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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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The first four articles in this issues Evaluations to Watch section spotlight the national Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRC) program and the ways in which a new evaluation approach is helping it build the family involvement field. We begin with an overview of the evaluation strategy and continue with articles describing three PIRCs' evaluation plans and lessons learned.

Lisa St. Clair and Barbara Jackson describe how the Nebraska State PIRC connects with 21st Century Community Learning Centers to foster family involvement.

What does it take to implement a statewide network of family and school partnership centers designed to strengthen family engagement and support student learning? The Nebraska State Parental Information and Resource Center (PIRC) takes a complementary learning approach to answering this question, by connecting schools, parents, out-of-school time (OST) programs, community agencies, and higher education partners.

The Nebraska State PIRC was created, in part, as an outgrowth of the evaluation of Nebraska's 21st Century Community Learning Centers—a network of 77 OST programs operating in school buildings through the state's use of federal Title IV-B education funds. As program managers and evaluators examined these programs' family involvement practices, they realized that new opportunities were needed to strengthen family and school partnerships. In 2006, the Nebraska Family and Schools Partnerships project was conceived, and we partnered with the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, Nebraska Department of Education, and Munroe-Meyer Institute to apply for funding from the U.S. Department of Education to create the Nebraska State PIRC. Key partners in this effort are the Nebraska Department of Education and Governor Dave Heineman, who has identified parental involvement as one of his top priorities. Nebraska State PIRC also aligned its efforts with a state initiative called Together for Kids and Families (see sidebar).

The goals of the Nebraska State PIRC are simple: to provide technical assistance and funding to Title I schools with 21st Century Community Learning Centers who commit to strengthening their family and school partnership practices. We accomplish this work by two means: (a) School-Based PIRCs, or parent–school partnership teams, in elementary and secondary schools; and (b) early childhood parent education programs.

Together for Kids and Families

This project by the Nebraska Health and Human Services System seeks to bring about positive outcomes for young children and their families by creating a comprehensive system of early childhood supports. The strategic plan outlines a vision for bringing together families, schools, service providers, and policymakers in a system where children are a top priority.

Over the next 5 years, the Nebraska State PIRC will partner with a total of 72 schools to create School-Based PIRCs. To support these host schools in their implementation efforts, we provide them with the Academic Development Institute's comprehensive Solid Foundation model and $10,000 to defray the costs of systemic changes in parent involvement practices. At inception, each school site will form a school community council—comprised of the building principal, several parents, a 21st Century Community Learning Center staff member, a prekindergarten parent or teacher, and one or two teachers—that will meet twice a month. The council will implement a 2-year plan to review and improve the school's parent–school compact and parent involvement policies, plan family activities, and establish home visitation.

We will also implement model school-based or school-linked early childhood parent education (ECPE) programs in six communities. The purpose of the Nebraska State PIRC Early Childhood Partnership in Learning Approach is to collaborate with families to support their children’s school readiness, positive interactions with their young children, and capacity to access necessary community resources. These ECPEs will be linked to School-Based PIRCs to establish a continuum for family involvement.

The success of the School-Based PIRCs will be measured using a combined quantitative and qualitative evaluation approach, including interviews and documentation of change. Outcomes will be measured at multiple levels, including outcomes for the system, parents, and children. One of our goals is to evaluate the impact of the Nebraska State PIRC's services on parent involvement. For this purpose, we are employing multiple sources of data, including observations by evaluators, as well as teacher and parent ratings.

Another goal is to determine whether students have higher academic adjustment and achievement when their parents participate in PIRCs and early childhood parent education programs. To maximize the integration of state data, we considered measures that were already in use by schools in Nebraska. To measure student achievement, evaluation staff will draw from data collected from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, including a variety of student performance data as well as objective ratings by a team of evaluators of supports for learning, family involvement practices of schools, linkages between school day and OST programs, and general strategies used to enhance student learning. Baseline student data gathered the year prior to the adoption of the School-Based PIRC will allow for comparative analyses.

This multifaceted evaluation plan is designed to provide important information to inform the field about the extent to which implementing a complementary learning approach across a continuum of supports enhances outcomes for both students and their families. The Nebraska State PIRC has positioned itself to bring together key education and family support leaders to enact a systemic change in how schools partner with parents to support the learning and development of children and youth.

Lisa St. Clair, Ed.D.
PIRC Director
Nebraska State PIRC
215 Centennial Mall South, Suite 200
Lincoln, NE 68508
Tel: 877-843-6651

Barbara Jackson, Ph.D.
Director, Evaluation
Munroe-Meyer Institute/UNMC
985450 Nebraska Medical Center
Omaha, NE 68198-5450
Tel: 402-559-5765

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