The Santa Monica Malibu Unified District has unveiled a new proposal to strengthen family engagement in the education process. The framework was discussed during a board meeting on Thursday, February, 15.

“The purpose of the SMMUSD Family Engagement Framework is to provide guidance to schools and the district as we work to implement effective family engagement practices that yield higher levels of student academic success and college and career readiness. The framework is research-based, and involves a multi-year development process,” said the staff report.

Aida Diaz, Family Engagement Framework coordinator, led the discussion of the proposed item.

“Over the years, the district has shown deep commitment to effectively engaging with parents in our schools,” Diaz said. “The district is now creating a framework for engagement to make sure the work is more consistent, equitable and effective.”

Diaz discussed a framework to be entrenched in increasing family engagement, implementing “research-based practices and strategies” based on California State Framework Action Areas:

Build Capacity, Demonstrate Leadership, Provide Resources, Ensure Access and Equity, Monitor Progress.

The framework is based on research by Dr. Joyce Epstein, a professor of education and sociology at Johns Hopkins University. Epstein’s Six Types of Involvement — parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision-making, and collaborating with community — are Epstein’s keys to successful school/family/community partnerships, a key discussion point for Diaz.

“Research shows families involvement with education and their students directly affects outcomes,” Diaz said. “Building on that understanding, parents are a child’s first teachers. A partnership between home and school must be a collaborative one.”

The framework proposed would be a long-term plan, supporting students and families from pre-kindergarten throughout high school, offering family education components such as Parent Education Night, College Awareness Workshops, and providing resources and training to parents to engage better with their children.

Diaz was optimistic about implementation of the framework due to the support of parents and the work the district has done for students.

“We’re lucky to live in a community that supports our schools,” Diaz said. “Not only financially but through offering different programs such as PAL and Virginia Avenue Park. The more we learn about each other, the more we can help each other.”

Public sentiment seemed focused on the next item on the agenda, Independent Study Physical Education. One public speaker called Board policies, “disingenuous and empty,” adding that the district should better accommodate parents schedules, saying parents feel “brushed off” regardless if they participate or not.

However, another speaker suggested strengthening community liaisons to establish a better dialogue between busy parents in the district. This sentiment struck a chord with board members.

“Liaisons are important but do we have to have a standard training for them,” Boardmember Oscar De La Torre said. “One liaison at one school could be doing something completely different from another. Leave room for flexibility and innovation, and we share the best practices.”

Boardmember Craig Foster echoed De La Torre’s words.

“To take this on in a systematic way, I feel like we’re on the right track,” Foster said. “I feel we’re working as a team, leaning forward into the 21st century and into child-centric stuff. We have lines of communication built, seeing where parents and community fits in. Our liaisons have an overwhelming task. If we can find a way to augment that, that’d be great.”

Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati praised the framework, adding that the big-picture structure of the framework will allow everything else to fall into place. He provided an example of the recently proposed social justice framework as well as a community liaison, adding that if those people left, those programs are “done without guiding principles.”

Assistant Superintendent Jacqueline Mora added that she felt the framework “sets the tone” for what the district is striving for.

“Working with external partners is something we’re exploring, Mora said. “Are we where we want to be? Not yet, but this sets a guiding principle in a way for us to move forward. We will study how parents engage with workshops we will be providing. Not just surveys but talking to them and asking what they need and how to develop that.”

As this was only a proposal, Diaz adds this could be taken as a “draft” as the framework isn’t finalized. Between February and April, Diaz will meet with principals, community liaisons, parent groups, and the board of education for feedback.

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