When Aned Sanchez became the office manager at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary school, she saw herself in the students she would be serving. Like many of them, her mother immigrated to the United States speaking little English. Growing up, Sanchez didn’t see her mother having the tools or knowledge to become more involved in her education.
“She didn’t know that she had the right to ask for a meeting or demand better classes for me,” she said.
When asked during the interview why she wanted to work at this school, she responded, “Because I am one of these families. This is my story too.”
Motivated by her personal experience, for the last ten years, Sanchez has worked with the staff at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy to help build a genuine community where parents of all backgrounds feel excited to make change.
“We have some families that don’t know how to read or write, families that don’t speak English, families that can’t be here throughout the day because they have to work or they have other children. But they all know they have something to contribute and that they are a part of this,” Sanchez said.
This emphasis on parent partnership has echoed throughout the school’s leadership team since its founding. Last year, when the school experienced the tragic death of the school’s principal — Jason Fromoltz — the school community recognized how Fromoltz’s efforts not only translated into a model of parent partnership, but also the school’s strong academic results.
“I think Jason set in motion the trajectory of this campus, and really elevated it’s practices,” said Eesir Kaur, the school’s interim principal and current director of schools with Rocketship. “Jason ushered in a new era of what it means to be deliberately, and intentionally focused on instruction and what it looks like to teach kids in the 21st century.”
Parents as co-educators
During her career as an educator, Kaur has seen how parent engagement influenced student achievement. As the former principal of Rocketship Discovery Prep, she recalls a relationship she built with Eva, a mother of one of her students. When Eva asked Kaur how to best support her daughter in her English class, Kaur emphasized to her the importance of parents modeling the same learning habits they encouraged in their students: “I told her ‘Well, you know, you’ve got to read. Doesn’t mean you’ve got to read in English, but you’ve got to model to your daughters that reading is exciting and enriching.’”
Eva took Kaur’s message to heart. She not only began reading more in front of her daughter, but also decided to enroll in night school to get a degree. She told Kaur, “I’m modeling for my daughters that you can work hard, and you can make great things happen for yourself, your family and your community at large.”
Now as the interim principal at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, she has seen again how prioritizing parent engagement has helped drive the school’s academic success. The school was the only school this year that made the Top Schools list for both Latino and African American students. Low-income Latino students make up 80% of the student population at Mateo Sheedy and 6 in 10 of them are on grade level in Math, compared to 2 in 10 students across the Bay Area. 8 out of 10 low-income African American students are on grade level in English at Mateo Sheedy, compared to 2 in 10 low-income African American students across the Bay Area.
Actively engage parents in decision-making
It’s an organizational ethos at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy to give parents a voice. By offering many spaces and opportunities for parent input, the school has created an environment that encourages parents to speak up. Every month, the school administration hosts “Coffee with the principal,” where parents can voice concerns, problem solve, and make decisions alongside school leaders. The parent-led School Site Council has also advocated for several key changes within the school.
“[The families] demand more of us. When we don’t deliver what we say we do, they are in our faces,” said Sanchez, “That’s what we like. They constantly push us.”
Parents at Mateo Sheedy also see their engagement as a collective effort to help all kids at the school, not only an investment in their individual child. Kaur recalls a recent conversation with the parent of a first-grader, Debesay Teklemariam. “Typically, these conversations are always centered around, ‘Well, what is the school doing for my kid?’” said Kaur. “What I thought was so refreshing about the questions he posed was this idea of ‘What are you guys doing for all of our kids?’”
Connecting with families outside of school
The school also helps foster its parent community by requiring that all teachers conduct home visits by January. In the summer before the school year starts, teachers in each grade level meet to organize and assign visits so that every student receives at least one visit from a teacher during the year. Vishal Patel — a 5th grade teacher in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math — said these visits create deeper relationships with families that are not necessarily possible at school.
“When you come to school and have a conference with a parent, you talk more about their student’s academic levels. But you don’t necessarily ask, ‘What does your student like? Where do you come from? Tell me about your country,’” he said. He believed visiting a student’s parents allowed him to learn “what was important for their child, not only in terms of being a student, but also being a human, and a member of the community.”
Kaur remembers a former Mateo Sheedy student’s speech about the day nine years earlier when Fromoltz — who was a teacher at the time — visited their home. She expressed that knowing her teacher cared enough to show up made her family re-envision what education meant.
Last year, after Fromoltz’s death, the response from families further illustrated the school’s strong sense of community.
“It was a devastating loss for the community. But I think the testament to his legacy is the way in which families came back together to say, “Our campus, our kids, this community will continue to thrive and succeed no matter what,” said Kaur, “The strength of [this] campus is in fact, the families that come here every single day, the families who graduated from here and come back and continue to give, and the new families who are setting the tone for what it means to be a Rocketeer. It became a catalyst for what is possible in not only this neighborhood, but beyond as well.”
What counts — Quick tips from the Mateo Sheedy team:
Create spaces and processes for responding to parent feedback
Parents have an impressive track record of working with administration to get things done. During one coffee meeting, parents shared that many of their students did not have enough time to eat their lunch and still make it on time to their next class. This issue then went to the School Site Council that recommended that administration extend lunch by an extra five minutes. The administration restructured the school day immediately afterwards. Last year, the parents also noticed that struggling students were coming home too late from extra tutoring after school. Parents succeeded in then shortening the school day by one hour so that these students could use that time for small group instruction, while still making it home before dinner.
“When your voice is heard, and there’s action taken on it, it makes you feel more a part of the school, and like your input counts,” said Debesay Teklemariam, the Vice President of the School Site Council, and parent of current 1st and 4th grade students at the school.
Leverage home visits to build relationships
The school’s teacher evaluation metrics include whether each teacher has completed 100% of their assigned visits each year. Each teacher usually completes between 50-60 visits by January of each year. These home visits lay the foundation for a strong relationship between teachers and families that enables close communication throughout the year.
Offer culturally relevant programs for parents
When the parent community wanted the school to incorporate more celebration of their cultural background within the school, they partnered with “Los Dichos,” a program that means “Proverbs” in Spanish. Once a month, parents visit classrooms and read a book to students in their own language. Then, the parents and the class engage in different hands-on projects to discuss the lessons and values learned from the cultural story.
“What they began to see is that though we speak different languages, and though we come from different backgrounds, there are common values that tie us back together,” said Teklemariam.
This profile explores one of the six pillars of our World-class Schools Framework. Learn more here.