The Hartford Public Schools launched a Family-Friendly Schools Initiative at a very well-attended meeting this past December, leading to a pilot effort under way at six schools to determine best practice.  As crucial as the effort is, the pace of implementation to make it stick has raised very good questions from parents and leaders we speak with often.

Before a full auditorium December 5th, Hartford Board of Education and District leaders received a keynote from Boston family engagement leader Michele Brooks – a parent complainant turned administrator there – who delved into how a welcoming culture could be customized for every school.  Here’s the link to our coverage.

Following up just last week on February 9th at the HBOE Parent and Community Engagement Committee meeting, District officials said feedback information from the hundreds of December 5 meeting attendees is being finalized – and that the Family-Friendly Initiative is being piloted at six Hartford schools: SAND Elementary, the Expeditionary Learning Academy at Moylan, Breakthrough South, the Asian Studies Academy, Milner, and Betances Early Reading Lab.


The pilot approach raised a number of questions at the meeting, including these three:

  • Board Member Craig Stallings, saying “They’re trying to establish things we’re not even debating,” wondered why the District would go so slowly.  “I just hope we don’t lose time planning the plan,” he said, adding, “As a parent, I need systemic change and support now.”  Each Hartford school, within a year, ought to set goals for making its environment more family friendly, he said.  Referring to the District’s restorative justice approach, he said it would be a perfect way to empower School Governance Councils as well as to make schools more family friendly (by reducing student suspensions and replacing them with penalties that satisfy the victims of offenses and thereby forgive perpetrators).  Here is our coverage of that restorative justice approach.
  • Tauheedah Jackson, HPS Director of the Hartford Partnership for Student Success, agreed that the volunteer, pilot, so-called pioneer schools should be scaled up from six – but wanted to know what capacity schools have – and how their resources currently are used.
  • The reflective comments of the one parent at the meeting are below.


Another Country Heard From

One Hartford parent was present at the committee meeting: Deborah Bigelow, who grew up in Charter Oak Terrace and is now program coordinator for the Hartford Parent University.

“Why do you have to pilot something that should be common sense?” asks Ms. Bigelow, whose son came through Betances and graduated from Prince Tech years ago and now owns his own business in Pennsylvania.  Her daughter is now a UConn freshman via Pathways to Technology High School.

As the one unofficial parent present at the committee meeting, Ms. Bigelow was on the same wave length as Mr. Stallings.  “I’m just curious about what the criteria are for a family friendly school,” she said Tuesday.

At the committee meeting, she recalled, it blew her mind that there were no parents there … except for her.  With respect to family friendly schools, she said, “I don’t understand why you have to pilot this. They keep inventing – it’s time to get the hamster off the wheel.”

The Bottom Line.  Task force and pilot fatigue among parents and community members has been Hartford’s baggage for a long time now.  With something as important as making schools family friendly, it’s hard to understand why that effort would be treated as an initiative or project, instead of more of an expectation at all schools.

It sounds to us like explaining exactly why a pilot project is necessary in this situation is the next step for HPS.  If parents (and even a current HBOE member) don’t understand the need for a pilot, then it’s going to be that much harder for families to support it, which will be necessary down the line.

Communications challenges at the school level are constant. Achieve Hartford! is proud to see the District focus on this super-important issue, but would love to see more information distributed with details on the pilots – and the thinking behind the format.