Participants wanted to see greater involvement in schools from both students’ families and community members. They expressed frustration at the lack of engagement and indicated that it is a major contributor to poor school performance. As such, many participants called for parents not only to engage with schools but also to demand a better education for their children.
However, we also heard that one reason parents do not engage at the level they might want to is that many schools are not welcoming environments. Participants across the city shared stories about being disrespected by school staff, talked down to, or ignored. In addition, many parents and community members are unsure of how to advocate for students, and the negative experiences they have had with schools only push them further away. We heard stories from many people who had volunteered to help at schools only to be rebuffed and, more commonly, from people who wanted to help but had no idea what the school needed or how to engage with the school in a productive way.
To address some of these challenges, conversation participants suggested that all schools should have community liaisons. These individuals would be able to build relationships in neighborhoods and then foster parents’ and community members’ engagement with the schools. We also heard suggestions that these liaisons should be from the communities they aim to engage, as personal relationships are critical for getting people and organizations involved.