Developing strong parent leaders and advocates is changing the once disconnected relationship between parents and educators in Jackson and putting children on track to succeed.
Parents for Public Schools of Jackson (PPSJ) has found by connecting parents, educators, school administrators and the community to the same vision for student success, they are tearing down barriers built through decades of structural racism and distrust and creating new roads for students to have equitable access to quality education.
“If we focus on empowering the one constituency that can permanently change schools – parents – we can change how teachers teach and how students learn,” said Carolyn Jolivette, executive director for PPSJ. “We can raise successful students who parent their own children to be successful and break the generational cycles of educational failure and, ultimately, poverty.”
Jolivette said research shows that when parents are involved in schools, students are less likely to drop out. Parents can become effective advocates for all children, as well as leaders in their communities, just by lending their voice to something they already care deeply about – the educational success of their children.
Through its Parent Leadership Institute, PPSJ trains parents with children of all ages, many of whom are African American and low-income, to learn about different student learning styles, leadership skills and how parental engagement can impact their child’s education.
Monique Davis, a mother of six children ranging from kindergarten to high school, called the Parent Leadership Institute “empowering.”
“It hugely increased my respect for teachers and administrators,” Davis said. “Teaching is a vocation -- a calling. Teachers often aren’t given the tools they need to succeed. So it’s incumbent [upon] us, as parents, to make sure our children are ready for school. The learning doesn’t stop when they come home.“
Parents who complete the training also leave with a “tool box” for school reform. The tool box includes information to help parents understand how to read state and federal standardized test data, school-wide plans as mandated by No Child Left Behind, how to create sustainable change and effective advocacy and how to access the resources needed to help make such changes.
Jolivette said parents who complete this training are better equipped to enter into the school environment and advocate on behalf of their own children, as well as participate in school culture assessments that take place during the district’s “walk-throughs.” During a walk-through, participants (which include principals, teachers, parents and community members) evaluate the practices, policies and beliefs present in a school that support student achievement. Afterward, the group debriefs to develop an understanding about the factors that might have contributed to parents’ specific observations, discuss what can be done to improve identified issues and work together to access resources that improve the school environment for everyone.
PPSJ’s parent leaders have become strong advocates for their schools, rallying public support for passage of a historic bond referendum to construct new schools, as well as helping block the reinstatement of corporal punishment in favor of positive behavior intervention systems. Arts education has come back to the schools, and a bullying prevention policy was put into place thanks to parent involvement.
PPSJ also convenes a Professional Learning Community of up to 80 school administrators, teachers and staff to have an honest discussion about what is working, and what is not working, in the schools and then work collaboratively to address and resolve identified issues.
“It is an amazing privilege to have these deep relationships and the trust of the school leaders and teachers to provide a safe environment for these discussions and then play whatever role we can in helping them through the process of resolving issues,” Jolivette said. “They are committed to the same vision for student success – that every student who starts in pre-K in this network of schools will graduate from high school. Then, they discuss exactly what they need to do between elementary, middle and high schools to make that happen.”
Shared values and shared decision making for student achievement are critical to increasing opportunities that propel children toward success in school and in life, Jolivette said.“What we have is a culture of collaboration and success. Parents have a new view of the challenges teachers face. Teachers look at parents as partners in their child’s success, and meet parents where they are in discussing what’s best for children. Principals and teachers are working within and across schools to improve instruction and the welcoming environment of their schools,” Jolivette said. “What we are seeing is that when the egos of individuals can get out of the way, we can do something amazing to benefit all children.”