A turnaround school leader outlines a whole child approach including effective two-way, school-to-home communications.
GUEST COLUMN |by Josh Wucher
Establishing a culture that encourages strong home-to-school bonds was built into the DNA of our organization, Transformation Waco. Formed in 2018, its foundation was built on the need for a Waco-driven solution to school improvement. We operate with a community schools model and mindset. We treat schools as neighborhood hubs that bring together academics, youth development, and family and community engagement with an infusion of wraparound health and social services.
‘We approach things from a change mindset and ask ourselves questions like, “How do you turn around schools with chronic low performance?” It doesn’t happen by defending the previous system but by supporting a different approach.’
Transformation Waco was created out of necessity. Our five campuses, part of the Waco Independent School District, had been chronically underperforming academically for the previous four years. They were at risk of a state takeover and school board firing. With the passage of Senate Bill 1882 in Texas, in-district charter partners could operate and manage campuses, keeping school operations in local hands.
The Whole Child
We’re designed for the “whole child.” We understand that students can’t succeed in the classroom if their basic needs aren’t met. At a district level, we’ve systematized a holistic approach to providing resources to support our student’s health, social-emotional and academic needs. This method helps our five campuses individualize their support to build those school-to-home connections through a customized family engagement plan.
Campuses use a framework developed by Dr. Steve Constantino, a family engagement expert named, that has five principles: a culture that engages every family; building and sustaining effective communication and relationship protocols; building family efficacy; engaging the greater community; and taking action in measuring success.
Knowing the vital role of parent, guardian, and family support in a student’s education, we’ve also put effort into building effective two-way, school-to-home communications. We adopted a unified communication platform last year and started using it in our middle school. After seeing the platform’s value, we moved the rest of our teachers off Blackboard Instant Messaging, Remind, ClassDojo and general mail and over to our new communications platform.
We launched the platform zone-wide in the fall of 2022, and it’s been great for enabling and supporting one-to-one conversations between teachers and families.
At the Zone Level
Last year we had over 1,400 students (nearly 73% of our total student body) receiving a form of wraparound service, be it mentoring, free afterschool programming, a new pair of glasses through our vision clinic, time with a licensed clinical social worker or visits with a clinician. Our telehealth service allows students to have medical and mental/behavioral health appointments while on campus. We’re fortunate to have staff members prepared to talk to our kids; that’s been one of the most significant ways of establishing strong bonds.
Another essential component of building bonds happens at the zone level. Our executive director of student advocacy oversees our coordination of care efforts (a model to provide and track wraparound services) and supervises family support specialists (FSS). Every campus has a full-time FSS who, along with support from additional social workers, oversees a family resource center that links families to available community resources. Zone-wide support includes directing financial resources, administrative guidelines and guidance, and having a physical presence of daily visits and weekly coordination of care meetings with the campus.
Take a Supportive Approach
To schools looking for new ways to build strong bonds with their families and communities, my advice is to be supportive and not defensive. We approach things from a change mindset and ask ourselves questions like, “How do you turn around schools with chronic low performance?” It doesn’t happen by defending the previous system but by supporting a different approach.
Put simply, you can’t just default into defensive mode if something goes wrong or there’s a criticism. We’re all programmed into that knee-jerk reaction of, “We’re right, they’re wrong.” If something’s not working and there’s a pattern, you have to be self-critical about what you can fix.
Joshua Wucher is the Chief Communications Officer at Transformation Waco in Waco, Texas. Transformation Waco is a nonprofit, in-district charter partnership managing and operating five schools and supporting community needs. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.