Montague Charter Academy: Creating a Parent Center « Center on Educational Governance (CEG)

Montague Charter Academy: Creating a Parent Center

Practice Area: School-University Partnerships

Montague Charter Academy:
Creating a Parent Center

Montague Charter Academy

Pacoima, California
Founded 1996
1,130 students
Grades K-6
97% Hispanic, 1% African-American, 1% Asian, 1% White, 0% Other
55% English language learners
12% Special needs
92% Receive subsidized meals
Teachers part of collective bargaining unit

Website (n/a)

Source: Center on Educational Governance, 2006.

Montague’s founding principal has had
a personal stake in the school’s vision.
A child of poverty, she lived in abusive
foster homes and never considered college until she was an adult. When
the opportunity arose for a college to be involved in providing services to
parents, she jumped at the chance.

The Parent Center emerged from her desire to bring “middle-class values” to the students of Montague’s low socio-economic community: for parents to become more active at their child’s school, assist in governing the school and to have increased success in the job market.

At the center, parents meet with a counselor to assess their goals, select appropriate classes or services and create an individual plan to help them meet their goals.

It took nearly five years for the Parent Center to open after receiving grants, but today, ESL classes encourage parents on to higher learning. More than 80 parents are currently enrolled in GED classes, planning to move on to college upon completion.


In 1994, the year after Parent Center brainstorming began, Montague received a Healthy Start Collaborative grant with four other nearby schools. This grant started the Parent Center network and was focused on parent services to support student achievement.

Mission College worked peripherally with Montague at this point. In 1997, the Community College Foundation began to train Parent Center leaders and to issue a Family Development Credential to those who finished.

Almost four years after the initial grant, the Parent Center opened at

Montague. After the principal named a parent leader who could recruit parents into the center, it became the go-to place for everything from legal advice to food stamps to mental-health treatment referrals.

In 2000, Montague found the fuel to feed the program: a Family Development Network grant from the City of Los Angeles, $800,000 a year for three years, to be shared with the four other schools in the Healthy Start Collaborative. (The school is now on its second three-year grant.)

As fiscal agent of the grant, Mission College immediately began to help Montague target the needs of its parent population. A wide range of services and classes were brought to Montague. The popular Saturday ESL Academy draws both parents and their children. Over time, the staff ironed out the parents’ logistical difficulties by adding onsite child care and moving many of the Mission College courses to Montague’s campus.


Located on Montague’s campus, the Parent Center serves as the central location for all parent services, tutoring, and classes. Saturday classes require the use of some of Montague’s classrooms.

The budget for the Parent Center comes entirely from grants, not from the school’s budget. Mission College manages the money to bring all services into the school; Montague administrators are involved with grant writing.

According to the principal, administrators involved with the Parent Center should have experience with grant writing and administrative duties, good leadership abilities, strong knowledge of the community and its needs, and good collaboration and people skills.

The Parent Center director should also have good collaboration and people skills, strong knowledge of the community and its needs and good leadership abilities. In addition, the director should also have knowledge of family development as well as insight into the school’s parent population.

On the higher education side of the partnership, each instructor or service provider is required to have expertise or be credentialed to work in their area. All prospective teachers must be comfortable in the community and be able to relate easily to parents.

Professional development has included retreats for all parties (school administrators and teachers, college administrators and faculty, and parents) involved in the center.

Lessons Learned

The principal has said she learned several basic lessons about creating a partnership: lay groundwork and seek input before making a proposal. Don’t try to do everything at once. Nurture relationships; partners open doors for more partners. Don’t ask for grandiose things; when you propose an idea to someone you’ll need to show you can carry it off.

Finances are a regular challenge; if the next grant is not renewed, then the partnership may dissolve.

Another challenge was getting parents – especially English-language learners — to attend classes. The school hired a Parent Center director who the parents trusted and who could motivate parents to take classes, starting with Beginning ESL and classes in Spanish.

Most parents had no child care at class time. Mission College solved this by providing child care, including child development classes for preschoolers.

For Mission College, it’s prudent to assist its future student body in becoming more educated, motivated and productive. Mission has also been able to replicate Montague’s Parent Center in other public schools.


Students of the parents involved with the partnership have shown improved self-esteem and engagement, more interest in achieving in school and more interest in higher education. Student discipline problems have declined to an almost non-existent level.

Success in the ESL classes has given many parents the motivation and skills needed to pursue higher education and jobs that pay much more than what they were making beforehand. As of fall 2005, 98 parents had gone on to attain “good paying” jobs in the health and financial fields after taking classes through Parent Center.

Administrators, teachers, and parents testified that when parents increased their English and academic skills through the partnership classes, they became better able to assist their children with schoolwork and be involved with their education.

Anywhere from 100 to 300 parents can be found at Montague on a given day; parent involvement at the school has skyrocketed to 87 percent. And Mission College’s Parent Intern Program — a 40-week program to give parents the tools and training to support their children’s education – has graduated several hundred parents.



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