ST. PETERSBURG — The boy came to the door Saturday morning, looking skeptical.
"Is your mom home?" asked Valerie Brimm, the Pinellas school district's director of strategic partnerships. "Tell her it's a good thing."
It turned out to be a great thing.
Brimm and two other district representatives came to 33-year-old Shaniqua Brown's home as part of a new approach aimed at getting parents more involved in their kids' education.
Go door to door.
The short-term goal: Meet elusive parents on their turf. No pressure. No sweat.
The long-term goal: Get them to be partners.
Brown, a single mother of five who works two jobs, was thankful for the visit.
"That was great. I've never had that experience," she said. "I think that's remarkable."
During the brief visit, Brown and the district representatives discussed several of her kids' needs — a closer location for credit recovery for her struggling eldest daughter and tutoring for two of her sons. She talked about how her fifth-grader was dealing with school bullies.
"I'm kind of back and forth, especially during the day. That's the only reason why I'm not as hands-on," Brown said. "I think this is a helping hand, especially if they follow through and get the ball rolling. That can help me stay on top of it, too."
On Saturday, teams of school officials and community members went door to door to visit up to 100 families — 50 each from Lakewood and Fairmount Park elementary schools, both struggling schools in St. Petersburg.
"You have to build trust," said Lakewood principal Cynthia Kidd. Showing up at their doorstep says, "I'm here for you. We can do this thing together."
It's a radically different approach from what the district has tried in the past.
Last month, the Pinellas school district held four, well-publicized workshops to help parents get better involved in their kids' education. All took place in the evenings, with one each in St. Petersburg, Largo, Clearwater and Tarpon Springs. In the end, only 10 parents total showed up.
The new approach bore greater fruit. Some families didn't answer Saturday, but at many homes, school representatives found receptive parents who were familiar with their kids' academic needs.
Brimm said the idea for Saturday's outing sprung from a community advisory group that formed after arrests at John Hopkins Middle School made headlines in the spring of 2010.
The district asked the principals at Lakewood and Fairmount Park to identify families they wanted to reach. The parents were notified in advance by letter and phone messages.
A similar effort to meet families from Hopkins and Melrose Elementary is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 10.
On Saturday, school officials wanted to wade in gently. No criticism. No judgments.
"Everybody has their pride," Kidd said.
Representatives introduced themselves, chatted and asked questions off a short survey. People who participated got a $25 gift certificate from Walmart, which was paid for with private contributions. They also received a goodie bag.
"It's not like we're buying them to get engaged," Brimm said. "It's to say that this is real. We really want to help. It's more or less a token of love."
Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8873. Danny Valentine can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8804.