The Pinellas school system, in partnership with community groups, has embraced a smart new approach to reach out to struggling parents: knocking on their doors and asking, one-on-one, how they can help. This personal approach, tested earlier this month and to be repeated next month, is much likelier to result in positive change than holding community meetings with their typical poor attendance or other traditional means.
Everyone understands that successful students need parents as well as teachers in the education equation. And it's also common sense that successful partnerships start not by criticizing each other, but by building on common goals and working together to achieve them. That's why this new idea holds such promise. Without judging, the program is sending representatives to homes to learn about the parents' situation, their worries and how the district, the community and the parents can form a partnership to benefit the child.
The first visits were scheduled at the homes of some students who attend St. Petersburg's Lakewood and Fairmount Park elementary schools, which both struggle academically. Although the basic idea of pushing harder to reach parents started at the top with interim superintendent John Stewart, he credits community activists such as Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter for making it work at the grass roots level, which is where the idea will succeed or fail. So rather than using a top-down formula, officials asked principals at each school for recommendations on which homes to visit. That's a wise recognition that a principal, in coordination with teachers, is going to know far better than more distant officials which homes would most benefit from the program. The Saturday effort reached scores of parents, unlike recent more conventional workshops on helping parents get involved in their children's education, which attracted a total of 10.
Next month the program is hoping to do the same thing for parents of some students at John Hopkins Middle and Melrose Elementary schools. Small-scale efforts such as these can build to big successes if they create true partnerships between parents, the schools and the children.