Us: The Once and Future Openers

I’ve always found it ironic that those of us in the family and community engagement space are often lonely people. Not by choice (because usually we’re extroverts) but because of the way systems usually think about family and community engagement.  

You see, within our districts, schools, and organizations, we are usually the only ones charged with the responsibility of working with families and parents. School systems typically have a handful of folks charged with this responsibility. Very rarely do they have budgets, and even more rarely do they have missions and purposes focused on the broader opening work.

How wild is it then, that the very people often charged with “building community” or working with “the people” find themselves alone in the system, fighting major battles against decades of system dispositions? Changing a system to think about openness is no small matter and it’s really the responsibility of everyone—not just one person.  

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Beyond Family Engagement: Toward the “Open System”

For the past three years, I’ve worked at Denver Public Schools in the Office of Family and Community Engagement.  It has been an incredible experience and as I’ve transitioned to my new role as Senior Partner, Advocacy and Alliances at A+ Colorado, I’ve wanted  to reflect a bit more on my time and work.  

I’ve come to see the work of family engagement to be a critical l force in the building of partnership and relationships between schools, districts and those they serve.  However, I’ve come to see it as something much bigger - the cracking open of closed systems into the sustaining and development of an open system.  As I’ve had the gift of working with other organizations, it has become clearer to me that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in our public education system. This transformation is bigger than family engagement: it is about public systems that are open vs. closed.

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