Innovations in Education: Successful Charter Schools
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Partnering With Parents and the Community

At each of these schools, the culture forged around a shared educational vision creates a strong sense of community. Parents choose to send their children, and students know why they are there. The schools tend to be small, which itself allows an intimacy and face-to-face recognition not possible in larger schools. But their family-like feel is intentional, part of the school design. As one teacher explained, "We see the whole school as an extended family." Teachers reach out to create a connection between home and school environments. At Community of Peace Academy, teachers begin the school year with home visits to meet the families and learn about students' home environments. Parents repeatedly commented that they appreciate how frequently teachers communicate with families. Every teacher at KIPP Academy Houston is accessible by cell phone, taking calls until 8:30 at night from students and parents. The sense of shared commitment by parents and staff is formalized in most of these schools in a signed compact like that of the Community of Peace Academy shown in figure 7.

The fact that students are never assigned to a charter school, but are there as a conscious choice, helps create a voluntary civic community.6 In the schools visited for this guide, the tremendous commitment on the part of the teachers, parents, community members, administrators, and students was palpable. For some, the creation and development of their school community has involved unexpected challenges, including political conflicts, facility nightmares, and funding struggles, to name a few. But with the generosity of community partners, who have donated everything from office space and auditorium facilities to new reading programs and a music teacher, who have served on the schools' boards and mobilized parents, these charter schools have become part of the fiber of the local communities that they serve.

Figure 7. Community of Peace Parent Compact

Community of Peace Academy
Home/School Compact

The School Will

  • Teach and model a non-violent lifestyle.
  • Treat parents with care and respect.
  • Provide a Family Handbook in English and Hmong.
  • Visit the home of each parent in the fall of each school year.
  • Return phone calls in a timely manner.
  • Meet with parents upon request.
  • Conduct Parent/Mentor/Teacher/Student Conferences in August, November, and March.
  • Provide Parent/Mentor Nights at least semi-monthly.
  • Provide a Home/School Liaison to assist parents/mentors.
  • Translate important information into the Hmong language.
  • Provide child care and interpreters for conferences and meetings.
  • Provide transportation to important meetings and conferences as needed.
  • Provide a monthly calendar and newsletter for all parents.

The Parent/Mentor Will

  • Teach and model a non-violent lifestyle.
  • Treat school staff with care and respect.
  • Read the Family Handbook and High School Handbook and support the philosophy and policies therein.
  • See that the child is in school and on time every day.
  • See that the school has accurate emergency numbers, phone numbers, and addresses for the parent/mentor at all
  • Attend Parent/Mentor Registration Night and all scheduled conferences and meetings concerning their child, or call the school prior to the meeting if not able to attend.
  • Return phone calls and answer requests for meetings and conferences in a timely manner.
  • Return important school documents in a timely manner.
  • Support the community as able by attending Parent Nights, volunteering, and attending school events.

Names and grad levels of children attending Community of Peace Academy

Name                   Grade

Name                  Grade
School Official:___________________________


Parent involvement is widely recognized as a benefit to children and schools, and these charter schools engage parents as authentic partners at many different levels. Parents at Roxbury Prep, KIPP, and BASIS formally agree to support their children through these schools' very demanding academic requirements. At Oglethorpe, parents sign a contract to provide 20 service hours annually (see figure 8). Parents were often visible at these schools, helping in classrooms, supervising student activities, and organizing school programs. At all these schools, parents serve on governing boards of directors, making policy decisions that shape the schools' operations and futures.

Figure 8: Oglethorpe Parent Volunteer Options
How Do You Earn Volunteer Hours?

Parent volunteers are a critical component of our program at Oglethorpe Academy. In fact, all parents at Oglethorpe sign a contract agreeing to serve the school for 10 hours (if single) or 20 hours (couples).

We provide many activities for which you may "earn" hours:

  • Attending day-time school events and field trips
  • Extra-curricular parent-planned dances and parties
  • Preparing food for special school events
  • Attending school functions (athletics, concerts)
  • Parent conferences
  • Saturday workdays to spruce up our facilities
  • Working in the media center
  • Assisting with health screenings
  • Acting as a team coach or coordinator
  • Leading a club
  • Working from home: collecting box tops, pop tops, completing character assignments, doing research, etc.
  • Participating in committee work
  • Serving on the Governing Board

Parents are provided with a quarterly "report card" (sample attached) so that they can monitor their progress. To ensure that all families do their fair share, only those families who have fulfilled their family contract are allowed to re-enroll their students at Oglethorpe Academy for the following year.

We believe that parent participation is part of our student success formula!

Some of the schools see that supporting parent education is part of their broad commitment to the community, as well as a way to support student learning. Gates, for example, opens up its computer lab for English as a second language classes (see figure 9) and also provides Spanish classes for parents, in keeping with its focus on bilingualism.

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Last Modified: 06/23/2009