholders and to begin discussing the development of their “roadmap” for family engagement in ways that would include the entire agency. I was thrilled to see a model for teamwork among all of the departments and a collective passion for advancing this work.
As CCSSO partners in this State Consortium for Family Engagement, we are all committed to “meeting states where they are.” While some states may have stronger infrastructure, others without the infrastructure may have more expertise. But everyone is moving forward, all involved are incredibly committed, and there is a common belief that developing a roadmap and supporting coalitions will maximize opportunities for sustained impact. We hope this work will inform the State Chiefs across the country to consider how they, too, can have the kind of model infrastructures of South Carolina, and a diverse state coalition that NAFSCE has interest in supporting to turn these plans into action.
Nine additional states will represent cohort-2 as this project continues to grow and evolve. It’s hard to imagine, but over one-third of our country will have birth through grade 12 Family Engagement Frameworks by December 2019. Progress to be sure!