Each month I interview people in the education world about whom I want to learn more. You can see read those past interviews here.

This month’s guest is Carrie Rose, Executive Director of the nationally acclaimed Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project. Our school works closely with Carrie and the Project, I’ve written a chapter about it in my book on parent engagement, and I also wrote an article about it last year for Teacher Magazine.

Can you give a brief description of what the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project is and how it came into being?

The Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project is a unique partnership between a community organizing group (Sacramento Area Congregations Together), a local teachers union (Sacramento City Teachers Association) and a school district (Sacramento City Unified School District). The project developed through an effort to address the cycle of blame that existed between parents and site personnel at several south Sacramento schools where there was a pervasive history of low student achievement, high levels of poverty, and where high percentages of children entered school as English learners. Home visits were identified by teachers as one way to build trust and respect. Community organizers recognized the potential for leadership development through home visits given the similarity to their model of 1:1 interactions. Parents, educators and community organizers came together to develop a training and model for the visits and launched the project in the 1998-1999 school year.

How did you get involved in it, and where do you get the energy to continue being the Executive Director?

My background is in social service and law. In 1999, when my children were very young, I was looking for a more flexible job. The director of Sacramento ACT offered me a part time job as a fund developer and I had to quickly learned to do grant writing and fundraising in the nonprofit world. Luckily, one of my main responsibilities was to raise funds for a new parent engagement project- the parent/teacher home visit effort. As my understanding of community organizing grew, and my participation in the logistics of the home visit project evolved, I experienced a profound shift both personally and professionally.

While I had always been involved in social justice work, community organizing offered new and effective forms of advocacy and leadership development! In 2003, the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project became a separate 501(c) (3) non-profit organization (jointly governed by representatives from the original three partner groups) and I left ACT to become the Executive Director. Like all non profit directors, there are days when the grind of raising money, adapting to recent policy changes and other stress make me stop and question if I still have what it takes to move forward. To date, I have found a reliable remedy – when I start to have doubts, I either do a home visit or facilitate a home visit training session. As I listen to the “testimony” of parents, teachers or students, I always find the inspiration and guidance I need to move forward.

What are the biggest reservations that School Districts, schools, and teachers typically have about doing these kinds of home visits? How do you respond to them?

There are some common concerns that surface regarding home visits. Funding is always an immediate concern in this day an age of education budget shortfalls. Our partners all believe that staff participation should always be voluntary and compensated because visits take place outside of the scope of the regular work day (nights, weekends, etc). Over the years, participating districts have used various foundation, state and federal grants to fund home visit activity (as most grants have a parent engagement component) but the most sustainable source of funding has been Title I funding (which has a minimum 1% parent engagement mandate).

Administrators and staff also need to be able to talk about their concerns for the safety of staff while out conducting visits, mandated reporting requirements that may be triggered during a home visit, and possible language and cultural barriers that may prevent good home visit communication. Our non-profit provides participating school sites a three-hour home visit training session – led by parents and teachers- that is designed to provide both a clear step by step guide and a frank discussion of possible barriers and solutions to insure the visits are very effective. In a nutshell, I can tell you that no teacher has ever been harmed in the course of our home visits and the incidence of mandated reporting has been extremely rare because our model is specifically designed to insure the safety and voluntary nature- for everyone- of every single visit. Language barriers have been easier than expected to address given the non confidential nature of these conversations that allow for “unofficial” interpretation by other staff, family or community members. As for cultural barriers, teachers often report that the act of stepping into homes has been one of the most effective capacity building experiences of their careers.

Truthfully, in our experience, the real barrier to home visits working at a school is usually connected to the assumptions we hold. In other words, what does the staff already think is true about the students/families/community? What do the families already think is true about the staff and school? We spend a considerable amount of time in our training session addressing this barrier and offering a practical exercise we can all use to “check our assumption”.

You’ve had some evaluations done on the results of home visits. What do they say?

Nationally, there have been decades of research linking effective parent engagement to increased academic and social success for students. Our evaluations have focused on whether home visits are an effective parent engagement strategy. In order to measure that connection and the outcomes for students, there have been several independent evaluations spanning the course our project.

The first evaluation (1998-2001) focused on whether home visits made a difference in Sacramento schools. Dr. Geni Cowan from the California State University at Sacramento found that “Student performance has improved over the three years of the project’s implementation; parental involvement has increased, and communication between home and school has been enhanced.”

The second evaluation focused on whether the model and training were effective in California schools outside of Sacramento. EMT Associates, Inc. found “Widespread implementation of the program, increase in the number of teachers involved per site, successful dissemination of materials and subsequent trainings following initial training sessions. Participants perceiving benefits including increased parental involvement improved parent/teacher relationships and improved academic achievement.”

The third evaluation focused on the adaptation and effectiveness of home visits as a strategy to help increase high school graduation rates. Beginning in 2007, Paul Tuss of the Center for Student Assessment and Program Accountability with the Sacramento County Office of Education found that: students who received a home visit were considerably more likely to be successful in their exit exam intervention and support classes and more likely to pass the English portion of the exit exam; parents reported home visits improved their understanding of key school issues (graduation requirements, exit exam, college entrance requirements), increased knowledge of school resources and support available for their child, and improved their relationship with teachers/school staff; and, attitudinal shifts among teachers and other school staff concerning the needs of at-risk students and the barriers they face to succeeding in school.

A follow up evaluation for the initial cohort of students at Luther Burbank High School (one of the two pilot schools piloting exit exam home visits) found that visited students passed the exit exam by 12th grade at significantly higher rates and earned sufficient academic credits to graduate at significantly higher rates and graduated at higher rates. Then Paul Tuss began an evaluation on a feeder pattern plan to connect schools and conduct visits with students at key times (in elementary, transitioning to middle school and high school, and before and after the high school exit exam? The evaluation showed that these transitional home visits were associated with increased academic performance for middle and high school students.

Our evaluation focus at this time, thanks to the support of the National Education Association, we are involved in a planning process with some of the best nationally known parent engagement experts and researchers to create a common data collection instrument for any k-12 school conducting home visits with our model so that we can begin to build a consistent and meaningful set of data connecting to home visits to outcomes in the area of parent engagement, staff development and, most importantly, student success. This instrument will then be piloted in several areas throughout the country where home visits are used.

What’s happening locally, state-wide, and nationally now with your project?

Locally: There are two very exciting developments for us in our local work. First, even in the midst of budget challenges, Sacramento City Unified School District’s new superintendent, Jonathan Raymond, has prioritized the expansion parent home visits under the district’s parent engagement funding! Second, representatives from five neighboring districts in the our county are working with the Sacramento County Office of Education on a regional plan to increase graduation rates that includes a strong secondary school home visiting component based on our model.

Statewide: The California Teachers Association (CTA) recently awarded our non-profit grant funding that will allow us to expand training capacity to include more sessions on the connection between home visits and building staff cultural competency and individualized instructional skill sets. Additionally, along with another one of our statewide partners, PICO California, we are working on the release of a publication documenting the steps and outcomes of our secondary school home visiting efforts and the connection between this strategy and increased high school success for our students. We expect that publication to be available within the month.

Nationally: Thanks to a vibrant partnership with the National Education Association, most of our growth this past year has been on the national front! Currently, schools and districts in five different states have fully adopted and adapted our model- Ohio, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and Massachusetts. We are also in the process of working with local leaders to plan and launch efforts in schools in Virginia, Louisiana, Washington DC, Maryland and Alaska.

Thanks, Carrie!