The Family and Community Engagement Team

The Family and Community Engagement Team

The Family and Community Engagement Team was formed at the suggestion of former Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO) Chief of Staff Cynthia Dorfman (retired). She suggested the formation of a team that would be composed of staff from offices across the U. S. Department of Education (ED). Ms. Dorfman believed, "It is important that parents feel someone is listening and cares enough to explain changes and opportunities available to them as a result of ED policies." OCO formed partnerships with offices that had relationships with parent groups, which helped ED reach a wide range of family groups and stakeholders.

The Family Engagement Team is composed of staff from the Office for Civil Rights, Office of Innovation and Improvement, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnership, Federal Student Aid, Office of English Language Acquisition, Office of Communications and Outreach, the White House Initiatives, and Office of Early Learning.

The Family Engagement Team's goal is to expand efforts to help schools, districts, and states better engage families in education. The Team is committed to supporting parents and families by empowering them and giving them a voice and an opportunity to be engaged by:

  • Breaking down the "silos" within the agency, allowing for fuller exploration and integration of ideas;

  • Using models from and language of legislation from early learning, special education and Native American family engagement to share with schools, districts, and states;

  • Promoting the engagement of parents, families, students, and representatives from communities to improve children's academic development

  • Making stakeholders and ED staff aware of the challenges families that each office works with face daily, both military and civilian;

  • Sharing what each office is doing to encourage stakeholders to engage parents;

  • Providing examples of effective practices that engage parents and families;

  • Disseminating materials that encourage family engagement; and

  • Incorporating language in grants around engaging families in decision-making and in the planning of school improvement programs.

The Team intends to inform, educate, and support training for parents at the local, state, and national level, all to enhance family engagement. The team also collaborates with other federal agencies, states, school districts, and institutions of higher education.

The team has devised several means by which they reach out to parents and parent groups. Through a series of activities—policy briefings, parent forums, parentcamps, webinars, google hangouts, tweets, instagrams, texts, lunch and learns, and listening-and-learning sessions—the team hopes to reach not only parents and families, but educators, administrators, state, district, and local representatives, and national leaders, such as chief state school officers and school board members. The team has become ED’s way of communicating useful information to parents and parent groups, whom Dorfman saw as "really hungry for attention."

The Family and Community Engagement Team has hosted forums, roundtables, and listening-and-learning sessions with parents that have helped ED staff become aware of regional as well as cultural needs. The information collected is shared with ED staff from across the Department and senior management.

These activities prompted the Team to recognize that more was needed to attain their goal, which led to partnering with ParentCamp.org, thereby instituting another avenue for staff outreach efforts. ParentCamp is a free "un-conference" that brings parents, caregivers, community leaders, educators, and children together to have conversations about how best to support students. It is an opportunity for those within the school communities—parents, teachers, students, and community and faith-based representatives—to expand relationships, strengthen partnerships, share, network, and learn. With parentcamps, parents, students, educators, and administrators along with ED staff facilitate conversations and discussions around topics that parents suggest.

The sessions in parentcamps and the workshops in associated forums are conducted by ED staff from various offices and state, district, and local representatives within education agencies. The sessions provide a platform for individuals to share through discussion their concerns and solutions; the workshops and sessions in parentcamps equip parents to be partners in learning. In the workshops and sessions ED staff share strategies for family involvement and explain changes to federal education policy.

Other topics covered at the forums and parentcamps include early learning initiatives, school reforms, financial aid for postsecondary education, and working with faith-based and neighborhood groups. Subsequent forums and parentcamps have delved into school re-entry for dropouts, bullying, and preventing the summer slide.

For more information about the Family and Community Engagement Team and its outreach efforts, please email parent@ed.gov.