Column: More success when community focuses on students

This time of year provides varied opportunities for families to spend time together and to celebrate with one another. When talking with friends and family, I often hear how much each of them value time with immediate and extended family. It is wonderful to see and connect with my children, nieces and nephews – and to see them teach, interact and play with their own children.

Dr. Mary E. Wolverton

Dr. Mary E. Wolverton

What is most interesting to me is to listen to their conversations. They talk about the early childhood programs their own children participate in and which schools their children will attend once they enter the K-12 setting. A common denominator in those conversations is the school’s parent involvement and engagement opportunities, in addition to elementary programming. I appreciate and value the insight that their conversations give me as they are similar to the conversations I have had with so many other parents when my own children began attending school in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Research is compelling on the relationship between parent and community involvement in improved student achievement. Effective strategies for organizing efforts to connect schools, families and the community have varying approaches.

In the Anoka-Hennepin School District, there has been a collaborative effort with early childhood and elementary programming to develop a solid foundation between schools and families. In a number of our elementary schools, we offer preschool programs through Community Education. The elementary schools hosting early childhood programs note benefits not only for our families, but also for our teachers.

The families who have children enrolled in the kindergarten readiness preschool programs at the elementary schools have developed early partnerships and familiarity with the school staff and the greater school community. As students progress through school, a natural outcome of these early partnerships is greater student achievement resulting from increased parent involvement with the school and the teachers. In addition, Early Childhood Education staff and kindergarten teachers have greater opportunities to collaborate on standards, curriculum and instructional strategies. More importantly, they are able to collaborate on how to support their young learners and families.

Steve Kerr, our director of community education, and I were recently invited to share details about our early childhood collaborative efforts with school administrators brought together by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. It was an honor to represent a district that is leading the way in creating excellent outcomes for our young learners. Kerr was able to share data that illustrate the academic progress that students enrolled in preschool readiness programs made in one school year. The gains exceeded expectations and as a result, kindergarten and elementary curriculum staff had to “raise the bar” to accommodate and continue to challenge the students once they entered kindergarten and elementary school classes. That’s a great problem to have and a reason to celebrate.

Students reaching end-of-year standards in kindergarten have greater likelihood of being on track for academic success as they progress through the K-12 setting. Last year, the number of kindergarten students who met end-of-year benchmarks in both math and literacy increased dramatically.

As a community, when we collectively focus on our students, we see higher success rates for them. The Anoka-Hennepin School Board has been highly supportive of expanding kindergarten readiness preschool programs and all-day, every-day kindergarten. This support has been a significant variable in the outcomes we achieve, not only for our students, but also for families and our staff.

We know that this combined team effort of school board support, excellent teachers and programs and family partnerships is truly making a difference for our students.

Dr. Mary Wolverton is the associate superintendent for elementary education in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

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