Innovative Approaches to Sustaining Family Engagement Programs

How can federally funded grant programs continue to implement time-tested strategies when federal funding ends? That was the central question at the recent 2011 national conference of the Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs). In May 2011, the PIRCs learned that their program would not be funded beyond this fall. The Parental Options and Information (POI) Office in the Office of Innovation and Improvement quickly geared up to bring the PIRC leaders together to learn strategies for sustainability and for sharing data and their successes.

PIRCs are statewide technical assistance and leadership centers that promote effective family engagement policies, programs, and activities that improve student learning and school success and that strengthen partnerships between parents, schools, and communities. POI employed the services of its contractor, The National PIRC Coordination Center, which is comprised of SEDLHarvard Family Research Project, and the Miko Group Inc., to convene the PIRC conference in August.

The goal for the conference was to provide support, technical assistance, and guidance to PIRC directors, staff, and evaluators in planning for the future by using innovative sustainability strategies and ensuring the prominent integration of evaluation into their plans. Highlights included keynote presentations from nationally recognized experts, including Leslie Crutchfield and Daniel Stid. Crutchfield is a leading authority on high-impact nonprofits and philanthropy. Stid, from the Bridgespan Group, helps nonprofit leaders develop strategies, build organizational structures, and plan for sustainability and growth. Both speakers emphasized strategies to sustain organizations in the face of significant government- and private-funding cuts.

Crutchfield shared lessons she and her colleagues learned from their research on high-impact nonprofits. She highlighted three particular practices of high-impact nonprofits that are especially relevant to the PIRCs: 1) inspire evangelists who will promote and advocate for the work; 2) nurture nonprofit networks to maximize resources; and 3) master the art of adaptation, evolving programming to meet new challenges.

Stid’s presentation focused on finding new ways to sustain work in an increasingly tough funding environment. This included identifying and implementing practical funding models and using outcome data to drive greater impact, productivity, and funding. He encouraged PIRCs to assess their current initiatives based on net-financial contribution and mission impact and then use that assessment to trim their portfolios and focus on work that should be sustained.

Harvard Family Research Project, The Finance Project, SEDL, and family engagement experts Holly Kreider and Ron Mirr presented additional sustainability and evaluation strategies to the PIRC leaders and staffs. Additionally, GreatSchoolsOne Green Apple, and shared innovative technology solutions to family engagement through online demonstrations of their Web-based platforms to help PIRCs be more cost-effective when providing family engagement and school-choice information to families.

In her closing remarks to the PIRC representatives, POI Director Dr. Anna Hinton applauded their efforts to empower parents across the nation to become advocates for, as well as partners in, learning with their children. She also reminded them of the current state of the field that views family engagement as an essential ingredient to school reform efforts, which makes the sustainability of their efforts needed now more than ever.