Start the New School Year Off Right: Build Strong, Effective Family-School Partnerships

More than 40 years of research shows that -- no matter a family's income or socioeconomic background -- when families are involved in their children's education and families and schools work together, student achievement increases, schools improve and communities grow stronger. As a new school year gets underway, it is an important time for families to make a commitment to get involved and schools to commit to partnering with families to ensure students have the support they need to succeed throughout the year.

To build strong, effective family-school partnerships, families and schools should make sure they are:

Welcoming All Families into the School Community - Families should be active participants in the life of the school and feel welcomed, valued and connected to each other, school staff, and to what students are learning and doing in class.
Communicating Effectively - Families and school staff should engage in regular, two-way, meaningful communication about student learning.
Supporting Student Success - Families and school staff should continuously collaborate to support students' learning and healthy development both at home and at school.
Speaking Up for Every Child - Families should be empowered to be advocates for their own and other children to ensure that students are treated fairly and have access to learning opportunities that will support their success.
Sharing Power - Families and school staff should be equal partners in decisions that affect children and together inform, influence and create policies, practices and programs.
Collaborating with the Community - Families and school staff should collaborate with community members to connect students, families and staff to expanded learning opportunities, community services and civic participation.

National PTA has recognized 170 schools from across the country as 2014-2016 National PTA Schools of Excellence for their achievements in building strong family-school partnerships. In addition to being designated as 2014-2016 National PTA Schools of Excellence, two schools also have been honored with the 2014 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awards for Innovation in Family Engagement for effectively implementing the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. The efforts of these schools to engage and involve families are making a substantial, positive impact on student success and well-being. The schools are true examples of what can be accomplished when schools and families work together.

National PTA also has released a report that summarizes outcomes for the 2014-2016 National PTA Schools of Excellence from their participation in the National PTA School of Excellence program. The outcomes, which were determined from family surveys administered at the beginning of the school year and then again at the end of the year, demonstrate improved family-school partnerships. During the course of the school year, the National PTA Schools of Excellence achieved:

46 percent increase in families that always feel empowered to support student success,
53 percent increase in families that feel they always share power in decision-making related to student success and school improvements,
78 percent increase in families that feel their school and PTA always collaborate with the community, and
102 percent increase in families that feel their school and PTA always speak up for every child.

The findings from the report underscore the importance of building family-school partnerships to support student success and continuous school improvement.

As we kick off the 2014-2015 school year, I encourage schools nationwide to evaluate their current family engagement strategies, brainstorm ideas for family involvement practices and activities, develop a plan to address barriers and open up new ways for families to support student success, and monitor progress throughout the year in reaching family engagement goals. I also urge all families to get involved as it is proven to make a difference for children, schools and communities.

It is critical that meaningful partnerships are established between families and schools in every district and every school. Together, we can help every child reach his or her full potential and make every child's dream a reality.

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA, a nonprofit association dedicated to being a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities and a strong advocate for public education. In addition to leading National PTA, Thornton is a senior operations analyst with General Dynamics and a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel.