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Two DC Schools Reflect on their Hopes and Vision for REAL Family Engagement

Both LeAngelo Emperator and Kortni Stafford know what’s possible when schools and families have authentic, trusting relationships. Emperator, currently the School Director and Principal at DC Scholars Public Charter School, saw the power of family engagement years ago when Flamboyan partnered with the DC Scholars middle school. And Stafford, currently Principal at McKinley Middle School and McKinley Technology High School, worked deeply with Flamboyan during her seven years in school leadership at Kelly Miller Middle School in southeast DC.

Both school leaders are bringing new tools and strategies for building REAL Family Engagement to their campuses this year through the Family Engagement Partnership (FEP), a five-year relationship between Flamboyan and public schools across DC to support building a culture of authentic, equity-focused family engagement within each school.

Heading into the 2023-24 school year, amidst the continued urgent needs stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, both Emperator and Stafford knew that building family-school partnerships rooted in trust was foundational.

At DC Scholars, Emperator and his team realized they had different relationships with families who joined their school community during virtual learning. “We pride ourselves on building relationships with families,” he said, “but looking at data and our mission to accelerate learning for our students, we see that it is imperative to rebuild trust and establish strong communication at this moment in time, especially with those families who started when we were not in person.”

Stafford at McKinley is focused on an intentional approach to developing relationships with middle school families. McKinley is a blended middle and high school campus, though students apply to join the high school and come to McKinley from across the city. Principal Stafford noticed a difference in who was attending PTO meetings and events, and who was driving how the school thought about successful family engagement.

“This year, our goal is to be deliberate about engaging middle school families in academic partnering,” she said. “In my experience with Flamboyan at Kelly Miller, it’s about the intentionality of figuring out what works well for the families you serve.”

"’s about the intentionality of figuring out what works well for the families you serve." quote from Kortni Stafford Principal, McKinley Middle School and McKinley Technology High School

For each FEP school, Flamboyan provides funding, training, coaching, and tools, while schools create a family engagement leadership team to develop and sustain practices that deepen relationships with families. The FEP is not just delivering trainings or coming up with a plan, but shifting mindsets of both educators and families about what it means to partner for the success of students, inside and outside the classroom. For these two experienced school leaders, growing a new ethos around family engagement is the most exciting component of the new partnership with Flamboyan.

“We know that parents are always thinking about what they can do for their child,” said Stafford. “I am most excited about seeing authentic excitement and engagement coming from teachers, when staff are meeting parents as allies.”

In more than a decade fostering REAL Family Engagement in DC and across the country, Flamboyan has graduated 28 schools from the FEP. The goal of this program is to support schools to reach a place of sustainability – an established culture where teachers, staff, and school leaders see families as partners in their child’s education. Starting this year, there are 14 new and 9 returning schools in the Family Engagement Partnership, including DC Scholars and McKinley Middle School.

Emperator and Stafford both spoke to the challenges ahead: primarily, the availability of time and capacity. For teachers and school leaders juggling competing priorities, it can feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to add anything else.

“Schools have so much going on,” said Emperator. “And at the same time, we know that family engagement is the foundation of what we need to hit our goals. None of the other things are going to work if we don’t have relationships with families.”

"Schools have so much going on... and at the same time, we know that family engagement is the foundation of what we need to hit our goals. None of the other things are going to work if we don’t have relationships with families." quote from LeAngelo Emperator School Director + Principal, DC Scholars Public Charter School

While the importance of REAL Family Engagement may be universal, these two schools demonstrate that each school community is unique – in its students and staff, its culture, and the state of relationships between families and educators. The FEP is rooted in listening to families and learning about their hopes, wishes, concerns, and needs. Schools plan intentionally and work, one step at a time, to establish an approach that will be successful for their own community.

“I’m excited to see the layering of the program Flamboyan is bringing. It’s not an expectation to do everything all at once,” said Stafford.

“Schools need the opportunity to change, to figure out what works for us now and what needs to be different,” said Emperator. “I’m grateful that Flamboyan will help us take a beat to shift our approach.”