Scaling Up in the Granite State: New Hampshire Focuses on Family and Community Engagement
From eight original SWIFT schools to more than 20 working to implement SWIFT Domains and Features, New Hampshire is proudly promoting and implementing All Means All.
Sue Swenson, the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation (OSERS) at the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) recently visited the Granite State. Swenson met with parent leaders; University of New Hampshire students and LEND (Leaders in Education and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) trainees; the Commissioner of Education, Virginia Barry, and NHDOE staff; leaders of parent organizations; and Dr. Wayne Sailor and SWIFT partner school educators. She also toured SWIFT partner Pittsfield School District and recorded a podcast for SWIFT, which you can listen to here.
Sue was generous with her wisdom and her time as she shared stories of her personal journey from a mother promoting inclusion for her son, Charlie, to her current role guiding special education policy for the USDOE.
A major theme of her visit was the importance of parent and community engagement.
“One of the things I love about the SWIFT process is having an evidence-based structure of Domains and Features and a real thoughtful way to help parents gently learn that they need to speak up,” she said. “Engagement is the key to everything. “
Consistent with SWIFT, the USDOE reports that states are increasingly employing family engagement strategies as a tool to promote educational equity and support growing populations of diverse students. Backed up by research, SWIFT teaches that trusting family partnerships contribute to positive student outcomes when family members and school staff have respectful, mutually beneficial relationships with shared responsibility for student learning; family members have options for meaningful involvement in their children’s education and in the life of the school; and the school responds to family interests and involvement in a culturally responsive manner.
SWIFT partner schools in New Hampshire are striving to increase and promote family engagement. During the recent forum sponsored by the NHDOE on the topic of family and community engagement, Assistant Secretary Swenson and school and district leaders listed examples and set goals for next steps for increasing the role of parents and community members in all aspects of their schoolwide transformation efforts. Some examples are described below:
- A school hired a community member to be a liaison between the school, families, and the community.
- A school building houses the town recreation department, granting all students easier access to community recreation activities.
- Parents serve on SWIFT school and districtwide leadership teams and school boards, and contribute to educational policy, such as by providing guidance on NH’s adoption of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
- A school shifted the role of the PTO box top fundraising to a parent advisory group to engage parents in decision making and advising on school policy and related topics.
- Schools are surveying families to learn their skills and interests and how those strengths can support school communities.
As you share your own experiences creating trusting family partnerships and engaging families and community members in the schoolwide transformation effort, keep Assistant Secretary Swenson's words in mind:
“SWIFT is a beacon of hope for schools. SWIFT is helping schools and families realize that our schools are better for all kids when all kids are included. It’s just better for everybody. We are going to turn a corner and reach a tipping point, and all of a sudden schools are going to realize that the secret to improving performance is inclusion.”