Denver Fellow Reflects on Second Convening and Power of Community Involvement

November 21, 2016 10:37 AM
by / Topics: Improving Family Engagement

DSC_4324Landon Mascareñaz, a participant in the National Family Engagement Fellowship, represents the Denver cohort, and currently serves as Executive Director for Strategy Development and Family Empowerment for Denver Public Schools (DPS). This past week, he joined 18 other fellows for the second convening in Denver – also known as the Mile High City. The team of practitioners leading the charge in family engagement in five regions across the country presented in-depth landscape assessments, learned about the robust family engagement initiatives at the forefront in Denver Public Schools, designed family engagement strategies to implement in their communities, and examined how race and inequity play a role in limiting effective family engagement. 

Before Landon came to DPS, he worked in rural New Mexico for seven years on a variety of projects and taught first grade on the Navajo Nation. For three years, he’s lent his expertise to scale and increase the impact of the Office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) work in family and community engagement.

Below, Landon authors this guest blog post that recaps the Denver convening and details how his work ensures parents, schools, and systems utilize best practice, high impact engagement strategies to promote academic partnership.

As the Fellowship was coming together, myself and the rest of the Denver team asked to host a convening for two big reasons: 1) we wanted to celebrate the awesome-ness that is the Mile High City (recently ranked the number 1 place to live); and 2) we believe, at Denver Public Schools, we’ve created serious momentum around family and community engagement. At the recent Parent Teacher Home Visit Conference, our Superintendent, Tom Boasberg, was awarded the “Home Visit Hero” Award for his leadership to support Home Visits in the district.  Last year, DPS teachers and parents conducted more than 9,000 home visits.  This year, we aim to hit 12,000 home visits. With over 5,000 visits already in the books, we believe we are well on our way to reaching this goal. 

This past week, us fellows descended on Denver to share our work in respective communities and spent some time learning about how we are approaching family and community engagement. Last Wednesday, we explored the various aspects to our initiatives with the whole group.


The Denver cohort on day one of the Convening

We discussed and showcased:

  1. The Family Constituency Services team, which fields phone calls from parents and staff around the district to manage conflict and challenges
  2. The School Based Services, which leads incredible multi-generational impact work such as the Center for Family Opportunity in southwest Denver
  3. The Family Empowerment team and its role to ensure our teachers and leaders are accelerating academic partnership
  4. The evaluation systems and how we measure the effectiveness of how parents can be academic partners

We know we have so much more work to do to ensure ALL of our parents are engaged in Denver, but we are tremendously excited about our momentum. 

Highlights from the three-day convening were when we moved from “listening” to “doing.” A few fellows got to see our district-wide Community Progress Monitoring initiative, where we ask all our school leaders to host a public meeting sharing current results from our school report card and discuss with parents how they can get involved.  They came away with great questions around how to ensure those meetings reflect the diversity of the community and with great questions about how leaders need to balance the positive news with the challenges ahead.  Having that space to discuss with other leaders about this work was so valuable. 

All Fellowship participants went on and observed a Home Visit with a DPS teacher and parent. The power of these amazing Fellowship leaders spreading out across the city to see Home Visits on-the-ground was a great way to move toward action. How can we advocate for teacher-practice or school-practice change if we haven’t done it ourselves?

After the Home Visits, we all met up at Valverde Elementary, a turnaround school here in Denver. Led by Drew Schutz, Valverde is a school that has deeply prioritized family and community engagement as it has gone through a redesign process.  The school works closely with my office, and we’ve wrapped services, supports, and focus around Valverde for a few years and it has re-started a trust-based dialogue with its community in support of a new direction.  It was truly inspiring to be at the school and see the things from a full-circle perspective. Parents, staff, and teachers were in attendance, but, in particular, I was impressed by Delia Meza. She’s a former Valverde elementary student who now teaches there, and is the district leader in Home Visits. That is the power of community involvement. 

As always, I’m just completely blown away by the folks in the Fellowship – the questions asked and the potential for action in their communities.  We have so much work to do in Denver. With so much to learn from other communities, I’m excited about doing this through the Fellowship and under the leadership and guidance of Flamboyan Foundation.