School Board talks new FACE program

School Board talks new FACE program
ACPS held a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its Family and Community Engagement Center and Family Learning Zone.

By Olivia Anderson |

With the recent ribbon-cutting event celebrating the opening of Alexandria City Public Schools’ Family and Community Engagement Center, the Alexandria School Board is more deeply examining what exactly the blueprint action plan of the program will look like.

At their Dec. 1 meeting, the board discussed how FACE will support ACPS’ 2025: Equity For All family engagement goal, current progress toward recommendations from the 2020 Family Engagement Evaluation, how FACE strategies strengthen family-school partnerships and how the action plan blueprints can ensure student success.

The new FACE Center, located at Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School, aids in ACPS’ goal to strengthen family-school partnerships by empowering families to be actively engaged in their child’s learning and connecting them to resources that impact educational achievement and social-emotional development.

According to Krishna Leyva, ACPS’ family and community engagement center manager, FACE aims to support the Equity For All goal by creating meaningful opportunities to support children’s academic success, connecting families to tools, information and services supporting educational quality of life, and eliminating barriers to family engagement, specifically for non-English-speaking families.

When it comes to implementing recommendations from the 2020 Family Engagement Evaluation, ACPS has made several steps forward. The district has, for example, restructured the family engagement coordinator position to provide coaching and training to division staff for “systemic integration of best practices,” Leyva said.

“We heard from parents that many of the staff did not know about how to engage families, or basically how to do events that were actually providing some sort of learning component,” Leyva said, emphasizing the importance of systemic integration. “If it’s not systemic, it doesn’t work.”

Changes also include promoting fuller collaboration by offering training on equitable family engagement practices and inclusion to PTA leaders, providing coaching and on-boarding for new school-based family liaisons and creating metrics and assessment of family engagement practices.

Family liaisons – formerly known as parent liaisons – work in the schools and community to help give families assistance in supporting their children. They serve as coaches, family engagement experts, connectors and cultural brokers. There are 10 school building-level family liaisons at John Adams, Ferdinand T. Day, Mount Vernon, James K. Polk, Francis C. Hammond, Patrick Henry, Jefferson Houston, Cory Kelly, William Ramsay and George Washington.

Specifically, the individualized FACE action plan blueprints involve a team approach to ensure that stakeholders are from diverse backgrounds. Then there will be several steps; the first are goal alignment meetings to ensure FACE holds up ACPS’ core values, followed by “building capacity” to advocate for all students, then “tools and resources” to help families navigate the school system, “measuring outcomes” and assessing the impact and planning for improvements and finally, “making adjustments.”

Blueprint success metrics include quantitative and qualitative data from each school, or assessments of high-quality, high-impact programs and activities, staff said. There will also be a family engagement rubric, event surveys and professional learning on family engagement.

Anthony Kurt Huffman, office of community partnerships and engagement executive director, suggested that one way to strengthen current family engagement is to expand the family liaisons to each school building.

“We know we have to be cognizant and compassionate about the budget, but we do feel like with our demographics and how we have obviously families in need at every building, we feel like having family liaisons at each building would be a great enhancement to the district,” Huffman said.

During the question-and-answer period, School Board Member Michelle Rief asked what occurs at schools that do not have family liaisons.

Huffman responded that a multitude of things may happen in the absence of designated family liaisons depending on the school site. For example, a social worker, assistant principal, or PTA member may take on the role of a family liaison.

Board Member Willie Bailey suggested splitting current family liaisons between two buildings, which Huffman said ACPS has thought about implementing. However, he said that potential issues arise when the two buildings are extremely different in terms of communities, families and educational needs.

“It’s exactly the kind of question we’ve been thinking through too, is ‘How we are we meeting the needs of the buildings that don’t have one?’” Huffman said.

Additionally, family liaisons at each building are funded by that particular building, which creates another layer of complexity.

The new FACE Center opened on Nov. 29 with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony and remarks from ACPS staff, administration and families. The FACE Center both celebrates the program’s current efforts and serves as an accessible channel for families who need personalized assistance from ACPS.

Board Member Ashley Simpson Baird asked about how the physical center will impact the process of family engagement, to which Leyva replied that the main goal is to “empower and support” families.

The center includes a learning zone, equipped with $5,000 of donated bilingual books, and an administrative assistant who used to be a teacher. The center, which Leyva called a “one stop shop,” will also provide a space to train staff and computers for families who need access and may not have one at home.

“The idea is that if a parent comes in, and they want to connect with somebody … we are able to help that family [and] meet them where they are, connect them with the school if that is needed, but also, give them resources that they can take home,” Leyva said.

While the FACE Center symbolizes significant progress, staff is still working on amendments to the program. When it comes to family liaisons, for example, Huffman said that the implementation would likely have to be “systematic [and] tiered.” It may not be possible to fill every single building right away, so the district will identify which buildings are the highest priority.

“We know we need people at the high school and maybe Minnie Howard. That’s a real need,” Huffman said. “… We would just look at a criteria and start to kind of level that out and say, ‘Who’s really a priority now? Who can be next year? How do we phase this in over a system of three years to really help out?’”

Board Chair Meagan Alderton expressed support for the FACE Center’s opening, noting that conversations will continue in the future about how to further enhance the center.

“[There] are a lot of exciting developments in this area. Congratulations on the opening of the FACE Center; [we’re] looking forward to seeing the expansion of this work,” Alderton said.