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City to participate in family engagement program
Gainesville one of four schools that will track data including test scores
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Gainesville will be part of an effort by the Georgia Department of Education to find ways to link family engagement to student achievement in schools.

Gainesville City Schools was selected to serve as a model site for the "360 Degrees of Family Engagement" in August and staff recently met with program leaders in Walton County to discuss plans.

"Georgia is trying to be a leader when it comes to family engagement and this is the state's attempt to do that," said Michelle Tarbutton, parent engagement program manager of the Georgia Department of Education. "The research says family engagement improves achievement and we're trying to get the data to back that up."

Gainesville will be among four school systems that will develop plans to track data such as attendance, behavior and test scores to compare to family engagement factors, Tarbutton said. Seven parent coordinators from the district's schools submitted a rough draft for a plan a few months ago.

"We chose districts that had a good framework for what we're doing and a team in place that could accomplish the work," Tarbutton said.

The DOE and Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning looked at Gainesville's parent coordinator program, which helps increase parent involvement in schools by working closely with the schools, parents and community organizations.

Parent coordinator Hilda Reyes of Gainesville Middle School said part of the plan the district delivered to the state was based on the program used in Gainesville.

She said coordinators serve as a liaison between school and home and many conduct monthly workshops for parents, such as how to monitor a child's grades online. Reyes added that the coordinators in Gainesville are bilingual, as a high percentage of parents in the district are non-native speakers.

"In some places, people don't go to the schools because they don't have people who can speak English. But in Gainesville we don't have that excuse. We can help them get the answers they're looking for," Reyes said.

Though the parent coordinators are still working on the details of ways to monitor achievement, they expect to look at math and reading test scores. They will also examine ways to increase parent involvement in that process. Each school system will study different student learning outcomes, Tarbutton said.

As for measuring family engagement, Tina Santos, Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy parent coordinator, said they may start with parent surveys.

Although research shows family engagement helps with a child's efforts at school, Tarbutton said, capturing data for this has been a challenge for school leaders.

"Parent involvement is not just coming in to school, it can be done at home when a parent tracks their child's progress for example. It's hard to measure," she said.

She expects the project will show other districts across the state how to successfully measure family engagement in student achievement. The DOE will offer training and resources to the parent coordinators and the data will also be compiled online.

The DOE's ultimate goal of collecting the data will be to increase the high school graduation rate and decrease the high school dropout rate. It may also encourage parents to become more actively involved with their child's learning.

"It's saying that family engagement really has an impact. When parents are involved, students achieve," Tarbutton said.