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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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Harvard Family Research Project partnered the National Center for Family and Community Connections With Schools at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) to present this 1-day symposium at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on December 2, 2004. This full-day symposium was aimed at educators who are committed to helping students reach their full potential by incorporating family and community connections with schools.

The goals of the symposium were to:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of key issues and effective and research-based strategies in family and community connections with schools to improve practice.
  • Learn about specific family and community connections strategies and programs that promote student achievement.
  • Explore important issues and assumptions in family and community connections with schools.
  • Network with others who share the same interests and needs.

These goals were met through a conference structure that included topics and sessions on student achievement, child readiness, middle and high school, diversity, and evaluation. Additionally, the sessions focused on identifying effective processes and outcomes of family and community engagement as well as specific examples of effective programs and strategies for each topic area, including how these supports improved practice, preparation, and professional development of educators. See below for the agenda, speakers, links to their bios, their presentation descriptions, transcripts, and slides.


Opening Remarks

Cathy Jordan, Program Manager, National Center for Family and Community Connections With Schools
Mary Grassa O'Neill, Director, The Principals' Center, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Heather Weiss, Founder and Director of Harvard Family Research Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education

After Jordan welcomed everyone, Grassa O'Neill shared her observations on how to get more parents and communities involved in schools and Weiss mentioned the publications available on the resource table.


Describing High School Parent Involvement: Voices From the Field

Arnold Fege, Director of Public Engagement and Advocacy, Public Education Network

Fege shared eight recordings from a collection of parent interviews that Public Education Network had conducted over the prior 6 months. Fege revealed that many parents agreed on several points when asked to describe their involvement with their children's high schools. Parents said they don’t want to be the teacher, but they do want input and a relationship with the school. They all agree that parental connections and involvement through the high school level are absolutely imperative, but they don’t know how to access high schools, especially large urban ones. However, they overwhelmingly supported their high schools in spite of the fact that they were difficult to access.


Keynote: Supporting Student Achievement: Family and Community Connections With Schools

Karen Mapp, Deputy Superintendent for Family and Community Engagement, Boston Public Schools, and President, Institute for Responsive Education, Northeastern University

Mapp offered a brief presentation on her research and experience in the area of school, family, and community partnerships and focused on the findings she published in SEDL's New Wave of Evidence. Mapp discussed why schools, family, and community partnerships are key to student learning and development; what types of partnership programs work best to support learning; and how to achieve effective school, family, and community partnerships. Mapp also provided examples of schools across the country using effective practices to connect to families and communities.


Effective Family and Community Connections With School Programs: Challenges at the Middle and High School, Opening the Next Level of Involvement

Arnold Fege, Director of Public Engagement and Advocacy, Public Education Network
Kris Kaiser Olson, Executive Director, Parents for Public Schools

Fege and Olson addressed the challenges that schools face in involving parents and the community at the secondary education levels. As students grow older, contact between family and school declines, middle and high schools see a decrease in volunteerism, and parents tend to experience fewer involvement opportunities. Fege and Olson offered a brief overview of the major federal policies on parent involvement and discussed six major elements of involvement that middle and high schools need to consider as part of their involvement strategy. They also identified the barriers to involvement on which schools should focus their attention, including the lack of connection made between involvement and achievement, differing teacher/parent expectations, lack of principal/teacher expertise, and non-welcoming school climates.


Diversity and Cultural Setting: Contextual Issues in Student Achievement

John Diamond, Assistant Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Diamond presented how educational context influences parent engagement. He argued that parent involvement is socially constructed by the resources and educational terrains that parents navigate. In an ethnographic study of 10 Chicago area schools, Diamond found that the racial and ethnic composition of a school influences how teachers and parents think about and interpret parent engagement. Diamond appealed for educators to acknowledge multiple visions and models of what parent involvement looks like. He identified the implications for practice, including respecting parents' culture, resources and involvement styles; acknowledging the structural realities faced by parents; creating school environments that embrace all families; and providing explicit information to parents about how to support their children's education.


Readiness: The Role of Family-School Connections in Supporting Student Success in Early Childhood

Christine McWayne, Assistant Professor of Applied Psychology, Steinhardt School of Education, New York University

McWayne shared findings from her research on early childhood and family–school connections. McWayne suggested that family involvement practices may manifest in culturally specific ways, and some practices may go unrecognized by school personnel. Furthermore, McWayne cautioned that traditional family involvement practices are inadequate for some groups such as recently immigrated or working single parents and that schools need to acknowledge what's going on at home, particularly when schools deal with different cultural groups. McWayne presented an instrument that she developed for kindergarten parents that includes home-based involvement, school-based involvement, and inhibited involvement. McWayne concluded with that to develop a successful family involvement program, schools must have a collaborative decision-making process in place that involves families and understands what they need and what they value.


Assessing the Impact of Parent Involvement Programs

Eric Dearing, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Wyoming

Drawing examples from research at Harvard Family Research Project on the connections between family involvement and child literacy, Dearing explored four findings from empirical research that have implications for evaluating family involvement programs and interventions. He argued that for evaluators to accurately measure program effects, they need to design studies that can identify nonprogram factors that might influence parents' involvement in children education; within-family changes in involvement over time; indirect ways in which parents' involvement can affect student achievement; and differences across families in the meaningfulness and impact of family involvement. Dearing demonstrated these four processes with findings from the School Transition Study, a longitudinal study of 390 low-income children and families followed from kindergarten through fifth grade.


Ruth Yoon, Executive Director, Families in Schools

Yoon described how her organization developed a literacy program, Read With Me, Lea Conmigo, and conducted a comprehensive evaluation. The evaluation posed a number of challenges, including managing a large-scale evaluation with limited resources, recruiting control group sites, getting the buy-in of teachers to complete the evaluations, and assessing the reliability of parent responses to questionnaires. Despite these challenges, Yoon found the evaluation useful to improve the training and materials for the program as well as future evaluation processes. She also used the evaluation to support fundraising efforts and impressed funders with an evaluation record that reflected transparency, accountability, and openness to learning and change.


Heather Weiss, Founder and Director of Harvard Family Research Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Weiss reflected on the current status and future direction of the field of family–school–community partnerships and the role of research and evaluation. She argued that the demand for effective partnerships will increase in coming years as education leaders look outside of the school for other resources to help close the achievement gap. To capitalize on this opportunity, Weiss believes we need a national strategy that includes the collection and use of research and evaluation, professional development, a policy and legislative development agenda, and a communication and advocacy strategy. Next steps for research and evaluation include further mining of developmental research to inform applied work, using evaluations to identify interventions with positive results, distilling and distributing information to practitioners, and developing research-based tools for professional development and practice.


Closing Remarks

Cathy Jordan, Eric Dearing, John Diamond, Arnold Fege, Christine McWayne, Kris Kaiser Olson, Heather Weiss, and Ruth Yoon offered brief closing remarks for the day.


Speakers Bios


Eric Dearing is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wyoming. His research interests are centered in children’s development in impoverished contexts, including the role of family involvement during kindergarten, parenting, and parent–child relationships. His recent publications include “Family Educational Involvement During Kindergarten Promotes Literacy, Self-Efficacy and Achievement for Children Living in Less Educated, Low-Income Families,” published in the Journal of School Psychology and “The Developmental Implications of Restrictive and Supportive Parenting Across Neighborhoods and Ethnicities: Exceptions Are the Rule,” in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Dearing recently received the 2003–2005 National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship award. Dearing has a B.A. from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and a M.A. in psychology from the University of New Hampshire. He received his Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire and completed a post-doctorate fellowship in developmental psychology at Harvard Medical School.


John Diamond is an assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Diamond is a sociologist of education who focuses on how race, ethnicity, and social class intersect with school practices and policies to determine the educational opportunities and outcomes of children. His recent research includes a 4-year study of urban school leadership; an examination of the implications of social class for African American parents' educational participation; a study of race, social class, and student achievement in suburban schools; and a study of the development and diffusion of teachers' expectations of students.

For the last study, Diamond was the recipient of a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. In addition to this fellowship, he also recently earned the Faculty Fellowship Award from the Center for 21st Century Studies and the University of Wisconsin System Institute on Race and Ethnicity.

His fields of interest include the sociology of education, stratification, race and class stratification, parent involvement, and leadership and organizational change. He served as research director of the Distributed Leadership Project, a program of research investigating the practice of school leadership in urban elementary schools, from 1999–2002. Recent publications can be found in Sociology of Education, Education Researcher, The Journal of Curriculum Studies, Educational Policy, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, and The Berkeley Journal of Sociology.

Diamond has also been the research director of the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN). The MSAN is a consortium of 15 integrated suburban school districts that addresses the achievement gap between African American and Latino students and white students.

Previously, Diamond was an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee in the department of educational policy and community studies and a research assistant professor at the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. He also served as a program associate in planning and evaluation at the MacArthur Foundation and as a graduate fellow at the National Science Foundation/Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern.

His most recent publications include “African-American Parents' Orientations Towards Schools” (with K. Williams Gomez; in press) in Education and Urban Society, “High-Stakes Accountability in Urban Elementary Schools” (with J. Spillane; in press) in Teachers College Record, “Teachers' Expectations and Sense of Responsibility for Student Learning” (with A. Randolph and J. Spillane; in press) in Anthropology and Education Quarterly, and “Towards a Theory of School Leadership” (with J. Spillane and R. Halverson; in press) in Journal of Curriculum Studies.

Diamond received his B.A. in political science and sociology from the University of Michigan and his Ph.D. in sociology from Northwestern University.


Arnold Fege is a leading national proponent of democratic decision making to the survival of the common school, and has presented and written widely on issues of public engagement, parental empowerment, and equal educational opportunity for all children in public education, with particular focus on low-income children and communities.

Fege is the Director of Public Engagement and Advocacy for the Public Education Network (PEN), representing 87 community-based local education funds in urban school districts that focus on improved educational opportunities for poor and disadvantaged children. At PEN, he directs the PEN/Education Week annual national poll on the public's responsibility for public schools, coordinates the creation of the newly developed PEN index to measure community civic behaviors related to quality public schools, is co-author of the PEN Guide on NCLB Parental and Community Involvement, represents PEN on Capitol Hill related to major elementary and secondary legislation, and interacts with key education and parent organizations at the national level. Fege is also the founder and president of Public Advocacy for Kids, a nonprofit consulting firm focusing on child advocacy and legislative issues at the national level coupled with grassroots constituency building.

Fege has over 30 years of public education and child advocacy experience, including such areas as nonprofit management, policymaking, governmental relations, media relations, strategic planning, communications, news writing, and organizational development. He has extensive local school district experience as a public school teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and desegregation director. As a staff person for Senator Robert F. Kennedy, he helped draft provisions in the original ESEA legislation and was present when President Lyndon Johnson signed the measure into law in March 1965.

He was the Director of the National PTA’s Office of Governmental Relations in Washington, D.C., for over 17 years where he as responsible for playing a major role in national policy related to public education, children’s media, and health care. He was also led the National Coalition for Public Education, comprised of 60 member associations, organized to defeat federal tuition tax credit and private school voucher proposals. He also served as a journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, covering urban problems and education, and was a Vietnam War correspondent for 2 years filing stories for the Associated Press.

Fege was the recipient of the 1969 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Peace Award, the 1970 United Nations Journalism Award for Excellence in Analytical International Newswriting, a 1983 Roosevelt Center Congressional Child Advocacy Award, the 1991 Jefferson Foundation Religious Liberty Honor, and the 1998 National PTA President’s Recognition for Outstanding Child Advocacy, and the 2000 Nelson Mandela Award for International Education Leadership and Social Justice. He has degrees from Hope College, Oberlin College, and Teachers College, Columbia University.



Mary Grassa O’Neill is interim director of the Principals’ Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has served Massachusetts’ schools as a former classroom teacher, reading specialist, principal, and superintendent. In 1993, the Boston Public Schools created the Mary Grassa O’Neill Writing Award, which is presented to excellent student writers. In 2003, the Milton Foundation for Education created the Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill Leadership award, presented annually to an outstanding Milton leader. O’Neill continues to be motivated by the concept that partnerships between sound research and best practice and among parents, schools, and the greater community will lead to systemwide school improvement.



Catherine Jordan is a program manager with the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) and with SEDL's Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Task 2: National Leadership for Family and Community Involvement. She currently leads the National Center for Family and Community Connections With Schools, which links people with research-based information and resources they can use to effectively connect schools, families, and communities.

Between 1997 and 2000, Jordan lead SEDL's field-based research and development of home, school, and community partnerships, which culminated in the publication of Creating Collaborative Action Teams: Working Together for Student Success. She is a Regional Associate of the National Center for Community Education (NCCE) in Flint, Michigan, and serves on its National Training Task Force for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Prior to joining SEDL, Jordan served as Executive Director for the McLennan County Youth Collaboration – Communities In Schools, Inc., in Waco, Texas, where she developed the nationally recognized Lighted Schools project as a part of the Pew Charitable Trust's Partnership for Civic Change.

Jordan holds a B.A. in journalism and history from Baylor University and an M.A.T. in public service administration from Tarleton State University.


Karen Mapp is the President of the Institute for Responsive Education (IRE). Mapp joined IRE in 1997 as Project Director for the Boston Community Partners for Students' Success initiative, which focused on the development of activities and programs to familiarize parents with the recently established Boston Citywide Learning Standards. She was appointed Vice President of IRE in May of 1998 and President in September of 1998. Mapp was recently appointed as the Interim Deputy Superintendent for Family and Community Engagement for the Boston Public Schools. During her tenure, Mapp will retain the title and duties of IRE President.

In 1997, Mapp was awarded a Spencer Dissertation Fellowship for her research on how and why families are involved in their children's educational development. She is the author of “Making the Connection Between Families and Schools,” published by the Harvard Education Letter (1997). She co-authored with Anne Henderson A New Wave Of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement, published by SEDL. Most recently she has published “Having Their Say: Parents Describe How and Why They Are Engaged in Their Children's Learning” in The School Community Journal.

Mapp's prior work experience includes serving as Assistant Director of the Massachusetts Prevention Center in Framingham, Massachusetts, and Associate Director of Admissions at Trinity College. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Parents for Public Schools, Inc. She also serves on SEDL’s National Center for Family and Community Connections With Schools Steering Committee.

Mapp holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Trinity College, a master's of education from Harvard University in administration, planning, and social policy, and a master's and a doctorate in counselor education from Southern Connecticut State University.



Christine McWayne works as an assistant professor at New York University’s (NYU) School Psychology Program with the faculty of the Department of Applied Psychology at the Steinhardt School of Education. During her graduate training at the University of Pennsylvania, she served as a principal investigator of a Head Start Research Scholars Grant funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Through this work, she examined parenting practices in Head Start families as they related to children's school readiness.

At NYU, McWayne is involved in partnership- and community-based research within the Head Start community in New York City. Generally, her research interests include family involvement in children's education in low-income communities; helping to establish a whole-child understanding of low-income preschool children's school readiness competencies; and validating assessment instruments and intervention for low-income preschool children and their families. Her recent research has focused on the examination of multiple dimensions of school readiness within the context of classroom quality and the social and structural dimensions of urban neighborhoods.

McWayne’s awards include Early Career Scholar Award from the Society for the Study of School Psychology; Community Service Award from the School District of Philadelphia Pre-Kindergarten Head Start Program; and William E. Arnold Outstanding Accomplishments by a Doctoral Student from Phi Delta Kappa.

McWayne received her B.S. in psychology from Abilene Christian University, her M.S.Ed. in psychological services, and her Ph.D. in the APA-approved school, community, and clinical-child psychology program from the University of Pennsylvania.


Kris Olson is the Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools of Waco, Texas. Her work as an advocate for parents and children in public schools spans organizations such as Parents for Public Schools, the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children, school trustee for the Waco Independent School District, Communities in Schools, and Texans Care for Children. Olson also sits on many steering committees, such as the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform and the Citizens for Better Schools Bond Election, as well as SEDL’s National Center for Family and Community Connections With Schools. She also sat on the board of directors for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce where she was chair of Education/Workforce Development.

Olson has won numerous distinctions and awards, including Pathfinder Award for Public Service, Waco Family Y, 1999; Excellence in Voluntarism Award, Junior League of Waco, 1998; Hometown Hero, Cablevision, Fox Sports Southwest, and Baylor University Athletics, 1998; Family of the Year, Waco Conference of Christians and Jews, 1996; and Parent of the Year for Region XII, Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented, 1996. She has presented at the Heart of Texas Nonprofit Institute, 2002, 2004; Alabama A+ Education Foundation (keynote speaker) 2000; National Staff Development Council national conference, 1999; and Baylor University Continuing Education class, 1999.

Olson earned a B.S. in education, communication disorders from Baylor University.


Heather Weiss is the Founder and Director of Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) and is a Senior Research Associate and Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. From its beginning in 1983, the HFRP's mission has been to help create more effective practices, interventions, and policies to support children's successful development from birth to adulthood. To achieve this mission, Weiss and her colleagues conduct, synthesize, and disseminate research and evaluation information and develop tools that encourage professional and organizational learning, support evaluation, continuous improvement and accountability, and that spark innovation. A key feature of HFRP's work is our “complementary learning” approach that acknowledges the many contexts in which young people grow and develop, including, but not limited to, school day institutions. Specifically, Weiss and her colleagues promote programs and policies that support children's learning and development in non-school contexts, including out-of-school time programs and activities, and families and communities.

Under Weiss' leadership, HFRP has a 10-year track record for publishing The Evaluation Exchange, a quarterly national review of the latest evaluation thinking and practice in key areas of child and family policy. HFRP has also developed the only national database of evaluations of out-of-school time and youth programs and uses it to inform policy and practice and to shape the design of strategic evaluations to build the usable knowledge base for this growing field. Weiss and her colleagues created the national Family Involvement Network of Educators (FINE), a growing network of over 4,000 people committed to family and community involvement in children's learning. HFRP supports this web-based network by providing the latest research, documenting innovative practices and programs, and highlighting new professional development tools. HFRP also developed the Home Visit Forum, a group of national home visit programs who work together to get and use evaluation to improve their services.

Weiss writes, speaks, and advises on programs and polices for children and families and serves on the advisory boards of many public and private organizations. She is a consultant and advisor to numerous foundations on strategic grantmaking and evaluation. Her latest publications include several articles reporting on her longitudinal study of ways family involvement in children's learning promotes development and school success, a book about how to involve families and communities in children's learning and development, papers on how to measure and to encourage youth participation in after school and youth programs, and a paper on the use of data and evaluation in democracies. She also teaches two modules at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, one on family–school partnerships, and one on after school research, policy, and practice.

Weiss received her doctorate in education and social policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and she was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Yale Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy.

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