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K-12: Shifting from parent ‘engagement’ to investing in parent agency

Courtesy of the author
When it comes to K-12, parents shouldn’t rely just on their gut feeling or the rumor mill.

For years, we’ve heard a lot about parent “engagement” — that our community apparently values it but notoriously underinvests in it and approaches it as one-way information sharing.

Antonio Cardona

Concurrently, two-thirds of students in Minneapolis enroll in a district school outside of their neighborhood, a charter school or an independent school. At Pillsbury United Communities we work with thousands of families each year. Finding the right school option is something we frequently hear from families – parents are scouring Minneapolis looking for that best-fit school. Are they finding it?

For two years, Minnesota Comeback – which leads a coalition of schools, advocates and funders organizing around strategies and resources to transform K-12 – has convened parents and community organizations to understand, from all of us, the barriers to accessing great schools and how to co-design solutions for more great schools. There’s more work to be done, but this approach of co-designing, while messy, is also refreshing.

And families, especially those most in need, could not be clearer: They want comprehensive, well-rounded and reliable information on schools across Minneapolis. What’s more, they see the value, and the necessity of having a tool that simplifies the school search process. This is a starting point.

Minneapolis School Finder

If we begin to truly think of parents as advocates for their children and want them fully engaged in their education, it begins with empowering them with thorough and objective information. Minneapolis School Finder – a new resource guide for parents – can help parents make well-informed decisions when selecting a school for their children. The guide provides comprehensive and relevant information on 139 schools across our city so families can find the one that is the best fit.

With so many different choices to navigate, parents need the information to match. Whether it be information regarding the programs and academics, to hours and demographics, the MN Comeback coalition designed Minneapolis School Finder specifically for parents.

Families should be the co-designers of solutions and MN Comeback’s Community Engagement Team – composed of representatives from all types of schools and nonprofit organizations – has been hard at work identifying engagement strategies that actually empower parents and invest in their own agency. The age-old saying “knowledge is power” rings true – when parents have the knowledge and the resources, empowerment will follow.

Academic and cultural information

When it comes to K-12, parents shouldn’t rely just on their gut feeling or the rumor mill. Every family deserves to know what each school has to offer – academically and culturally. In addition to school profiles, Minneapolis School Finder includes: tips for choosing a school, questions to ask when touring schools, application and enrollment guidance, as well as a list of schools that continue to change the odds for students most in need. But let’s not just shine a light on what’s working, let’s work with parents to expand and grow proven and promising schools.

To raise a child takes a village. Collectively and collaboratively, Minneapolis communities have joined together to provide parents with the resources they need to make the best possible choices for their children. It’s evident that the journey toward equitable and quality education does not end here. This is just the beginning. MN Comeback welcomes any feedback and continued support to ensure that Minneapolis School Finder is an honest and true reflection of the communities it has been designed to serve.

Antonio Cardona is the director of Pillsbury United Communities’ Urban Institute for Service and Learning, and chair of the MN Comeback Community Engagement Team.


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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 04/01/2017 - 09:24 am.

    I think it is great that kids have choices in

    where they go to school. Unfortunately for the poor they don’t have as many choices. By having school vouchers, that truly reflect the students value to his school district, poor families will have a better chance of finding the proper school. At some point the DFL will get on board with this thinking because it helps the very folks who vote in big numbers for them.

  2. Submitted by Alan Husby on 05/15/2017 - 11:28 pm.

    vouchers, “choice”

    Given all that we know about the vulnerability of the charter laws to scam artists and underperforming opportunists, it is incredible to me how an informed individual, philanthropy or other organization could continue to advocate for policies that weaken an already beleaguered public school system in favor of “vouchers” or “choice.” Public education is not a commodity to be bartered over — it is a time-honored and proven vehicle that improves the lives of regular people, as long as it is adequately funded. Vouchers and disingenuous “choice” ventures take precious support from local school systems and harm them, no matter what their proponents tell you. The economics are remarkably simple to understand. The inequities of “choice” programs are remarkably easy to understand. The false promises of “choice” are remarkably clear to see . . . you just have to look at reality with clear eyes.

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