KIPP Massachusetts School Leader: I Shared The Power To Lead With My Families During The Pandemic, And We All Benefitted

ByNikki Barnes

In my 30 years as an educator, I have always believed in partnership. And I have never experienced a deeper connection to families than this last year during the pandemic. It is clearer than ever that we are in this together, and that has allowed me, as a leader, to be creative and have no fear of failure.

This past year, our families have become more than partners in our schools. They’ve become co-authors of our educational journey. This is the new normal for our schools, and I am sure for so many others around the country.

Right before COVID-19 changed our lives, I joined my fellow leaders at KIPP Public Schools to take part in racial equity training. One of the key problems we named with the way we ran schools was this: we thought we knew more than our families. And sometimes, we told them what we thought they needed, rather than listening to what they were telling us. We were not writing the story of their children’s education together. We knew we needed to change that.

Once COVID-19 hit, I knew we could not get through what lay ahead without our families. As a mother myself of two KIPP students, I knew shuttering school buildings would mean families would become our co-teachers. Already, research and studies show that family engagement in schools can lead to improved attendance, higher grades and test scores. I made the purposeful choice to share decision-making with our families to be able to navigate the challenges we faced during the pandemic.

Beginning in March of 2020, I started meeting every Sunday with the Families and KIPPsters Together Council, comprised of 10 KIPP Massachusetts families from a variety of backgrounds: immigrant, Black, Latino and more. These meetings continue to this day, now led by principals according to a structured protocol for decision-making and creating solutions for our more than 2,100 students in our schools.

From that point on, families have been working alongside us to navigate pandemic learning, making decisions every step of the way. They helped us decide which virtual platform was best for their children, figure out a communications cadence that would not be overwhelming in their everyday lives, and choose how to proceed on our reopening plans in the fall of 2020.

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