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Catalyzing REAL Family Engagement in Dallas and Utah

By Diana Suarez

One year ago around this time, the national team at Flamboyan put the final touches on our 3-year strategic plan to catalyze REAL Family Engagement across the nation. Our team was particularly energized about partnering with Dallas Independent School District (Dallas ISD) and the Utah State Board of Education (Utah SBE) to help teams in those locations bring their family engagement vision to life.

As the Covid-19 tragedy unfolded, our team, along with our partners across the country, had to decide what to prioritize while needs remained so great and everyone, everywhere was exhausted. While we made immediate changes to our programs and daily work, we also listened to our stakeholders and resolved that REAL Family Engagement was and remains necessary and urgent for educators, families, and students. Families must be empowered with the information and connections they need to play the 5 essential roles in their children’s education. After much reflection and refining, our team is excited to launch formal partnerships with Dallas ISD and Utah SBE.

Our work in Dallas and Utah is born from Flamboyan’s Family Engagement Fellowship. This Fellowship brings together teams of education leaders to conduct landscape assessments and innovate family engagement in their community, all grounded in equity. The listening in Dallas and Utah led to two different but equally ambitious strategic plans.

Dallas is a vast city, with complex highway systems that divide neighborhoods and make foot travel nearly impossible for many, and these systemic challenges are further compounded by a lack of trust between families and city institutions. The Dallas Fellowship Team previously found that families across the city do not have consistent access to services they need and now. Dallas ISD is working to upend these inequities through a whole school model for family engagement. In pilot schools, every educator will work to build trust and strong academic partnerships with families using concrete and research-based family engagement strategies. Over time, each pilot school will become a community hub, bringing in targeted services families in the neighborhood need, like healthcare, mental health services, or access to healthy groceries. Flamboyan will offer Dallas support on multiple fronts, including 1:1 professional development of district coaches who work directly with school principals, and training on family engagement strategies in pilot schools and for interested teachers across the city.

The Utah Fellowship team heard from families – particularly families of color and families with lower socio-economic status – that they did not feel they had a place or voice in their school, and set out to convene family engagement leaders, build out a hub of family engagement best practices, and train teachers in the best strategies for building relationships and inclusive school communities. Over the next year and a half, Flamboyan will join the Utah SBE in bringing these plans to life. At the end of our partnership, the Utah SBE will be ready to make schools more welcoming, with a cadre of educators and leaders across the state who are prepared to lead.

Of course, the vision for these important partnerships has had to shift. There will not be as many opportunities to build relationships in-person, and we are mindful of the already-heavy burden that families and educators continue to bear during this pandemic. One of our chief goals is to find ways for large entities, like Dallas ISD and Utah SBE, to create systems that simplify and support relationships between families and educators at the school and classroom level. We do that by sticking to what we do best:  listening to what families want and need to support their children and putting their priorities first.

Diana Suarez is the former Managing Director, National Partnerships at Flamboyan Foundation.