Harnessing the Power of Family Engagement

August 16, 2016 |

We MUST include the family-1Chisholm Trail High School in Fort Worth’s Eagle Mountain-Saginaw Independent School District isn’t easing back into school mode.

It is bursting into the 2016-17 school year with drums, trumpets, cheerleaders, dancers, and a direct message from Principal Dana Barnes:

With everything we do, we MUST include the family.

This week, Chisholm Trail High staffers and administrators experienced a high-energy back-to-school rally and celebration featuring rousing performances by the school band, cheerleaders, dancers, fellow staffers, and a passionate pep talk on family engagement by Dr. Barnes.

Chisholm Trail cheerleaders celebrate the start of a new school year at a back-to-school rally.

Barnes is fresh out of a weeklong professional development program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) titled Family Engagement in Education: Creating Effective Home and School Partnerships for Student Success. Dr. Karen Mapp, a senior lecturer on education at the HGSE and the faculty director of the Education Policy and Management Master’s Program, facilitated the course. Raise Your Hand Texas sponsored Barnes for the course, which outfits public school principals with structures to foster staff, family, and community collaboration to improve student outcomes.

CTHS-1Barnes said attending the Principal’s Center at Harvard and “being exposed to Dr. Karen Mapp, and what she and her Harvard family have been able to accomplish with family engagement,” was invaluable.

“As schools, we have got to open up our doors to families,” Barnes said. “We’ve got to quit thinking we’re the superior, knowledgeable ones. As high schools, family engagement is key. If [principals] truly want to see their kids be successful then they need to step back and realize it takes a community effort to come together to help our kids today.”

Chisholm Trail’s efforts to get families and the community involved in every aspect of school — from academics and sports to mentoring — are not new. When Barnes accepted the job as principal two years ago, she told her superintendent her primary focus would be on family engagement, culture, and social-emotional relationships.

“Give me a couple of years to do that,” Barnes then said, “and I assure you the acDana Barnes-1ademic [improvement] will automatically come.”

Sure enough, according to Barnes, it did.

“We were able to achieve state distinctions and close the achievement gap with our students,” she said.

The expert instruction Barnes received during her week at Harvard gave her more data to share with her staff and an outline for executing on effective family engagement processes. It also validated her beliefs about the importance of acknowledging and harnessing the power of parents, guardians, and community members.

“Our families are our key to our success,” Barnes told her staff at the back-to-school rally. “Our students deserve all of us to be one. And you have done an amazing thing to get us there.”

Principal Dana Barnes rallies her staff and administrators to focus on family this year.


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