Involvement in courses and the community
Engagement has increased throughout the district, especially at the high school level. Wisener said he strives to make himself as accessible as possible to stakeholders while serving the district and its community. “I relish opportunities to meet with parents and students,” he said.
Community service is required in advanced coursework at the high school, which has had a positive impact on the district and its surroundings. “The effect it has on the community and people of the community is very real and significant,” Wisener explained. “We feel we have to support the community. It’s not the community supporting us always – the school wants to take on the role of supporting the community.”
GISD has multiple programs at the high school to help fortify its relationship with the community. Its Achievement Academy for students and their families meets every-other Saturday and is staffed by teachers.
“We teach kids and help them prepare for college,” Wisener explained. “We invite parents to teach them computer literacy skills, English language skills, and we also feed them all. It’s been greatly successful.”
In addition to Achievement Academy, he said the district has started a mentoring program to target students in the middle school who are currently lacking role models or could use another. “I have kids that still come back and talk to me about how the mentoring program has affected their lives,” Wisener said.
Joseph Walker is a mentor specialist at GISD and facilitates the high school’s Youth Achievement Foundation. The program identifies and mentors students who may need assistance in planning their futures.
He explained the importance the district places on training students to think critically, problem solve, and work well with others. “Training students to compete in the 21st
century is the focus,” Walker said.
GISD’s Youth Achievement Foundation also works with local businesses in the community that often come into the school, give presentations, and talk with students. Walker said there is a need for area businesses and organizations to see what students are learning in classes and for students to see what jobs may be available after graduation.
“It’s about getting kids to see there are great careers they can go into,” Walker said. “We’ve got business classes and computer skills that we’re teaching kids, but the business community doesn’t know the skills that we’re teaching, so that’s part of what we are working to do – so they know the quality of the employee we are putting out.”
Student achievement through parental participation
GISD has been able to better support its students in learning through increasing family involvement. Wisener explained that there is plenty of research available showing the correlation between parental involvement and student achievement. He emphasized that logic alone is enough to realize that increasing parent engagement is one of the best ways to improve student success rates.
“I wouldn’t have to look at any of the research to know that that’s true – there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests the more parents are plugged in, the more accessible you make things for parents and families, logic will tell you parents can react quicker, more intelligently, and customize solutions for their kids,” Wisener said.
“It’s very important, and now that I have a child as a freshman this year, you see how important it is to give young people direction,” he added. “It really takes a village to raise children.”
Morrison added that it’s important for GISD to also engage parents and families when it comes to technology access. “We have some students without wireless at home, so we make wireless hotspots for parents to check grades and students to do homework,” he explained.
Like Wisener, Morrison can also speak from experience as a parent. He added that Skyward’s applications make it easier for parents to re-engage in their child’s learning. “The moment the teacher posted a grade, I would get an update sent to my phone,” Morrison said. “I’d also be notified about AP study sessions, etc. A lot of times, people buy programs and they think it’s about students’ attendance, discipline, and grades … [Skyward] is much more than that.”
Community makes up the foundation of GISD’s culture, a fact Morrison reminds parents and families of throughout the school year.
“I tell parents, ‘You have a gift that’s been given to you for 18 years and after that it’s either going to walk away to work or to college. Take advantage of the gift that was given to you – don’t just put it on the shelf when they’re 13. You have to invest. You’ve got a short amount of time in your life to make that impact – make it
Garland Independent School District has expanded parental involvement, community engagement, and two-way communication with the help of Skyward’s Student Management Suite and Family Access. This large Texas district continues to be a shining example of what proactive engagement can look like in the digital age.