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Spring ISD's mission clearly states the district's charge: to prepare students not only for academic success but to be lifelong learners, critical thinkers and responsible citizens. But the school district can't do it alone. We need the help of the entire community – families, volunteers, business partners, faith-based organizations and social service agencies.
Unfortunately, over the years, we have seen a decrease in volunteers at our campuses and many business partners aren't in regular communication with school leadership. For us to be successful in our mission and to increase student achievement, we need to leverage the resources of the Spring community to support student success. We must build on the partnerships we have in place while launching new programs including stronger, student-focused advisory boards, more meaningful district and campus-based business partnerships, and deeper connections with institutions of higher learning and other postsecondary organizations.
We need students to see examples of community pride and support through the common sight of volunteers in classrooms, community members and school neighbors attending sporting events and fine arts programs, and student mentoring programs. Additionally, we need business partners providing resources for schools and aiding the development of academic programs. Our schools must also serve as a community hub – hosting festivals, fairs, activities and meetings while providing services and resources for families and students.
Each of us has a stake in student success. By working together, we can build a stronger and brighter future for every student. The following strategies will allow the district to foster a culture of high community engagement:
Finding volunteers is not an issue for Spring ISD. Several district campuses have a core group of volunteers that visit the campus daily to assist teachers and administrators with projects. The hard part is expanding those opportunities and developing a consistent districtwide program that not only supports the volunteers on each campus but expands the opportunities that are available for parents, community members and others who are interested in getting involved with our students. We want a pool of volunteers that are reflective of the community we serve.
Through the Office of Family and Community Engagement, we will develop a systematic program that first elevates the importance of volunteerism, then creates a pipeline of volunteers for schools to best utilize the talents of the community. That plan will include attainable recruiting goals, strategies and a new streamlined registration process. Recognitions and the showcasing of outstanding volunteer practices and exemplary projects will continue.
The district's volunteer pool is derived from parents who are already active in school PTOs, PTAs, and booster clubs. Additional support can be found in those who attend field trips, visit the campus, and offer their help in school library and computer labs. By creating and updating a list of opportunities and communicating it often, volunteers can see additional areas where their help is needed.
One area of importance is the district's mentor program. Scheduled to debut in the fall of 2015, the district is working with the ministerial alliance to empower teenage and pre-teenage students to make positive life choices that will maximize their personal and academic potential. It is our hope that this initiative will draw additional school volunteers from the Spring community's diverse resources.
Schools serve as a cornerstone of a community – a school building is the place where parents, neighbors, business partners and students come together with a common goal. In many cases, those stakeholders are cheering on student athletes during a game or applauding their performance at a fine arts event. We would like to take advantage of this camaraderie and apply it to academic achievement.
As campus leaders continue to evolve their parent engagement methods and develop their business partnerships, they must find other ways to make their connections relevant. That includes opening their doors after school hours, serving as a host for community organization meetings, and providing resources for their students and families. As a "town center" they become the heart of the community.
The campus must be friendly, inviting and welcome. School leadership of area schools (feeder patterns) must be connected and communicating often about neighborhood issues. Additionally, campus administrators must be visible and active. They must be seen as a source of information and as true leaders. Business partners should be seen as more than sources of income but true partners – seen often in classrooms, walking campus halls and promoting school functions. When students see those resources working together they come to understand that there is a connected support system supporting their learning.
At the district level, work will need to be done to review our current and prospective partners to match resources with schools that need improvement and assistance. The district may also need to evaluate school attendance zones to ensure parents and communities clearly understand where students live and the schools they will attend.
Our campuses are spread throughout our community; they are easily accessible from major streets and historically have been a source of pride for neighborhoods. This strategy expands on that history.
Collaboration between business and education helps prepare students to graduate from high school prepared to enter the workforce and pursue college. Spring ISD has the luxury of being surrounded by companies that are leaders in key areas – energy, oil and gas, healthcare, automotive, manufacturing. Those companies have developed partnerships that have led to the development of a strong career and technical education program. We would like to build on that and weave this into all grade levels so that students can gain career-based knowledge and skills. Our hope is that students can take advantage of job shadowing and mentoring that eventually evolves into internships and job opportunities.
Community advisory boards serve a great purpose for any school district. In Spring, community groups have provided significant advice and direction for the administration. Their support has helped create new initiatives, increase volunteer support, and evolve academic programs.
To continue building on current district community impact, new advisory groups will be established and others will be expanded and empowered for an even greater impact. Plans are underway to recruit members for a multicultural advisory council that will advise the district on needs that address the district's diverse student body. The group will mirror the district's student population. A business partner advisory council will pull from business leaders in the Spring community and other business partnerships to gather opinions on academic programs and how to align them with changes in the workforce. Additionally, the established parent advisory council, ministerial alliance and superintendent's student advisory council will be evaluated for ways to expand support and participation. Considerations for a staff advisory group and alumni association are also being reviewed.
The Spring ISD Board of Trustees and the administrative team can benefit from additional points of view as they focus on serving the unique needs of every student. These committees and groups provide a significant resource for suggestions ideas, insights and comments on the impact of Spring ISD's work.
Families are a child's first teacher. The learning that occurs in the home before a child steps into a classroom sets the stage for future learning. Once a student starts school, it is imperative that a partnership of respect, trust and support be established between school staff and the student's family. Years of research clearly demonstrates that when schools and families partner in support of a student's learning, he or she will do better in school. This is especially true when schools are able to engage families in ways that connect to learning.
While our schools have involved parents and families, we want to grow and expand the district's approach to family engagement to better connect with every aspect of student learning. This can't just happen at one school or on one level. This must happen across the entire school district – at every single school, at every single level.
According to researchers Anthony W. Jackson and Gayle Andrews Davis, authors of Turning Point 2000: Educating Adolescents in the 21st Century, parents who participate in the decision-making process experience greater feelings of ownership and are more committed to the school's mission. To achieve the district's mission, we must support parents as leaders and equal partners in the decisions that affect their students' learning and development.
The following strategies are targeted at doing just that – engaging our families as partners in student success:
We can't do this alone. Parents are important in student success. But to achieve student success, we must engage parents as partners in learning. We understand students are learning content parents may not have seen in decades, or not at all, and we must provide learning opportunities for parents to support their children in learning. That sounds simple, but it is a balancing act that includes coordinating schedules, delivering the content and addressing the needs of each of our parents. We are up for the challenge and have plans to roll out a full curriculum of free courses, events and activities to equip family members with the skills, knowledge and resources that give them the confidence to be full partners in their student's education. Not just resources for their student but resources for them – adult learning classes, employment preparation ¬workshops and parenting classes. Support doesn't stop at parents. The district must have community partners in local religious organizations, businesses and social service entities that provide support for students and their parents.
Expansion of the family and community engagement department will allow professionals to bridge the gap between schools and parents. These professionals will serve as liaisons for families and as a support system for schools – serving as a point of contact for any parent organization and aiding in the growth of initiatives that support student achievement. This department will also collaborate with district departments that are focused on fostering college and career readiness and connecting families with resources and community partners.
While school staff is primarily focused on developing instructional strategies to increase student achievement, a newly created department – Family and Community Engagement – will develop tools to build capacity to engage and partner with parents. A robust preparation program complete with culture training and language classes will be woven into the district professional development programs to help all school staff – teachers, counselors, principals – understand exactly what parents need and how to deliver the information.
Additionally, we will partner with the Office of School Leadership to identify best practices as they relate to holding parent conferences and meetings, and in developing parent leaders. Those instances will be used as a model for other schools as they work with parents. The site-based decision-making teams at each campus will be developed or strengthened to help leaders involve parents in the decisions that affect their particular student body and community.
Throughout the entire strategic planning process one theme was heard loud and clear – the district needs to improve its channels of communication. Parents asked for more information about their students' school activities and events, and they wanted to be able to reach teachers and administrators quickly. Students asked that important information be easy to find and easy to understand. Business partners and community members requested frequent communication that was open and honest. Employees wanted to hear about district changes, plans and progress, and they wanted to hear it from school district leadership.
To answer the call of our stakeholders, we must evolve in the way we communicate. Gone are the days of basic one-way communications tools. Instead, we need to reach our diverse populations wherever they are and tell our story in their language and style. We must increase communication between school and home and offer a more collaborative approach for parents, community members and business partners to share their feedback and suggestions.
Unfortunately, many of our current communications tools and methods do not offer the ability for us to foster that type of engagement. That's why we will implement the following strategies:
Our goal is to ensure that families, community members, staff and the media receive accurate and timely information. As initiatives and programs within the district develop at a rapid pace, keeping these stakeholders informed can be a challenge. Add in the speed with which news often travels, and the difficulty increases. Using direction from the communications audit conducted by Battelle for Kids in 2014, we will develop a comprehensive communications plan to guide the way we communicate and address both of these challenges. The strategic plan will direct our efforts.
One of the first orders of business is to review the structure of the communications department to ensure every member of the team is able to respond to the needs of the growing and changing district. As the face and voice of Spring ISD, the team must be cross-trained and capable of responding immediately to campus or district-level needs, using all available communication tools. In line with that, the department must also establish a clear brand identity and develop collateral – written and visual communications – that is in line with the brand.
The district and campus websites will be redesigned to improve navigation and ease of use. They will be highlighted as the primary source of school and district information and employ updated features to draw viewers, including video, dynamic photos and social media links.
Employees are key stakeholders that should be a part of any communication strategy. We must keep them abreast of key district initiatives, changes and updates so that they can respond to questions with facts. This is especially important when addressing safety issues and during crisis management. Working hand-in-hand with Human Resources we will implement a communications plan to help new and current staff understand the district's key messages. We will continue to use the district intranet to relay information, but we will reformat it so that information is better organized and easier to locate. We will continue to support the key district administrators as they communicate new district initiative. We must continue supporting schools in their outreach to families and the community by training principals and sharing communication tools.
An effort to improve relationships with local media outlets is also a key component of the strategy. Often, these outlets can help the district share accurate and important information. More proactive media relations efforts are planned, including inviting media representatives to campus events and frequently sending stories and news to local newspapers, bloggers and televisions stations.
Families have indicated that they are interested in knowing what is happening at their student's school, but they were also quick to point out that the information should be easy to find and accessible via a variety of methods. Frankly, parents want the information in the way that most suits their needs. This may include automated phone messages, emails, text messages, website postings, personal phone calls, social media, letters sent home or in-person communications. We plan to immediately move forward with brand-new tools and methods that offer better ways to tell the district's success stories, highlight the achievements of our students, announce events and activities, and showcase our employees.
We are committed to launching a mobile app in the 2015-16 school year. The app will be available on smart phones and other digital devices so that parents and students can quickly access news, calendars, lunch menus, transportation routes, and contact information for teachers and school leadership. To streamline communications, academics and communications will work to expand use of the parent portal and integrate any additional external applications into the district's tool. The newly designed websites will also incorporate responsive design to make visiting school and district websites an easy experience from any device - desktop computer monitors, tablets and mobile phones. They will also be accessible via the mobile app. In addition, social media will be better utilized to share district and school news. We will review the use of our current automated notification system to ensure we have the best impact.
The district will continue to expand its use of language translation and interpretation services to allow even more families and community members to receive timely information in the language that is most appropriate.
With more than 37,000 students in the district, there is not a perfect formula to reach every parent exactly how they want to be reached. By offering additional channels in addition to our current practices, we hope that parents and our community are able to choose exactly how they receive information.
One of the foundational aspects of effective community engagement is having strong two-way communications among all stakeholders. Simply pushing out information about the district and school initiatives is not enough.
A key element in the district's plan is to not only share in an open and honest way, but to encourage stakeholders to share their own comments, suggestions and critiques about their Spring ISD experience. This open dialogue will allow us to gather insights from students, parents, businesses and community members about what is truly needed to make our students more successful. A communications tool, "elevate," which provides stakeholders a direct channel to district departments — including the superintendent — will be rolled out in the fall of 2015. This tool will not only gather the information but will allow the district to analyze the data and address any patterns through training, staff development or transition.
Additionally, we will work with workforce development to provide ongoing training and support for administrators to help them effectively communicate with staff and the community.
There is only one solution for establishing two-way communications – that is to provide forums to hear from stakeholders who have concerns and needs. The strategies above are merely the first step. As need arises, we will continue to find ways to keep the lines of communication open.
- Percentage of schools with an active PTA or PTO
- Percentage of stakeholders participating and engaged/highly engaged with Spring ISD
- Parent rating of overall quality of education provided by Spring ISD
- Increased two-way communication with parents and stakeholders
- Number of student-enrichment opportunities with higher education or business partners