The Montclair school district’s School Action Teams for Partnership have begun their work for the 2022-2023 school year, with parents and caregivers, school staff and community partners coming together to brainstorm ways to increase parental and community involvement in the schools.

Their focus is also on school-based changes they would like to see this year and districtwide initiatives, according to a presentation by Felice Harrison-Crawford, the district’s assistant superintendent of operations and school support services

Harrison-Crawford gave the presentation during an Oct. 25 meeting with more than 50 administrators, staff, parents and caregivers to kick off the annual School Action Teams for Partnership (SATp) training.

“Our SATps support the mission, vision and goals of the district,” Harrison-Crawford said in a press release. “These teams understand the importance of having authentic and deep engagement with all stakeholders.”

Every parent and caregiver is automatically a member of their respective SATp, she told Montclair Local, part of the model’s effort to engage the entire community. Leadership teams guide the SATps in facilitating meetings and disseminating information.

The groups plan events, including cultural celebrations and science nights, brainstorm such initiatives as increasing opportunities for neurodiverse and neurotypical students to interact, and look into how their schools can implement district goals, like promoting social emotional learning.

Principals at the 11 district schools have not responded to emails sent to their district addresses Dec. 6 asking about their SATps. Harrison-Crawford declined to share contact information for a parent involved in an SATp. 

Before the SATp model, Montclair schools relied on School Review Councils, which operated in the district for more than 30 years, to guide school-based changes and initiatives. The councils were made up of five parents and caregivers and five teachers at each school, according to Harrison-Crawford’s presentation.

But after a push from the Montclair Board of Education to increase family and community engagement in the schools, the district adopted a more inclusive model during the 2010-2011 school year, after a two-year planning process, the presentation said. 

The new model allowed for “a more representative and diverse membership,” the presentation said, with up to 20 group members, including parents, caregivers, teachers and community partners. But the model continued to evolve, and in fall 2017, the SATp model was fully implemented. The first districtwide SATp training took place in October 2017.

The SATp model, from Johns Hopkins University’s National Network of Partnership Schools, is used by schools across the country. The goal of the group should be to create a welcoming school environment for families and to engage families and the community in ways that support student achievement and success, according to the Johns Hopkins website.

The responsibilities of the SATps are broken down into 11 categories by the school board’s regulation:

  • Review issues and concerns related to school improvement.
  • Facilitate the articulation, collaboration and development of annual school goals, priorities and action plans.
  • Monitor and review implementation and progress of action plans and other school improvement activities.
  • Review state and district assessment results and recommend solutions for problems related to school goals.
  • Review and comment on proposed changes to education programs, policies and procedures at the school and district level.
  • Recommend and review proposals for the initiation or modification of school programs.
  • Provide information for families about curriculum, programs and other issues.
  • Provide support to school-level programs for student development.
  • Coordinate and work with the PTA.
  • Improve parent and caregiver and community partnership practices.
  • Review and submit annual action plans.

Staff members are selected for the SATp leadership team by principals. Parents, caregivers and community liaisons are solicited and chosen through an open invitation by the principals, the regulation says. High school and middle school student representatives are also part of their school’s SATps, selected by their involvement in student organizations. 

Each SATp has one staff member chairperson and one parent or caregiver chairperson, the regulation says. Parents, caregivers and staff serve a two-year term on the SATp leadership team, but parents and caregivers are eligible for a third year if they serve as chair of the group, and staff are eligible if they are a subject matter, house or curriculum leader, the presentation said. The students serve a one-year term. 

Under the SATp model, the groups advise the principals on school-based change, district initiatives and the six types of parental involvement activities, the presentation said. The parental activities are based on those identified by Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University: parenting, communication, volunteering, learning at home, decision making and collaborating with the community. 

“The purpose of School Action Team for Partnerships is to provide an open and inclusive forum for involvement by the school community in the development, implementation and evaluation of educational programs and policies, as an advisory group to the principal,” the board regulation says. 

The groups are required to conduct at least six to 10 monthly meetings, develop agendas for the meetings and establish and oversee subcommittees and other programs as needed, the regulation says. 

“School Action Team for Partnerships shall organize and conduct their business in a manner which is open and inclusive of the diverse school community,” the regulation says. “As the principle means of achieving thoughtful and valuable proposals for change, School Action Team for Partnerships shall operate in a manner which recognizes and encourages the need for many points of view from relevant stakeholders.” 

A districtwide SATp annual training takes place each fall, and a midyear workshop is recommended, to share progress and best practices, the presentation said. 

At the Oct. 25 training, SATp members suggested creating a districtwide Google form for all schools to share best practices, raise questions and collaborate on districtwide initiatives, like Juneteenth celebrations, parent math nights and more, the district release says. 

While some SATp teams had already met by the Oct. 25 meeting, others were working on preparing their meeting agendas, according to the release. Members said they hope to address school budget priorities, participation in the budget review process and recommendations for new, districtwide curriculum, as well as initiatives specific to individual schools, the release says.

SATp meeting dates, agendas and minutes will be posted on each school’s home page on the district website. 

Next steps for the SATps include planning meeting dates for the rest of the school year, establishing roles and processes for creating meeting agendas and communicating the meeting dates to their communities, the presentation says. 

“There is much work that has been done, and there is much work to be done,” Harrison-Crawford said. “We are excited to see the positive outcomes our teams will have in the near future.”