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    Hawthorne Elementary Recognized Nationally for Family Partnerships Strategies
    Posted on 10/26/2018
    Hawthorne family partnership team

    Hawthorne Elementary Recognized Nationally for Family Partnerships Strategies

    For the fourth consecutive year, Hawthorne Elementary received the nationally prestigious John Hopkins University’s National Network of Partnerships Schools (NNPS) Award. The Hawthorne community is being recognized for their notable achievements in applying research-based approaches to strengthening and sustaining family and community engagement.

    NNPS commended Hawthorne Elementary as an “emerging national leader on partnership program development” based on their submissions of documented school-wide activities and engagement plans aimed at closing the achievement gap.

    How does a school truly partner with parents and families? What does it look like to aim for inclusivity? To understand best practice, we sat down with 10 members of Hawthorne’s program of school, family, and community partnerships to dive deeper into family partnerships strategies. The interviewees included school leaders, educators, parent representation, and support staff.

    Family Partnerships: What is it?

    Family Partnerships are buzzwords for some, with varied meanings for different people. For the Hawthorne Elementary School community, the work of partnering with families is multi-faceted.

    Principal Sandra Scott believes that engagement looks different for everyone. She works to create an environment where every family feels welcome in the school and talents are nurtured. “I’m proud of the fact that we accept every student that comes through our door every day. We have high expectations for students and that parent voice is key.”

    Behnosh Najafi, co-president of Friends of Hawthorne (FOH), Hawthorne’s PTA, shares that the uniqueness of her school community is attributed to the fact that, “parents are invested in the entire community and the success of all the children. It’s seen and visible.”

    Eight years ago, Hawthorne’s school enrollment numbers were low, and the school was designated for school improvement by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the state education agency for Washington. Schools identified in this way receive additional support from the state to enhance academic achievement and school culture.

    Hawthorne school business officer and head teacher Eileen Gray remembers that time well. “Because we were under a school improvement grant, we had to do things differently. We couldn’t just take a template and plop it on.” With the new vision to improve school culture and academic achievement, Hawthorne assembled a design team of staff, parents, and local community members. The top priorities of the team included strengthening family partnerships through the transformation of communication. Families received language specific notifications through robocalls, text reminders, hallway communication, school bulletins, and word of mouth.

    FOH made significant shifts in recruitment strategies, partnering with historically underrepresented families to improve participation; including more inclusive language in membership forms, inviting people as participants in school decision-making, and encouraging families to share their strengths in authentic ways.

    Parent Mayra Cruz shares in Spanish, “I feel like we’re a family, even though there is a language barrier. I can always come and ask the teachers what’s going on and if anything happens they allow me to come in. The school has open doors.”

    The Hawthorne community thrives through collaboration with parents as key partners in their students’ education. Through school-wide coffee chat events, Spanish speaking families expressed their interest in computer classes to better engage with their students’ learning experience. “Whatever we need, it’s made to happen, and we feel supported,” Cruz says of the impact of receiving the classes after they were requested.

    Parent Marcela Serritos holds much wisdom on the transformation of the Hawthorne community. With the experience of three different school principals in her time at Hawthorne, she notes the increase of family participation and engagement. “[In the beginning] language barriers were challenging. Now I have more options because they [the school] provides language translation.” She is particularly proud of the growth of the now annual Dia de los Muertos school-wide event. “Parents did it and took it over and started the ball rolling. There were 30 people [in attendance] the first year and now 90 percent of the school comes. It’s because we are collaborating and working together.”

    Sharing Power and Responsibility

    In June 2018, the Seattle Public Schools Family Partnerships task force completed its work to create a multi-year family engagement plan in partnership with the Family Partnerships department. In addition to creating a shared definition for family engagement, the task force developed a mission and vision statement that are aligned with the plan’s identified four key areas of strategic focus; welcoming environments, two-way communication, identity safety, and shared power and responsibility.

    For the 2018-19 school year, the Family Partnerships department is focused on ‘shared power and responsibility’ and ‘two-way communication’. Anita Koyier-Mwamba, family and community partnerships manager, commends Hawthorne for their partnerships award and for their efforts to engage families in student learning at home and school. “The work of Hawthorne is aligned with pillar four of [the district’s] family engagement plan – shared power and responsibility. Melissa Mak and Principal Scott honor families and their hopes and dreams for their students. Hawthorne consistently raises the bar.”

    “We wanted to work smarter, not harder,” shares ELL Teacher Melissa Mak. Building from the strength of the families and community, Hawthorne encourages true family collaboration via culturally specific events, parent participation in school-decision making, and flexible opportunities for family involvement.

    Seattle Public Schools values and recognizes that authentic family engagement ensures student academic success, improves school culture, and creates welcoming environments. The exemplary strategies being implemented at Hawthorne Elementary are just one example of the district’s development and systemic implementation of family engagement efforts.

    Interviewed members of Hawthorne’s program of school, family, and community partnerships:

    Sandra Scott – Principal
    Melissa Mak – ELL teacher
    Acquinetta Williams – Family Support Worker
    Angela Bell-Austin – Vice President of Friends of Hawthorne (PTA)
    Behnosh Najafi – Co President of Friends of Hawthorne (PTA)
    Eileen Gray – School Business Officer/ Head Teacher
    Liliana Calimlim – Bilingual Instructional Assistant
    Marcela Serritos – Friends of Hawthorne Member
    Marita Grunfeld – Co President of Friends of Hawthorne (PTA)
    Mayra Cruz- Parent