As a second grade teacher at Vernon’s Maple Street Elementary School, Lindsey Robbins was used to welcoming new families to her classroom during the school’s annual open house event. While this was always a pleasant way to engage with students and their families, it was limited in terms of hearing from parents about their needs and goals for their children. That all changed this past September when all five elementary schools held “Hopes and Dreams” conferences to replace the long-standing traditional open house format held in Vernon Public Schools. The Hopes and Dreams conferences provided parents with the opportunity to meet with teachers one-on-one and discuss how they could work in partnership with schools to ensure their children were supported and successful.
“I loved having the conferences this early in lieu of an Open House format and would like to keep it in the future, said Robbins. “It was more focused on each individual child and how the transition is going, what their needs are, how I can help them with curriculum and homework and other issues of concern to parents. Every parent commented on how they would much rather talk one on one about their child rather than in a whole group setting.”
Vernon Public Schools’ new focus of working with families is a key component to the district’s efforts to build stronger partnerships between families, schools and the community. To further Vernon Public Schools’ work in this area, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has awarded a one-year, $377,624 grant to develop a district-wide plan to support family school and community partnership, student learning and student success.
This grant was the result of extensive work conducted by Vernon Public Schools’ Community Partnership Planning Committee, which received a planning grant from the Hartford Foundation to learn how to partner with families and the entire community to provide students with the support they need. Planning committee members included district staff, parents and other stakeholders, and they attended Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Family Engagement three-day seminar. In response to what they learned, the district revised its elementary conferences schedule for the 2016-17 school year. At Maple Street School, they also established a "Parent Engagement Committee” which meets on a regular to engage families in school functions supporting student learning and student success.
“Over the past several years our revised curriculum and strengthened supports have improved educational outcomes for our students,” said Vernon Public School Superintendent Joseph Macary. “Over the past year we have seen a significant increase in family engagement and we view this work as a vital strategy to supporting our students’ success. The Hartford Foundation’s support will provide us with the necessary resources to implement effective strategies which have been successful in other school districts around the country.”
Over the next year, the district will develop a new school, family and community board policy and will strengthen its relationships with parents and potential community partners. Foundation funds will enable Vernon Public Schools to create a new position of Director of Family School and Community Partnerships to spearhead this work. This will include increasing coordination of existing school and community services toward the goal of focusing them more on student learning and student success. Vernon Public Schools will also use these funds to develop appropriate structures and support for its new family, school and community partnership practices, including a training and technical assistance program to enhance the knowledge and skill of all school, family and community members.
“This truly is what the Hartford Foundation’s investments in education are all about,” said Sara Sneed, the Hartford Foundation’s director of education investments. “With this grant, Vernon Public Schools will continue its work to engage families and the entire community in supporting student success. We know that every child needs a variety of supports provided both within and outside of school to ensure that all are able to enter school prepared to learn and graduate from school prepared to succeed. “
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding towns. In 2015, the Foundation celebrated 90 years of grantmaking in the Greater Hartford region, made possible by gifts from thousands of generous individuals, families and organizations. It has awarded grants of more than $650 million since its founding in 1925. For more information about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, visit www.hfpg.org or call 860-548-1888.