This week, two Nebraska school districts were recognized as leaders for their efforts to engage parents in their child's education.
The Blair Community Schools and the Gothenburg Public School District were honored as the 2010 recipients of the Governor's Education Initiative Award for Parental Involvement.
Since 2007, the Nebraska Association of School Boards and my administration have been working together to focus on parental involvement. Parents play a critical role in education. By developing innovative ways of reaching out to parents, stronger relationships are developed by parents, teachers and administrators that can help students accomplish their goals. These relationships also encourage better communication with school district leaders.
Gothenburg Public Schools was recognized for outstanding success in creating parental and community support for area schools. Parents, grandparents and extended family are regularly involved in volunteering to read to students, help teachers in class and assist in media centers. Fifteen volunteers contribute every day to learning activities. Given the size of this school district, the number of volunteers represents an impressive commitment from families and the local community.
Gothenburg's Dudley Elementary has placed special emphasis on helping students strengthen their reading skills. Each class devotes time every day to reading. Parents and other family members take part in reading to small groups of students, classes and individual students. The school hosts a 'family read night' where parents can build a book with their child, spend time reading together or meet with teachers and staff. Volunteers in the media center check out more than 27,000 books annually to the school's 500 students, averaging 54 books a year per student.
These activities are in addition to events such as 'back to school night,' and parent-teacher conferences that average more than 90 percent attendance throughout the year. Teachers and staff schedule additional time each fall and spring for those unable to attend school-wide conference dates and conduct phone conferences to reach parents. The flexibility and persistence has resulted in a near-perfect success rate of parents receiving updates from teachers on their child's progress.
Blair Community Schools was recognized for creating opportunities for greater parent involvement using a combination of traditional approaches such as parent-teacher conferences and take home packets, and new approaches like e-mail, web forums and teacher websites to keep parents informed on assignments and gather input.
The school district has focused on providing additional outreach efforts for families with a special needs student by hosting a 'parent's evening' for families whose children receive special education services. The event helps parents meet and network over a meal, visit with teachers and learn about additional resources available from local service providers. Blair schools are also developing a Special Education Resource Library to provide useful information on curriculum and other topics for parents and educators.
Blair Community Schools also uses a program that helps teachers and parents track the character development of every student. Research has identified 40 traits correlating to academic success in young people, such as the ability to use time wisely and follow rules. Students are encouraged to attend and participate in parent-teacher conferences, which achieved a 95 percent participation by parents.
Since 2007, the following school districts - Garden County, Sutherland, Cozad, Kearney, Loup City, St. Paul, Grand Island, Madison, Papillion-LaVista, and Millard Public Schools -- have been honored for their parental involvement efforts.
I applaud each of these school districts for the emphasis they place on getting parents involved in education. Parents and teachers working together is an essential element in student learning and academic achievement. The success of this year's award recipients and past honorees serve as excellent role models for schools and parents seeking more effective ways of engaging parents and community in student learning.