For several years, educators in the Dermott School District have been noticing that their class sizes have become smaller, but it wasn’t an intentional strategy. “We’ve been losing students to surrounding districts because there was a misconception that the school district would be closing,” said Amanda Bittle, president of Dermott Education Association (DEA).
The facts are the district has been placed under fiscal distress by the Arkansas Department of Education. Student attendance is down from past years and a law passed by the Arkansas legislature allows the state to close districts when student attendance drops below 350 students for two consecutive years.
The Dermott Education Association decided last spring to address the declining student enrollment by talking directly to parents and the community, one home at a time.
Recently educators, administrators, school board members, and volunteers conducted home visits. The visits provided educators and staff with an opportunity to hear perceptions of Dermott schools, but it also provided an opportunity to bridge the communication gap between parents and educators.
“I think there is an art to one-to-one conversation and it is the foundation for successful relationships between teachers and parents. If we want our students to achieve, parents and teachers must become partners,” said Bittle, a Dermott native who works as the Federal Programs Coordinator for the district.
In a recent survey conducted by Parenting magazine and the National Education Association (NEA) of public school parents and educators, both groups described their relationships with each other as “open,” but also noted that there remained significant obstacles to forming collaborative partnerships. The NEA, through its Priority School Campaign has designed a systemic approach to improving struggling schools with innovative strategies, including home visits.
“We know that this is just the beginning, but we are determined to save our school,” Bittle said. “Our community needs us and we need them.”
And there are already signs the partnership is paying off. Prior to the home visits, 6 students were registered for the small, rural district’s kindergarten class. As of the first day of school, 25 had enrolled in the district.
The Dermott Education Association Family-School-Community Partnership also demonstrates the benefits of a collaborative partnership between unions and administration. The home visits are part of DEA’s long-term plan. Based on feedback from parents, other similar activities are being planned for the remainder of the school year.
The Dermott Education Family-School-Community Engagement Project is funded through the NEA Southeast Region Office and is supported by NEA’s External Partnerships and Advocacy Department and the Arkansas Education Association.