As part of a multi-pronged effort to increase support for public education in North Carolina, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation commissioned a statewide survey in 2015. A clear theme has emerged from that research and from continuing conversations with leaders across the state: educators and parents are eager for authentic partnerships with one another to help students reach their highest potential. Parents explain that they view schools as a primary partner in raising their children. Educators emphasize that parent engagement is critical to students’ academic success. For each child to thrive, it is important that these two powerful forces – parents and educators – have strong, clear channels of communication and collaboration.
Parents for Public Schools of Pitt County (PPS-PC), a ZSR grantee, is working to build and strengthen those channels. PPS-PC’s work is grounded in the belief that “true education reform, excellent schools, and successful students are most possible when parents are effective and engaged advocates for public education.” To that end, PPS-PC has designed a leadership initiative called the Parent Engagement Program that deepens parental understanding of education policies and school systems. Local schools in Pitt County benefit from the leadership program, because each participant ultimately designs and implements a project to improve student learning. Examples of these projects include establishing an interpreter program for non-English speaking families and coordinating the launch of a community wide literacy initiative.
PPS-PC also works to provide parents a meaningful opportunity to influence school- and district-level decision making. Through the Community Conversations program, PPS-PC leaders go out into the Pitt County community – to places of work, churches, civic gatherings – to gather feedback and insight from community members regarding public education. PPS-PC’s analysis of these conversations is synthesized and directly supplied to Pitt County school leaders. Thus, Pitt County parents have an avenue to voice their appreciation of and concerns about what happens in their child’s school. Pitt County Schools’ leaders and educators also benefit as the Community Conversations report provides them with important context and guidance for sustaining what works and for making improvements to better support students.
As North Carolinians consider how to improve public education, it is important to appreciate the power of creating time and space for our children’s greatest advocates – parents and teachers – to work together. ZSR is committed to ensuring that each child in North Carolina lives up to his or her potential. With organizations like PPS-PC working alongside Pitt County parents and educators, we are one significant step closer to achieving this goal.