Learning from others: "Crossing the Streams"

I apologize for subjecting you to yet another bout of news from Springfield; I had some excellent conversations today and am compelled to share them. This is a long post;  the top 2/3rds deals with Peggy Cormeny, the bottom 1/3rd with Pete Sherman. The overall theme is of bringing parents and teachers together. I am reminded of Ghostbusters and the power of crossing the “streams”. What you read below is very much like that.

[note: any factual errors are bound to be my own – if you know of any discrepancies, please let me know]

The first one was with Peggy Cormeny, the Coordinator of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) at SSD 186. I have been trying to get a hold of her for a little while and our schedules finally overlapped. My first question to Peggy was about the history and genesis of FACE. To provide a full context, she had to rewind all the way back to the early 90’s.

Roughly 20 years ago the Ball Foundation contacted the Springfield School District and started a partnership that is just now winding down. The Foundation provided grant monies to fund teacher home visits and teacher collaboration initiatives, opportunities that allowed teachers the incentives to visit with children and their families. Peggy related a story of one elementary school in which the 5th grade teachers were able to meet and visit with all the 5th grade families before school began. Wow. Around the same time, the “Parents as Partners” program was kicked off, a vital bridge between home and school.

When Peggy joined the team, Springfield was receiving NCLB money as a Title I school (large population of kids on free/reduced lunch programs) which paid for Peggy’s salary and additional “parent educators” to be involved in many (if not all) of the schools. So by this time, the stage was set with a practice of home visits, collaboration exercises, Parents as Partners and parent educators. Sometime roughly in 2008, a group called “Focus on Results” (the Illinois URL is currently defunct) created a framework of engagement that included the skeletal structure of Family and Community Engagement (FACE). After Focus left, the Parents as Partners program morphed into FACE, which has been going strong for the past couple of years.

Another element of the puzzle is the Superintendent, Dr. Walter Milton. Dr. Milton did his doctorate in Community Engagement and thus has a strong passion to see it played out in the school districts he has been involved in (note: if you do enough googling, you may find that things did not end well in Flint). When I talked to Peggy Cormeny, Shelly Heideman, Scott McFarland and others in Springfield, they credit Dr. Wilton’s positive influence.

Here are some further examples of what FACE does and looks like:

  • Each school has a FACE team and each principal has committed to fully supporting at least one dedicated FACE representative. During School Improvement days (SIP), the schools do the normal professional development stuff in the morning, but in the afternoon they totally shift gears and do neighborhood walks; they actually go out and knock on doors.
  • The Springfield Chamber of Commerce has partnered with the Health Care Clinic, and one day the CEO of the Clinic was principal for day at one of the schools.
  • Local churches (coordinated via FACE and the 1-to-1 Mentors) agree to adopt schools. In some cases, churches have provided the resources for school makeovers that “warmify” the schools and give them a physical and emotional facelift.
  • Another partnership between the Chamber of Commerce and the United Way and one other group, called some kind of continuum, provides a comprehensive, tiered umbrella program from pre-k all the way through adult education – a program that allows information to be shared between educational facilities (ie, from Private Pre-k to Public elementary) and develops a kind of profile for the child’s learning.

In closing, Peggy reiterated the crucial, fundamental importance of partnering and collaborating between the schools and the community resources. She left me with two further contacts:

This stuff is just crazy. Who knew so much was floating around out there? How much more is there?!?

Pete Sherman is the Springfield School District’s Director of Communications and Community Relations. He comes from a background of journalism, and was somewhat recently the Education Reporter (think Meg Dickinson or Jodi Heckel) for the Springfield Register-Journal. I did not take quite as many notes when talking with Mr. Sherman, but he provided a wealth of perspectives, having come from the media and into the schools. He was very much able to appreciate how those outside the school district have a completely different picture than those inside the school district, and how those different pictures can manifest in difficult communications and talking on different wavelengths. He relayed some personal stories of his time with the paper and in his new position, stories that I very much understood and had to chuckle at.

Pete talked about the magic that happens when bridges are built with the community to help address and iron out the differences in perspectives. It was made clear to me how effective communication really did help to build trust in their situation. To further the progress they started, the Springfield School District has recently written a Policy on Social Media and is just starting to implement it (reminds me of how Unit 4 finally waded into Facebook). Pete also told me about “Community Conversations” the District holds, and how it has evolved from Administrations doing PowerPoint slides (Schools of Choice Forums, anyone?) to building-level principals and staff interacting with parents. They hold these Community Conversations 3 times a year, and it seems to be very beneficial.


One Response to “Learning from others: "Crossing the Streams"”

  1. pattsi Says:

    Just in case you have not stumbled across this author, Alex Kotlowitz and the books he has written http://www.alexkotlowitz.com/02.html He does a wonderful job writing about the conditions of schools.

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