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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

July 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

New group’s mission: when parents speak, schools listen

Probably no one in the state has worked harder to boost parent involvement at schools than Adie Simmons, who helped found the family engagement office at Seattle Public Schools, and was the first education ombudsman in the governor’s office.

Adie Simmons

Adie Simmons

Now she’s launched a new nonprofit one she hopes will help her use all she’s learned in the past 28 years to build the kind of parent-school relationships she’s always dreamed about. It’s called the Washington State Family and Community Engagement Trust.

Simmons envisions schools where working with parents is part of the day-to-day routine, not a perk offered in some places but not others. She also wants to build a bigger cadre of parents ready and willing to voice their views on education and child welfare in Olympia, as well as in their school districts and cities.

That’s similar to the goals of the Logan Square Parent-Mentor program in Chicago, which we wrote about earlier this year.

For years, Simmons said, she’s heard parents say “we are just parents, nobody listens to us.”

“We need to change that paradigm.”

To accomplish all that, she believes teachers need training, too.

Just like training doctors in bedside manner, she said, teachers need to learn how to work more closely with parents.

That’s not happening now, she said, noting that her daughter graduated from the teacher training program at Central Washington University and never had a class or even a lecture on working with parents.

And although some school districts recognize the need for such training, Simmons said, not many are doing it  yet.

In the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, a community-based program has succeeded in bringing parents into its schools and has inspired others to spread the program statewide. Parent mentor Crystal Robles, center (with safety vest) monitors students as they are dismissed. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2013.

In the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, a community-based program has succeeded in bringing parents into its schools and has inspired others to spread the program statewide. Parent mentor Crystal Robles, center (with safety vest) monitors students as they are dismissed. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2013.

The demand for the new group’s services seems to be strong. In its first four months, about 3,000 people have signed up to receive updates about its work.

The organization has already run one educator/family boot camp, and Simmons is planning others in the beginning of the school year.

And she just returned from Washington, D.C., where she received the training required to start a parent leadership institute here modeled after one that is already in place in more than a dozen states. It differs from many districts’ parent classes in its focus on policy, she said.

“It actually teaches parents about the democratic process,” she said. “I’ve always always thought that was a piece that was needed  parents in decision-making.”

She hopes to start that institute in January in Snohomish County, with an initial cohort of two dozen parents.

Comments | More in News | Topics: Adie Simmons, parent engagement, parent involvement

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