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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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New parent engagement paras at MPS will be tasked with bringing more parents into the building and into the education of their children.
New parent engagement paras at MPS will be tasked with bringing more parents into the building and into the education of their children. (Photo: Milwaukee Public Schools)

New coordinator position ought to bolster schools' parent engagement

Most everyone seems to agree that parent involvement and community engagement are among the key factors for school success (though there is conflicting research out there, too, that says having involved parents offers a child no guarantee of success and can even inhibit student success as parents are distracted by bake sales and politics).

If MPS schools have been charged in the past with failing to properly engage parents, families and communities, that ought to change with the hiring at every school of a 30-hour para-professional whose job is to reach out to and collaborate with parents and the community.

The key word is "ought," because, of course, the success will depend not only on the skills of the folks hired for the positions – which pay $15.88-$17.60 an hour and include benefits – but also on the support they receive from staff and administration in their respective buildings and central office.

And parents and communities have to want to be engaged. It is not enough to say, "engage me." Meaningful engagement is a two-way street that will almost surely be lined with some potholes and road blocks that will require determination and cooperation to overcome.

This work will have to be more active, more interactive, more relationship-based, more inclusive, than things like MPS’ District Advisory Council, at which school representatives show up to a monthly meeting to hear announcements and then eat. (Frankly, parents attending those meetings would often be better served by going upstairs to watch and participate in the school board meeting, which is typically scheduled concurrently.)

According to the district’s position description for the post, the duties of the school-based Parent Engagement Para-professionals position are:

  • Meets with principals, teachers and other school personnel to discuss strategies for improving parental engagement and school-community partnership.
  • Greets parents and community members who enter the building and assists them in reaching their destination.
  • Works closely with other members of the parent component in carrying out the development, implementation and assessment of the Title I Educational Plan.
  • Engages in activities which promote communication and understanding between the parent, school and the community.
  • At the request of the principal or the designees, plane and holds ongoing activities that attract and retain parents-families to the school.
  • Develops and conducts training for parents/families and volunteers that will enable them to work more effectively with their children in order to raise achievement and close the achievement gap.
  • Assists in developing and maintaining parent centers at the school for the dissemination of information, resources and training.
  • Engages in activities designed to broaden self-awareness of effective strategies for working with parents such at reading literature, attending in-services and/or classes/seminars. Uses strategies in training and dissemination of information to parents/families.
  • Attends meetings as required.
  • Actively supports the MPS Strategic Plan.
  • Performs other duties as assigned.

This week, school interview teams are interviewing candidates for the positions, which presumably go into effect for the new academic year.

It remains to be seen how well this new position will work to spark closer ties and more developed, useful relationships between schools and the parents, families and communities of the children they serve, but it’s encouraging to see MPS make the commitment to giving it a try.

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