Families in Schools brings authentic parent engagement to Huntington Park

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(photo: Matthew Grant Anson) Maria Leon addresses parents on the definition and importance of LCFF. 

When California Forward spoke to Families in Schools CEO Oscar Cruz last month about the importance of authentic parent engagement in implementing the Local Control Funding Formula, you could be forgiven for not having a clear idea of what “authenticity” would look like. While Cruz described a six-point plan focused on authentic outreach and a welcoming environment, authenticity is a qualitative term that falls into know-it-when-I-see-it territory.

Last week’s LCFF Community Dialogue in Huntington Park hosted by Families in Schools painted a much clearer picture of authentic parent engagement. It involves going the extra mile and providing an atmosphere where things like language barriers, food, and childcare aren’t standing in the way of parents participating and sharing their perspectives.  

“This is probably one of the most important meetings you’ve attended because it’s about your child’s public education,” said FIS’s Sandy Mendoza in English after a Spanish introduction from Council of Mexican Federations’ Francisco Moreno (participants were given materials in Spanish and English and live translation was provided). “This community has a great concentration of low-income families, more than almost anywhere else in the LA County area.”

The LCFF offers new opportunity for these families. The new funding law allocates extra money to schools with kids that are low-income, foster youth, or learning English. This, combined with the element of the law that lets districts make local decisions on how to meet state goals for public education changes how California’s schools interact with their communities. It starts with parent engagement, something proven to make a major impact on what students take with them from their schooling.

(photo: Matthew Grant Anson) Parents share what they want to see in their kids’ schools. 

“LCFF is worth its weight in gold,” said parent and education advocate Maria Leon in Spanish. “This new funding is a great opportunity and we won’t have this again. The first and most important piece of the puzzle is parent participation.”

With this in mind, parents were grouped together to discuss two things: what parents would like to see improved in their child’s school, and what programs or services do English learners need to succeed.

The answers were specific and thoughtful, proof that if you reach out authentically, the participation will come. “I have five kids,” said one parent named Ingrid at a table speaking entirely in Spanish. “Two don’t have good grades. I want all students with low grades to get help before they get to third grade.”

“Supposedly the first five ears are the most important ones [for kids],” said parent Jose Marquez at the same table. I think early education is the most important – children are like sponges.”

It’s not just tutoring and early education parents pointed toward either. In Huntington Park it’s as simple as needing supplies and a place to work. “We need more materials,” Ingrid said. “They keep sending notes home to donate paper to the school.”

“I think foster children suffer quite a bit” said Marquez. “I had seven kids that used to come to my house because they didn’t have anywhere else to work. They need an afterschool program to support them and give them mental health services.”

The Local Control Funding Formula is a groundbreaking move away from funding based in equality toward funding based in equity, where the money awarded is based on need. “Money should not be the obstacle to getting a quality education” was the main theme bubbling to the surface as parents shared their wants and needs for their children.

If LCFF succeeds and districts promote authentic parent engagement as modeled at the Families in Schools meeting, more students will complete school, stay out of trouble and learn the skills to succeed in the 21st century.


Matthew Grant Anson

All stories by: Matthew Grant Anson