Officials say teachers in 43 of the city’s traditional schools already have visited more than 1,400 families this year, setting up appointments with parents and then traveling to homes in pairs. Those visits, about 30 minutes each, are get-to-know-you sessions that serve as an anchor for ongoing communication by phone, e-mail, text and in person throughout the school year. Fifteen of the schools have comprehensive programs that aim to reach at least half of their student body through voluntary home visits, meaning thousands of families could get such visits this year.
“Like many other school districts, we’ve struggled with the best ways to engage families,” Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said. But with the help of the local Flamboyan Foundation, which trains and pays teachers to make home visits, “I think we’ve happened upon a model that actually is really effective.”
Henderson recognizes that strengthening schools isn’t just about changing what happens inside classrooms but also about changing how teachers relate to their communities.
Although it’s a new initiative for the District’s school system, the home-visit approach has been used for years in some local charters and in schools elsewhere. It offers no guarantee of improvement, but research has shown that when families are more involved in schools, students do better. Still, the District faces unanswered questions about how to administer home visits in a way that is affordable for the city and sustainable for teachers who already have heavy workloads.
But it is the recent success with home visits at Stanton Elementary, in Southeast Washington, that offers one of the main reasons such visits are taking hold in the District.
Scholar Academies, a Philadelphia-based charter operator, took over Stanton in 2010, aiming to turn it around. At the end of that first year, fewer than 10 percent of students were proficient in math and reading, and discipline was a chronic problem.
Two years later, behavior has improved and proficiency has doubled in reading and quadrupled in math. Stanton staff members say home visits are not the only reason for the improvement, but they are an important element.
The visits have helped parents see teachers not just as disciplinarians who call with bad news but as advocates for their children, staff members said. And they’ve helped teachers understand where students are coming from and that parents want to help their children succeed, even if they don’t always know how.