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2/22/2018

STAFF BLOG: Together to Stabilize Education for Children in Foster Care — Tom Capretta, Family and Children Community Coordinator

By: Staff Blogger

GettyImages-519433758-1.jpgIn my work, I often present to educators, and I try to find ways to immediately engage them. One of my favorite activities to kick off a workshop is to ask participants to draw maps of places from their childhoods. I adapted this activity from Dr. Barbara Boone at The Ohio State University. Participants have five minutes to draw a map of any size, but it must include some places where they spent a lot of their time. Then, mapmakers discuss similarities and differences between their maps and the emotions tied to the places. Often, most maps in the room are similar. However, occasionally we get to discuss two very different maps. Many with geographically larger maps discuss how challenging it was to change schools and move between communities. At the end of the activity, we discuss what the maps of the students we serve might look like.

One-third of young adults in foster care reported five or more school changes. This is important because just one move can increase a student’s risk of not graduating or delaying graduation. Now, imagine what the maps of students in foster care might look like. Many of their maps would paint pictures of frequent moves that disrupt established relationships with trusted adults and their peers. In the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), lawmakers attempted to address the challenging and frequent transitions that students in foster care experience.

ESSA seeks to stabilize the education of children in foster care in four key ways. First, ESSA requires county child welfare agencies to work with school districts to identify the best educational setting for each student transitioning in foster care. The procedure for determining the best interest of the student should focus on maintaining as much of the student’s education stability as possible — including staying in his or her school of origin. Second, if a student can continue in the school of origin, ESSA requires the school district to arrange transportation services for the student in foster care. Transportation is key to ensuring stability. Third, if a student is unable to stay in the school of origin, ESSA requires that the new school begin the enrollment process immediately while working to remove barriers to enrollment and evaluating the student’s academic needs. Finally, when a student in foster care must change schools, districts must work diligently to facilitate the transfer of records as quickly as possible.

This shift in how we serve students in foster care will pose some challenges for districts and county agencies. For too long, school districts and child welfare agencies worked separately to support the same students. Today, ESSA challenges two distinct, large systems to work collaboratively and focus on what is best for students in their care. ESSA also challenges districts and child welfare agencies to share in the cost of transporting students in foster care. Even with these challenges, there are opportunities. Agencies and schools are building new channels of communication and systems to better meet the needs of the students they serve.

There are three critical actions that districts and county agencies are taking to effectively implement these requirements and build positive momentum around this work.

  1. Prepare: Districts and child welfare agencies must ensure that staff from the very top of an organization all the way down to support staff are informed of requirements. All staff must be ready to engage in procedures to support students in foster care. By being prepared, everyone can work to immediately enroll students and make sure they have the resources to learn and feel comfortable in their school settings.
  2. Coordinate: Districts and child welfare agencies should work together to write best interest determination and transportation procedures. With clear procedures in place, both parties can fulfill their respective responsibilities to support the educational stability of students in foster care. Many districts and child welfare agencies are forming regional or countywide networks that write these procedures.
  3. Collaborate: Districts and child welfare agencies are thinking outside the box and respecting the expertise of each party at the table. Together, they are creating solutions to complex problems. Both districts and county agencies have unique insights to the needs of each student. Those insights should be simultaneously respected. Working together to find student-centered solutions is what collaboration is all about.

All in all, ESSA’s new requirements for students in foster care is positive. These requirements ensure that school districts and county child welfare agencies are working together to keep relationships with trusted adults and peers intact. At the same time, they are making student-centered decisions for what a student’s best educational setting may be. While there are challenges, there are unprecedented opportunities to improve academic outcomes for students in foster care.

Tom Capretta is the family and children community coordinator at the Ohio Department of Education. He supports districts in their efforts to implement effective family and community engagement strategies and serve vulnerable student groups, including students in foster care. To contact Tom, click here.

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4/5/2018

STAFF BLOG: Family and Community Engagement is Something Good Schools Do — Tom Capretta, Family and Children Community Coordinator

By: Staff Blogger

GettyImages-607460110.jpgTracy Hill is the executive director of the Office of Family and Community Engagement at Cleveland Metropolitan School District and one of the 2014 Education Week Leaders to Learn From. The first time I heard her say, “Family and community engagement is something that good schools do,” it just clicked. She made the point simply and powerfully. Family engagement and community engagement are not separate from the everyday work of schools and districts. They are, in fact, critical to the success of that work. Research even shows that effective family and community engagement can result in better grades, test scores, attendance and enrollment in more challenging courses.

Because engagement with families and communities is so critical to school success, it is a part of any quality effort to improve schools. For example, when a district carries out the Ohio Improvement Process, the district must work with families and communities to collect data, determine needs, develop an improvement plan, work the plan and evaluate the plan. As the district does this work, it develops mutual relationships with families and community members. This allows everyone to recognize their roles in improving students’ education.

At a webinar I attended in August 2017, Ron Mirr, president of the Center for Active Family Engagement (CAFÉ), shared this process in simpler terms. Below are the five steps he outlined for meaningful and organized engagement:

  1. Commit: To get buy-in from the community and families, districts and schools must clearly define family and community engagement. Districts should develop policies that create a clear direction for engagement. Districts and organizations in the community must develop and subscribe to shared beliefs about family and community engagement.
  2. Assess: Districts and schools must assess the environment they operate in. To do this, they should survey stakeholders, review what they are already doing and identify opportunities for growth.
  3. Plan: Districts and schools should develop a team of parents, caretakers, students and community members. Writing a plan that includes all parties establishes a foundation of mutual trust. To be successful, schools and districts also must provide training to staff about how to engage families and the community.
  4. Implement: Districts and schools must move beyond traditional professional development and provide coaching. Their plans must include processes for checking progress and provide the necessary resources for success.
  5. Sustain: Engagement is not a one-time event. School and district teams must routinely review data and, if needed, adjust what they are doing. They should openly create and share the next steps in the process with their stakeholders.  

These steps align to the Ohio Improvement Process. They also are accessible to parents and community members. Intentionally engaging families and communities establishes trust. Trust leads to meaningful collaboration and support in other areas.

The draft of EachChild=OurFuture, Ohio’s five-year strategic plan for education, includes Eight Guiding Principles that recognize the importance of family and community engagement. The goal of the strategic plan is to help each child become successful with the guidance and support of caring, empowered adults. The plan itself is the product of engagement with more than 150 preK-12 educators, higher education representatives, parents and caregivers, employers, business leaders and philanthropic organizations. In fact, the draft is still being discussed at public regional meetings around Ohio. You can read more about EachChild=OurFuture and comment on the draft here.

Ohio and the nation are realizing the importance of family and community engagement. It is the perfect time for our state to be the meeting place for the 2018 National Family and Community Engagement Conference. The conference, hosted by the Institute for Educational Leadership, will be in Cleveland July 11-13. More than 1,300 people are expected to attend, and there will be more than 75 workshops. This is an excellent opportunity to see how schools and communities around the country are realizing mutual goals and making the most of family-school-community partnerships. Participants will leave the conference with strategies, tips and tools they can immediately apply to their work. To learn more, please visit the conference website or contact me directly.

Tom Capretta is the family and children community coordinator at the Ohio Department of Education. He supports districts in their efforts to implement effective family and community engagement strategies and serve vulnerable student groups, including students in foster care. To contact Tom, click here.

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5/10/2018

STAFF BLOG: Developing In-Demand Graduates Begins with Early Career Planning — Tisha Lewis, Career Connections Administrator

By: Staff Blogger

IDJW_logo.jpgIt’s graduation season and finding the answer to the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is becoming critical for many students.

How exactly are schools preparing students to be ready for their first steps after graduating? Do students have the tools to move through the fog of decisions and challenges that await them after high school?

For me, these questions are more important now than at any other time in my adult life. My daughter is about to graduate high school, and I want her to be confident in her next steps!

If we expect our high school graduates to walk confidently across the stage at graduation, we need to prepare them in advance to make sound decisions about their futures. This preparation takes time and support from parents, teachers and community members. You can encourage students in your life to begin exploring careers and evaluating their talents well before graduation. OhioMeansJobs K-12 is a free, online resource that students can use to help them explore careers that match their interests and start conversations about their futures.

You also should know that this week is In-Demand Jobs Week. This is a celebration of jobs, industries and skills that are in-demand in Ohio. In-demand jobs pay well and have a high rate of growth projected for the future. Schools, colleges, universities, businesses and communities are working together to highlight and celebrate the many pathways to success our students can follow right here in Ohio. During this week, talk to your kids about the jobs and skills they think will be important to their futures. You can use OhioMeansJobs K-12 as a starting point.

Beyond just opening the discussion about in-demand careers, many schools are providing opportunities this week to help students understand how their interests and abilities can lead to careers. Students are exploring what careers are growing, identifying the problems they could help solve in their careers and learning how to prepare for those careers.

Schools are doing this through special events, but many also are making career planning a regular part of the school culture and academic programming. Check out these districts and schools around the state that are routinely incorporating career planning in their schools.

Our kids don’t need to have every decision made when they graduate, but they should be actively working toward long-term goals and know the next steps along their paths. They also should know what jobs will pay well and have openings when they graduate from high school or higher education.

I will be forever grateful to the school, community and business people that provided my daughter with the opportunities and experiences she needed to be able to make plans for her future. She will graduate confidently with a plan for her future in place. With tools like OhioMeansJobs K-12 and exciting events like In-Demand Jobs Week, other students in Ohio can have that same advantage.

Tisha Lewis is the administrator for the Department’s Career Connections office. Click here to contact Tisha.

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Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM