A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Family Involvement in Children's Education - October 1997

Wendell Phillips Visual and Performing Arts Magnet:

An Open-Door Policy for Inner-City Parents
Kansas City Public Schools
Kansas City, Missouri


A goal of Phillips Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School is to empower families and school staff by making them equally responsible for student learning. It is exemplified by the staff and principal's open door policy--parents are always encouraged to voice their opinion and participate in school activities. Each day, the Title I-funded parent-community liaison coordinates parent participation in activities such as the school's active tutoring program and provides family outreach and support services designed to draw parents into their children's educational lives. In January 1996, Phillips adopted the Accelerated Schools approach to learning that seeks to raise student achievement through a learning environment built around high expectations and substantial parent involvement. The principal, teachers, students, parents, and interested community members all participate in setting goals under this approach.

Students at Phillips concentrate not only on excelling academically but also on the arts. The school has music labs, a fully equipped dance studio, and an art studio; it also employs full-time staff members who specialize in each of these areas.


Phillips, a schoolwide program, is located in the inner city within blocks of the historic section of Kansas City. Years ago much of the neighborhood housing was demolished to make room for a freeway, but today moderate and low-income housing units are being built as part of the revitalization of the local neighborhood. The neighborhood around the school is predominantly African American, and Phillips' student population of about 400 students in grades K-5 is 70 percent African American, 22 percent white, and 8 percent Hispanic. Most students are from moderate to low-income households located within ten miles of the school, 79 percent are eligible for free or reduced price lunches, and at least 33 percent come from single-parent families.

Breaking Down Barriers to Family Involvement

A major goal of Phillips' parent involvement efforts is to build trust between the school and parents, many of whom live in poverty. To do this, the school works to meet those family needs (such as transportation and child care) that will help draw parents into the school, offers information and training to support parent involvement, and actively solicits and implements parents' advice on school-related decisions.

"We will have a school that addresses the needs of all students. We recognize that to be successful in this endeavor we must include and involve all entities surrounding each child. Therefore, the major components of our plan will be: school, parents, and the community working together collaboratively to support the academic, emotional, and cultural development of our children."

Principal, Wendell Phillips Visual and Performing Arts Magnet

Overcoming Time and Resource Constraints

In a high-poverty school like Phillips, administrators recognize that family problems can be overwhelming at times--for both the individual family members and the school staff who work with them. Phillips ranks among its top priorities not only finding time for teachers to work with families but also meeting families' needs for transportation and child care. Simply getting parents into the school is often key to laying the foundation for a successful partnership.

Finding time for teachers. Using Title I funds, Wendell Phillips hired a full-time parent-community liaison in 1995. She helps organize all school-family events, allowing teachers and principals to devote more time to meeting with parents to discuss student learning and spend less time making logistical and administrative arrangements. The liaison keeps teachers informed about family needs, makes referrals for students with medical or behavioral needs, and helps teachers spread information on school-related issues to all parents. For example, last year the liaison led an orientation for parents on state and district policies on attendance, discipline, bussing, grading procedures, and educational goals and objectives. She also discussed parents' rights and responsibilities under the Title I program. In addition, the liaison visits parents at home--often in the evening or on weekends--or at work, or calls them if their children are having problems or not attending school. Each week, she averages about ten home visits.

Helping families find the time and other resources to support their children's education. The liaison schedules all school meetings at times when parents can conveniently attend. Given that this magnet school draws students from different parts of the city, the liaison finds parents' transportation to be essential to parent attendance. She arranges carpools, picks up parents, and occasionally sends a taxi for parents who need transportation. Also, she ensures that babysitting is available for those parents who are unable to attend unless they bring their small children. This year the school plans to serve food at meetings and activities to attract those parents who might come straight from work.

The liaison also responds to staff concerns that some students have personal needs that interfere with their overall academic progress. For instance, in 1995-96 the faculty noted that some students needed haircuts, so the school brought in a barber who gave 15 haircuts to students each month. This year, the school arranged for parents who work as barbers to visit the school every Monday to give haircuts to students who need them. The liaison said that improving students' self-image can often lead to improvement in their self-confidence and ability to concentrate on schoolwork. School staff also arranged to provide warm clothing, eyeglasses, and dental work for students in need.

Providing Information and Training to Parents and School Staff

Through workshops and outreach activities, the parents of children attending Wendell Phillips can learn skills and strategies to form a meaningful home-school partnership.

Training parents to support children's academic progress. Phillips provides training to teach parents and other caregivers to support children's academic progress. For example, Wendell Phillips pays for parents to attend a two-day regional conference sponsored by the National Coalition of Title I/Chapter 1 parents that focuses on making parents more aware of the issues concerning their child's education. Topics covered include strategies to assist students with reading at home, standards and assessments, effective discipline, and understanding the Title I program. At least five parents and three staff members from Wendell Phillips attended in spring 1997; they will report what they learned to other parents in late April.

Additionally, in spring 1997 Wendell Phillips invited parents to attend two strategy sessions to generate ideas for information and training to improve the school climate. One session specifically targets parent involvement activities, and participants planned the following parent workshops for the 1997–98 school year:

Other workshops for parents have included:

Generally, about 35 to 50 parents attend these workshops, which are held in the morning or evening to accommodate their work schedules. In addition to workshops, Phillips sometimes offers lengthier parent courses. For example, during 1995-96 approximately 50 parents from Phillips and other area schools attended a six-week course for parents called Love and Logic, in which a local psychologist taught parenting skills. And in fall 1997 a parent who is a computer programmer will offer a computing course.

Training parents to participate in decision-making. Phillips actively involves parents in the planning, implementation, and review of the schoolwide program. After determining the times when most parents can attend (Saturday, Sunday, and evening meetings are not uncommon), the regular site-based management School Advisory Council (SAC) meetings typically attract 50 to 100 parents each month. SAC meetings incorporate Title I issues and training, such as an overview and history of the Title I program, a review of program services and eligibility, and discussion of the Phillips schoolwide program plan for the upcoming year.

"It is crucial that parents are part of planning, even though they are having a hard time understanding that the school wants them to be part of the decision-making process."

Parent/community liaison, Phillips Magnet

Restructuring Schools to Support Family Involvement

Through the newly adopted Accelerated Schools approach, the schoolwide program, and the site-based management SAC, parents and teachers play new and expanded roles in school restructuring. They regularly make decisions about curriculum and instruction, parent involvement, and strategies for using resources to maximize student progress.

Parents as partners in schoolwide restructuring. In the hopes of enriching the learning process for disadvantaged students, Phillips adopted the Accelerated Schools approach in January 1996. The model, designed by Henry Levin at Stanford University, is guided by three overarching principles: unity of purpose, empowerment, and building on strengths. Accelerated Schools strive to create a learning environment distinguished by high expectations for students,high status for teachers, and substantial involvement by parents. The model is based on the premise that a school's fundamental purpose is to ensure that every student achieves at least at grade level by the time he or she leaves the school.

The model calls for each school to tailor other goals by engaging the principal, teachers, students, parents, and interested community members in serious reflection and debate. By joining not only cadres that are formed to deal with specific problems but also steering committees that oversee all school activities, administrators, teachers, and especially parents play a key role in determining curriculum and instruction. For example, Phillips parents recently voiced a desire for higher science standards, and asked for a greater emphasis on biology at an earlier age. In addition, eight parents and faculty members to date have been trained as coaches, who encourage all school staff, including janitors and bus drivers, to participate in determining what goals the school should strive to accomplish. Coaches also train school staff to evaluate the school program.

Parents and teachers collaborate to plan the schoolwide program, including how to spend the parent involvement program budget (about $2,500). Last year, approximately 25 parents attended, brainstormed, and voted at each of two meetings of the parent budget planning meetings; they decided to use some of these funds to present the six-week course on Love and Logic. This year the parent-community liaison hopes they will support the use of a portion of Title I funds for a family night dedicated to improving students' reading skills.

Also, during the 1995-96 school year, parents, teachers, and the principal developed a home-school compact in response to the new Title I requirement. It consists of three separate pledges that participants sign:

Parents and teachers also collaborate to make decisions through the SAC. For example, during 1996, parents requested that the SAC address the timing of student report cards. Many parents said they wanted to know about student progress earlier in order to intervene if necessary. Brainstorming sessions led parents and teachers to agree that a new academic progress form would be sent home every two weeks; the form indicates assignments completed, assignments not completed, and the quality of student work. This form ensures that parents are kept abreast of their children's academic performance between report cards and thus know what to expect when the cumulative quarterly grades come home.

Building parent involvement around family needs. The liaison solicits input from parents on school programs through surveys (conducted twice a year) and through the informal polling of parents who attend school functions. Other informal discussions--held as parents drop off and pick up students in front of the school--also help the liaison learn of parents' needs. With this information she can determine the demand for services such as transportation and babysitting and tailor workshops and programs to address parents' concerns.

New uses of school space. Wendell Phillips operates a parent resource area located in the administration office, where parents can check out educational kits and videos, how-to materials, books, tapes, and more to give them the skills and resources to help their children with both schoolwork and homework. For example, parents can check out videos and tapes on topics such as phonics and parenting skills as well as reading, math, and writing textbooks. The area is open all day, and an average of 10 to 15 parents visit daily. Further, parents can use the school's computer lab (when students are not using it) for their own personal use or to help their children with homework or schoolwork.

Encouraging parental participation; the Wendell Phillips 3000 Gold Club. The school offers incentives to encourage parents to participate in school events, such as tutoring or serving as chaperons for field trips. Parents earn points for attending school programs and SAC or committee meetings, accompanying classes on field trips, tutoring children at school, and supervising class parties. They can also earn points for completing home learning activities, such as reading with their child, taking them to the library, or helping teachers with forms for progress reports or census cards. The school honors parents who earn points at an awards banquet/ceremony held in June, and parents earn prizes donated by local businesses.

Evidence of Success

The principal and liaison report that parent involvement activities, both academically oriented events and those involving parents in school decision-making, are well attended. For example:

In addition, the liaison reports that, as a result of her efforts and those of the principal and a core of involved parents, parents at the school have become increasingly aware of the schoolwide program requirements, including the expectation that they will take an active part in their children's education. In support of this, a parent commented about the September orientation meeting, "It's so good to start a year when you feel like everyone is working together!"


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