Parent and Community Engagement is Key Driver of School Transformation in Baltimore

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As part of its “Expanding Great Options” initiative, Baltimore City Public Schools has employed a holistic parent engagement strategy to turn around struggling schools. One principal built relationships with parents and students by shaking hands before and after school each day. Teachers sent out flyers, knocked on doors, and made phone calls to parents to discuss their children’s performance. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Cross-posted from the PROGRESS blog.

Commodore John Rogers Elementary/Middle School is located in an impoverished neighborhood of East Baltimore that struggles with high rates of gang violence and teen pregnancy. In 2010, based on its test scores, Commodore ranked 872 out of 875 schools in Maryland. It enrolled only 225 students, half of the building’s capacity. Four principals had come and gone during the previous five years.

In the past four years, however, the school’s results have improved measurably. Enrollment more than doubled, chronic absences dropped significantly, and the percentage of students proficient in reading and mathematics rose 20 percent. In 2012, the school’s mathematics performance exceeded the districtwide average.

In 2010, Baltimore City Public Schools chose Commodore to participate in its “Expanding Great Options” initiative. The city opened new schools, expanded the capacity of high-performing ones, closed the lowest performers, and began working to turn around struggling schools, all while making district-wide school choice available.

With intensive support underwritten by Race to the Top funding, the district was able to change school culture and dramatically accelerate learning outcomes using a variety of methods: parent engagement, community relationships, new leadership, extra support staff, a longer learning day, new technology, more staff mentoring, and professional development for teachers.

Marc Martin, who became Commodore’s new principal in 2010, tells the story of how his school integrated these methods into an effective school turnaround strategy. “We sent out flyers, made phone calls and knocked on doors to let families know we were here.”

Martin and his staff held focus groups, barbecues and ice cream socials with parents to hear their concerns and feedback, as well as inform them about changes they could expect to see at the school. “I started out every morning shaking kids’ hands and being available to families,” said Martin, knowing that building relationships must be a priority.

Parents have expressed their appreciation for the efforts of Commodore’s staff. “I get phone calls from Maurice’s teachers letting me know about something good my grandson did. I like those kinds of phone calls,” said Carolyn Baker, whose grandson, Maurice, is a third grader. “When I was sick and couldn’t get my grandson to school, he [Commodore staff member] would pick him up and bring him home.”

Commodore’s efforts are paying off. With 95 percent of parents now attending academic conferences and engaging in students’ progress, student achievement is trending upward. Mathematics proficiency has gone from 47 percent in 2010 to 62 percent in 2013, and reading proficiency has gone from 49 percent in 2010 to 72 percent in 2013. Citywide, reading proficiency is up by 20 percent and mathematics proficiency by 18 percent. Dropout rates are declining and high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates are on the rise. While there is still a long way to go, Baltimore City’s solid foundation, built on strong family and community engagement and school leadership, will continue to facilitate the district’s goal of continuous improvement.

Read the full story to learn more.