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Literacy First Charter School: Using Technology To Increase Parent Involvement « Center on Educational Governance (CEG)

Literacy First Charter School: Using Technology To Increase Parent Involvement

Literacy First Charter School:
Using Technology to Increase Parent Involvement

Literacy First Charter School

El Cajon, California
Founded 2001
Start-up
693 students
Site-based
77% White, 12% Hispanic, 4% African-American, <1% Asian, 7% Other
22%  English language learners
9% special needs
31% receive subsidized meals
Teachers not part of collective bargaining unit

http://www.literacyfirstcs.org

Source: Center on Educational Governance, 2008.

The founders of LFCS, a K-8 charter school in El Cajon, Calif., believed that technology could facilitate an increase in parent involvement. By incorporating parents into various aspects of their child’s schooling, the school teaches parents how to help students at home. Telling students that their parents know what’s going on at school makes
students more accountable about their academics.

LFCS’s goal to increase parent involvement was focused in three primary areas: identifying and reducing barriers to parent involvement by parents; establishing regular and accessible channels of communication for parents; and creating many varied opportunities for parent involvement.

Implementation

LFCS chose six strategies, most connected to computer use.

LFCS’s web site contains a “parental involvement” tag, which links to the school’s volunteer needs.   It also contains links to web sites that the school has vetted and declared “safe” for children and parents to view together and use to complete class assignments.

Also on the school’s site, each teacher maintains his or her own web page, updating it weekly with homework assignments, learning objectives, reference web sites visited in class, and news of upcoming class events. Parents can receive updates to the teacher’s via an RSS feed; instructions for setting this up are also on the site. (Close administrative oversight seems to have solved the initial problem of teachers failing to update their sites on a weekly basis.)

E-mail use helps overcome some key barriers to involvement, distance and travel, allowing stakeholders to express their opinions. LFCS teachers communicate with parents in a fraction of the time that a phone call might require. Communication between local school governing bodies, the Board of Trustees, School Site Advisory Council, English Learners Advisory Committee and Parent Teams is conducted primarily through email.

LFCS’s multi-lingual e-newsletter reports upcoming and recent activities and involvement opportunities for parents. As a large percentage of LFCS’s parents speak Arabic at home, the school hired a translator and purchased software and an Arabic letter keyboard to produce versions of the school newsletter in Arabic; this generated interest among previously uninvolved Arabic-speaking parents.

LFCS teachers use Gradebook to compute grades, which allows more time for communication with parents. In the future, Gradebook could provide digital report cards and on-line student progress reports; currently, LFCS sends home paper report cards, as not all parents are online.

The AllCall telephone system can be programmed to deliver messages to parents in one of several languages, depending upon the language choice the parent selected at registration. Recently, the notification system was used to keep parents informed during the San Diego wildfires, which closed the school for several days.

Requirements

LFCS’s initial technology costs were funded by a three-year federal implementation grant of $ 400,000, awarded in 2002. General revenues funded $250,000 in subsequent purchases. LFCS budgets $90,000 per year for technology hardware purchases and upgrades; actual expenditures have ranged from $40,000 to $140,000. As a fiscal management tool, LFCS purchases three- to five-year extended warranty contracts from their major hardware vendors, which offer next-day, on-site service and parts.

LFCS’s certified technology plan qualifies the school for E-rate purchasing of T-1 and Frame relay service for 10 percent of retail. The school also solicits donations and local business sponsorships.

Consultants from the San Diego Department of Education helped develop the school’s original technology plan. Since then, a technology team of volunteer parents and teachers was charged to obtain the existing technology, assure adherence to standards of practice, and keep the school’s technology up to date. One parent became a part-time employee at a salary of $20,000 annually.

LFCS rents space for its primary and junior academy campuses from two local churches. All classrooms have wireless Internet, a Smartboard, stereophonic sound and microphone, and four desktop computers for student use; for select projects, computers are wheeled between classrooms to allow full student participation. All teachers are provided with laptop computers and iPods, used to record and play music that signals transition points between regularly scheduled class activities.

During one week of professional development prior to the fall semester, new teachers learn LFCS’s practices and procedures. Monthly professional development sessions are conducted for teachers and parents. The technology lead attends factory training on new equipment, then instructs the rest of the staff.

Lessons Learned

When devising strategies, LFCS staff assumed that all parents owned or had access to a computer. In truth, less than 75 percent of the parents had computers in the home, and only half of those were technically proficient. As a result, the school will evaluate parents’ access to computers when they register their child for school, and note which families are to receive a refurbished computer from the school.

Training parents to use the technology, especially those struggling with English, was another challenge. Many parents were more than willing to allow their children to continue to interpret for them in both academic and technology-related matters. The school increased the number of technology training sessions  for both parents and teachers.

The value of parents as an integral part of the LFCS “team” was often stated; but it took such technology tools as the e-Newsletter and the school website to enact the parents’ role. By checking homework assignments and grades online, parents can effectively intervene, when necessary, in a timely manner.

E-mail is a crucial tool in connecting stakeholders. With it, team leaders and room parents can share information among parents and team members who have widely differing work schedules.  The school uses it to promote collaboration between parents and teachers, parents and students and among parents.

Translating the electronic newsletter opened new channels of communication to a large, untapped segment of the LFCS parent population. By posting parent volunteer opportunities on the school web site, the pool of informed parents expanded beyond those who visited the school regularly; it also allowed parents greater choice in volunteering opportunities.

As the technology infrastructure expanded, the school required the services of a paid technician. The position of technician was moved from a team council function to a paid line item in the school budget, although the same parent performed the function.

When technology problems and solutions are identified, funding must be found and applications assessed for their suitability to the school. External product reviews may not yield relevant information on the effectiveness of a technology program at LFCS, the principal has said.

Conclusion

LFCS’s API scores have improved each of the last 4 years, from 786 in 2003 to 876 in 2006. However, the impact of the promising practice is better reflected in the school’s culture. “Participants evolved from embracing the technology to enjoying it,” the principal has said.

With expanded channels of communication, teachers can manage their time more efficiently and parents can more closely monitor their children’s progress and behavior and discuss school with their children in a positive way. Homework completion rates among students have increased.

One teacher credits the permeation of parental involvement to a new height in school culture: Students who engage in disruptive behavior are not admired by peers but encouraged to “get with the program.”

According to faculty and parents, the school’s emphasis on parent involvement has created and maintained a school culture that was conducive to academic excellence. Students have been made aware that they were accountable for their actions and that the entire school family was committed to their success.

Address

Center on Educational Governance
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
3470 Trousdale Parkway
Waite Phillips Hall, Room 901
Los Angeles, CA 90089-4039

Phone: (213) 740-0697
Fax: (213) 740-4184
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