Positive Parent Engagement: Tips from a School Administrator

Schools play an instrumental role in parental involvement and engagement in schools. The level of engagement depends on how much you want to engage. Parental involvement in the school and educational environment plays a pivotal role in the children’s education. When it is purposeful, meaningful and ongoing there can be so many positive impacts for children, families, teachers and school administration. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention define parent engagement in schools as “a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to reaching out to engage parents in meaningful ways, and parents are committed to actively supporting their children’s and adolescents’ learning and development.”

I sat with a local district school administrator, parent, and former teacher Susana Cuevas (SC), and asked her what she thought about parent engagement.

LMD: Susan, tell me, how did you get parents engaged at your school site? You’re a working mom. How do you manage to be involved with your children’s school?

 SC: As a former school site administrator and mom of two, parent engagement is not an easy topic to discuss.  As an administrator you want parents to actively participate in workshops, parent council meetings, and if possible volunteer at the school a few times a week, but the reality is that you get a core group of moms and if you’re lucky one or two dads that you can count on to attend.

LMD: When do you see parents come out?

SC: When we had our Halloween Parade, Winter Program, Spring Recital, Open House, and Back to School Night, parent turnout was triple what it was at these other activities for parents.

LMD: Why do you think that is?

SC: I couldn’t understand why, until I became a mom.

As a working parent, taking time off to attend workshops, council meetings, etc. that are held during the day is not an easy thing to do. I have to make sure that I don’t have a meeting or presentation to attend so that I can participate at my son’s school events.  When I was a school site administrator, it was worse because most of the events I scheduled for my students parents were on the same days that my son’s school scheduled their events.  

LMD: I can understand how that can be challenging. How do you manage it?

SC: How do I do both?  I can’t, and I had to come to terms with this as did my boys. I am lucky that my husband is self-employed so his schedule allows him the flexibility to attend a lot of these events. While they are glad that their dad is there, I know that they want me to participate as well.

I remember I time, my son’s class put on a play. My husband went to see it the first day and said my son did a really great job. I was so proud of him and wished I had been able to see him. He then came to me excited and said, “Mom, I know you’re working and it’s hard for you to take time off but we are doing the play again at 8:30am and 12:00pm.  Do you think your boss will let you come see me?”  It just broke my heart! I told him I would see what I could do but no promises.  He responded with, “I know mom, but maybe you can come.” I decided to surprise him, and I took my lunch break to surprise him and went to his play.  He was so happy to see me as was I to be there. My lunch break was a bit longer than expected, but it was well worth it to see the smile on my son’s face when he saw me.

So as an administrator, I no longer strive to have 100, 75, or even 50 percent parent participation at workshops, meetings, etc. because I realize that it is not a realistic expectation.  

Most working parents are not going to be able to attend all events nor should school site administrators expect parents to do so.  Be thankful that you have that core group of parents at the school site that is there to help and represent those of us who can’t be there.

As a parent, I am learning to participate and support my boys’ schools by doing things from home such as cutting paper, putting together booklets, etc. or by donating things whenever I am asked.  To me this is parent engagement, doing what you can when you can to show your children and the school that you care.

LMD: Thank you Susan, for sharing how you manage to be a working parent and still participate, volunteer and stay engaged at your children’s school.

I can agree with you that it’s possible if you develop a good relationship with your children’s teacher and school-site so that all parents can have positive parent participation and engagement.

COMADRE TIP:

**You should know about the Family-School Partnership Act: California Law that allows parents, grandparents and guardians to take time off from work to attend school meetings and events related to your children’s school or childcare activities.**

What do you think?

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Lisette Medina Duarte

Lisette Medina Duarte

Co-Chair at State Council on Developmental Disabilities

Lisette Medina-Duarte is a bilingual Los Angeles native. She grew up in Northeast Los Angeles’ Highland Park and graduated from Franklin High School. She continues to live in Highland park with her husband and her two children, who are on the autism spectrum. One of her children is in a charter school and the other is in a traditional public school. She has a strong passion and commitment to working with underserved and underprivileged communities. She is a grassroots organizer for social justice and educational advocacy, disability rights, equality and inclusions for African American and Latino communities of Greater Los Angeles.

In addition to managing multiple outreach, volunteer, and advocacy campaigns, Lisette’s 20 years of administrative experience have included fundraising, engagement, events, and sponsorship procurement. She has served on several local and school district leadership committees, facilitates parent groups, conducts workshops, and is often invited to speak at conferences. She is currently a member of the advisory board for UCLA’s Tarjan Center and a member of the Empowerment Congress. She was appointed by former Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina to the state Council on Developmental Disabilities. She is also a member of the Community Police Advisory Board for the Northeast Los Angeles Police Department. She is also a consultant and board member for several California nonprofits. She works as a senior coordinator in field operations and development for a national nonprofit organization and is responsible for serving Los Angeles County, Orange County, and San Diego County.

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