Research has shown that engaged families play a crucial role in student success, and today’s schools are reaching out to families more than ever for that SchoolOfExcellence_Logosupport. Whether it is e-mail lists, robo-calls, Facebook, Twitter, websites, or the good old “backpack express,” schools are trying to provide families with more information about their child’s school and education. Using all these means is important, but they are all generally one-way communication methods, using information sharing as an attempt at transparency.

But what students, families, teachers, and administrators really need are relationships, and relationships are built on communication between people. As schools call on parents to be more involved in decisions about how schools are managed through building councils, hiring committees, curriculum committees, and more, they need to develop those relationships with families as more than simple information receivers. And those relationships are built on periodic conversations between schools and families that allow for give and take.

A recent article in the Phi Delta Kappan illustrates how a school can undermine building those relationships. In the past, parents were generally considered engaged if they came to Open House, attended the school play, and checked their child’s homework. Today, parents may struggle to support their child’s homework, as new learning standards such as those for math focus on critical thinking, problem solving, and a solid understanding of numeracy. This new approach is far different than the basic rote memorization of math facts that today’s parents were taught, and as a result even well-educated parents are struggling to support their child. Schools may have Family Math Nights to help parents, but often only one or two, generally in the evening, and not all parents can attend.

So what can parents and PTAs do to help build these crucial relationships? One key tool is the PTA School of Excellence program. Built on National PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships, the program provides PTAs with a turnkey approach to engaging families, teachers, and administrators in building relationships for student success. A report on the first set of Schools of Excellence honorees showed significant increases in families reporting that their school and PTA empowered them to support their child, spoke up for every child, shared power in decision-making and school improvement, and collaborated with the community.

Your PTA has the opportunity to become a National PTA School of Excellence this year by following these simple steps:

  1. Enroll your PTA between now and October 1, 2015. Once you do so, you’ll receive the Getting Started Guide that describes the program components, including your first steps to gather feedback from families and set goals with your school partner.
  2. Survey your school community using the online tools provided and share the results with National PTA by submitting a Family-School Partnership Scan by November 1, 2015. You will choose a focus in one of three areas:
    • Improving family engagement in education
    • Ensuring students’ health and safety
    • Supporting arts in education
  3. Use the customized Roadmap to Excellence containing recommendations that correspond to your specific results and selected focus from the Family-School Partnership Plan to work towards your goal. Your Roadmap to Excellence will spell out exactly what you need to do to become a National PTA School of Excellence.
  4. Complete the National PTA School of Excellence application before June 1, 2016.
  5. Celebrate your excellence! All National PTA School of Excellence recipients receive a toolkit to support celebration activities.

You can find out more information from the National PTA School of Excellence Tell Me More Guide which provides some samples of the information you’ll receive throughout the process and gives more details on the individual steps.