If you’re a busy parent, attending an evening school event might feel like a stretch at the end of a long day. Or maybe you work nights and can’t attend PTA meetings or curriculum nights. You remind yourself you are your child’s best advocate but wonder if there are other ways to engage with your child’s education.
In Highline Public Schools, you have a menu of options for connecting with your child’s teacher, school, and district leaders.
Building Powerful Partnerships Between Parents and Teachers
Each Highline school is unique and has family engagement opportunities geared to its community. Check out your school’s website and social media to find out what’s happening. Your school might offer Family Art Fridays or Coffee, Tea, or Atole with the Principal. Some schools have parent-teacher organizations (including but not limited to PTA) that support school needs and provide a net- work for families learning to navigate the school system. Elementary schools have family liaisons dedicated to connecting families and schools.
Take a look through Highline’s Family Engagement Catalog, which lists different types of family engagement activities. If you see something you would like to bring to your school, talk to your teacher or family liaison about ways to make it happen.
Creating a Culture of Family Engagement
“We want parents to engage with schools in ways that work for them,” says Lolita O’Donnell, Director of Family and Community Partnerships.
O’Donnell and her team of family engagement specialists and family liaisons support a culture of family engagement throughout the district. Her team trains teachers in strategies for communicating and building relationships with families and creates opportunities for schools and parents to partner in their child’s development.
One example is the district’s Parent University for families of kindergarteners and students new to Highline Public Schools. The program prepares parents to navigate a new and unfamiliar school system.
“Parent University is a stepping stone to future engagement opportunities,” said O’Donnell. “My team is working with parents and community organizations to put systems in place so families feel welcome to have conversations at the school level.”
Influencing Policy and Programs
For those who want to influence broader school issues like district policy, new curriculum, or other major decisions, there are several ways to get involved. Parents and community members can attend a school board meeting and make public comment. They can email their elected school board directors directly.
Seats open up annually on the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee (CFAC), which guides school renovation and rebuilding projects. Committees are formed to provide input on new curriculum, as needed.
One of the most influential bodies is the Superintendent’s Family Action Committee (FAC), made up of parent representatives from every school in the district. FAC works directly with the superintendent to bring family voice to district-level decision-making.
FAC members represent the diversity in the Highline school community, including parents of children with special needs, those whose first language is not English, and families experiencing homelessness.
FAC member Fred Swanson says when families are involved, schools are more student-centered and culturally responsive. “Getting to know our kids’ teachers and administrators, sharing our excitement and our concerns, asking questions–all of this makes our schools stronger and ensures that our kids are able to be successful.”
The Family Action Committee will begin looking for new members this April.