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During his recent bus tour across America, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan met with a group of mayors and superintendents in Sacramento and noted during comments that they (USDOE) had "dropped the ball" when it came to family engagement. This could have been a seminal moment for Mr. Duncan to shine the light on the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project.
Started in Sacramento over a dozen years ago, the program was developed to improve relationships and communication between schools and families in an effort to end the cycle of teachers and parents blaming each other for a lack of student success. A partnership between Sacramento City Unified School District, Sacramento City Teachers Association, and Sacramento Area Congregations Together, the program, which later developed into a nonprofit organization, provides training, resources and support for teachers to visit students and their families at their homes.
On my first day as superintendent I went on two home visits. It was easy to see how special bonds are formed between the teacher, parent and students. These bonds are critical for parents to feel that someone else cares about their child, respects them enough to come into their home and listens to their hopes and dreams for their child. What I learned on that day, and am reminded of on every subsequent visit, is that relationships are absolutely critical and fundamental for improving the culture of schools, developing partnerships with parents, and laying the building blocks for true transformation.
That is not to say that accountability and human capital strategies are not important; they are. But without relationships -- without a focus on building social capital and empowering and building the capacity of our teachers and parents with the tools to be successful allies in educating children -- we never get to the other strategies. We must remember that parents are our children's first and most consistent teachers and we must find a way to better engage them. Parents are our most important partners and we need to move beyond the rhetoric, treat them with respect and meet them on their terms rather than always at the school house doors. The Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project accomplishes all of this. As one participating parent told me recently, "Mr. Superintendent, we are your village."
Over the past few years, SCUSD has gone from 18 schools engaging in home visits to 42. Staff conducted close to 4,000 home visits last year. In addition to eventually expanding to all willing schools, we are now looking at how home visits can come help improve teaching and learning in our classrooms, improve attendance and address other academic and social needs.
Sacramento’s home visiting effort has been adopted and adapted by schools and districts in more than a dozen states. The demand for this model is increasing. Districts in Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, and Nevada are planning to scale up their home visiting pilot programs.
Our hope is that more states will get onboard with home visits. On October 23, U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary Deborah S. Delisle came to Sacramento and participated in a home visit with teachers from Leataata Floyd Elementary School. This was an important first step in recognition of the project’s transformative work by those whose support can make a difference. We know in our district that this model of home visits works. Support from the DOE could make it work for the good of the whole country.