November 23 — 12:00 am, 2006

District seeks to ensure principal support for parents

When it comes to schools’ commitment to parental involvement, principals have the ability to set the tone in the building.

And there is disagreement about how well Philadelphia’s principals are doing at setting the right tone of unqualified support for parent engagement in schools.

Professional standards for principal performance talk about practices like “collaborating with the families and community members, responding to diverse community interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources” (this language is from the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards, used in Philadelphia).

District officials say that these standards are being communicated to principals and point to progress in achieving them on a number of fronts. A training program for new principals has a major strand on “family and community engagement.” A wider set of District supports is in place at the school level to involve parents, such as the Parent Volunteers Program.

“There just isn’t enough followup to ensure that these things happen in schools on an ongoing basis,” countered Steve Honeyman, president of the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project, a community organization that has been involved in principal training for the past three years.

“It’s widely variable from school to school in terms of how much and what ways parents are involved,” observed Brian Armstead, director of civic engagement for the Philadelphia Education Fund.

“I don’t think the District has a clear idea of what it wants in terms of parent involvement, and so it makes sense that principals would be confused,” Armstead said.

Whether parents should be involved in principal selection is one issue where the District “hasn’t developed a consensus vision,” Armstead added.

Under current District policy, schools that have site-based selection of teachers can also conduct a school-based selection process if they have a principal vacancy.

Tomas Hanna, senior vice president for human resources for the District, pointed out that in hiring principals who are effective at community partnerships, “the best quality control might be parents sitting at the table” as part of a hiring committee.

District officials cite their “ALPS” principal training institute as one important initiative to make sure that incoming principals understand community needs (see "Prepping Principals").

Judy Lewis, associate superintendent in charge of staff development, said that the District is developing additional ways for principals to share best practices around parent involvement. One example is a new blog for principals to exchange information on truancy prevention. That is an issue closely tied to parent and community engagement, she noted.

Lewis also pointed to a committee that is working on revised criteria for evaluating principals and teachers. She said a principal could be assessed on what kind of community newsletters and materials for parents they are producing, or asked to show how they deal with the translation needs of parents.

The District form used for evaluating principals in 2005-06 did list “increased community collaboration” as one of four areas to be appraised.

But last year’s rubric for principal assessment did not specifically address the quality of school climate and relationships. The only two evaluation criteria listed under “community collaboration” are “Create/maintain active parent network” and “Establish/maintain community partnerships.”

Honeyman questioned whether principals are being held accountable for parent involvement under the District’s current principal evaluation process.

Associate Superintendent Lucy Rodriguez-Feria, who oversees the District’s regional offices to whom all principals report, said that Philadelphia’s principals and administrators do grasp that parent involvement is a vital component in improving student achievement, despite intensified focus on standardized test scores. “I feel confident that no principal in this District is treating this area as secondary,” she said.

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