How Municipal Leaders Can Engage Parents in Dropout Prevention

It is critical that city leaders work with schools and community partners to engage parents in dropout prevention and in the development of strategies to ensure the success of all children. Local leaders and communities most directly impact student lives and have the most significant role to play in ensuring all our students graduate high school prepared for college, career and life. The following set of city practices encourages action and presents examples on the unique role that municipal leaders play in engaging families in education. This guide was developed by the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families and America’s Promise Alliance who are working to help city leaders address the nation’s high school dropout crisis and help us become a Grad Nation.

The practices highlighted below are primarily derived from a report by the National League of Cities , The State of City Leadership for Children and Families . It provides information on local trends and innovations in promoting child and family well-being.

City Leadership & Innovation

Mayors and other municipal officials are increasingly spearheading citywide efforts to improve outcomes for young people and families. In November 2008, a group of prominent mayors who have championed these efforts in their own communities launched a new Mayors’ Action Challenge for Children and Families. The challenge calls on mayors to set specific, measurable, locally-defined goals and targets four areas to ensure that every child has:

  • Opportunities to learn and grow
  • A safe neighborhood to call home
  • A healthy lifestyle and environment
  • A financially fit family in which to thrive

More than 100 mayors have joined the Challenge.

City Examples & Practices

General Outreach

Host fun and informative events for parents, students, teachers, and businesses

To engage parents in their children’s education from day one, several cities sponsor community-wide First Day of School festivals as part of a national campaign that began in 1997. Charleston, SC hosts one of the most successful First Day events, attracting thousands of students, parents, teachers and local businesses to the event each year. 

The festival encourages parents to take their children to school on the first day, offers donated backpacks and school supplies, connects families with teachers, provides information on school and community-based health and student support services, and offer food and numerous fun activities. In addition, the Mayor of Charleston recognizes an “honor roll” of businesses that give employees time off to volunteer at their child’s school, participate in the event, or accompany their child to school on the first day.

To inform parents about their school options, the mayor of Nashville, TN and Nashville Public Schools, collaborate to host the First Choice Festival. This festival serves as an opportunity for Nashville parents to learn about the various school choices available to their children, including both zoned and choice schools, such as magnets, and charters. The goal of this event is to ensure that parents are informed about the opportunities available to their children so every child attends the school that best for them. 


Form partnerships to engage parents in reducing truancy

In more than a dozen cities, municipal leaders have supported the development of truancy prevention centers. Built on partnerships among police, school districts, and social service providers, these centers help identify and respond to the root causes behind student absenteeism rather than emphasizing detention and punishment. 

  • Sacramento’s Attendance Center offers parenting classes, counseling, job skill training and drug treatment services at a local high school, with services available to both truant students and parents.
  • Milwaukee’s Truancy Abatement and Burglary Suppression program identifies truant youth on the streets of the city and brings them to Boys & Girls Clubs around the city and coordinates evaluations thand follow-up services with the school, parents, guardians and whoever else is involved with the youth.
  • In Albany, N.Y., a Truancy Abatement Center notifies parents and schools immediately upon intake of their child, school and center staff offer support services, and police and probation officers make follow-up joint home visits to reinforce a stay-in-school message.

Develop a searchable online afterschool program locator for parents and students

Participation in high-quality, out-of-school time programs is linked to a number of positive academic outcomes, from attendance to test scores. City officials have found a way to use Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to make it easy for parents and youth to find appropriate afterschool and summer activities in their neighborhoods. Municipal leaders have built partnerships with a network of city, school, and community-based afterschool programs to develop website that allow parents to search for programs by neighborhood, age group, program type, fees, dates and times, and transportation options.

  • Boise After 3 was developed by the Mayor’s Council on Children and Youth. It ensures that every youth in Boise has access to affordable, quality, and engaging out-of-school programs.
  • Morgantown Parent Zone highlights child care and out-of-school time options for children of all ages. It is a one-stop-shop resource for parents to search for programs that meet their entire family’s needs.


Support parents of young children in promoting early learning

Parent Involvement in their children’s educational development is vital, not only in K-12, but from the day their child is born. There are numerous ways in which municipal leaders can support parents in guiding the early education of young children.

  • San Antonio Early ON Initiative uses a citywide media campaign to focus parents’ attention on the importance of early learning.
  • Seattle Early Education Collaborative funds two preschool programs that help children and parents prepare for kindergarten, academically, socially, and physically. These programs honor family, language, culture and help children develop the skills and love for learning that lead to academic success.
  • Stamford School Readiness Program provides three and four year olds at all economic levels with full-day, school day or part-day early care and education programs. It also provides parent leadership training classes to help parents advocate for their children in local health, public school and government systems.

Involve parents and students in “community schools”

The community schools model transforms local schools into neighborhood hubs that offer a broad range of health and social services, afterschool programs, adult education courses, and other resources. By keeping their facilities open and beyond school hours, these schools serve as centers of community that support learning around the clock and demonstrate higher levels of achievement compared with other schools. In addition, community schools make concerted efforts to engage parents in site planning and service coordination.

  • In Lincoln, Neb., 15 school-based Community Learning Centers offer numerous out-of-school time enrichment opportunities, along with adult education and financial literacy. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department is one of seven lead agencies, which include the Lincoln YMCA and Lincoln Housing Authority.
  • There are over 150 Community Schools within the Chicago Public Schools system, the largest community schools initiative in the nation. These schools have formed over 400 partnerships with non-profit organizations across the city.  Students at community schools in the CPS district have access to onsite medical and dental care, music and art lessons, and afterschool programs that build on the school’s academic programs.  In addition, the parents of these students have access to job training courses and parent engagement workshops.

Recruit parents to support a community-wide literacy effort

Literacy begins in the home—families engage in literacy on a daily basis through conversations, sharing ideas, reading and writing. This sets the foundation for a child’s literacy and overall academic performance. Family literacy programs address the literacy strengths and needs of the family/community while promoting adults’ involvement in children’s education, recognizing adults as a powerful influence on children’s academic success.

  • The Every 1 Reads partnership based in Louisville, KY cut the proportion of Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) students reading below grade level from 18% in 2003 to 8.5% in 2011. The partnership between JCPS, Louisville Metro Government and the Greater Louisville, Inc. Education Task Force uses a variety of strategies to unite the community around a shared goal of having every student read at or above grade level. Through Every 1 Reads, parents have access to resources designed to help them improve their child’s reading ability and are able to help other students by volunteering to read with a child at JCPS schools.


Provide college counseling and assistance

Several cities have developed robust partnerships that provide high school students with college counseling and preparation. 

  • In Phoenix, city leaders used Community Development Block Grants and philanthropic funding to open a full-service college planning center called College Depot. Located in a downtown library, College Depot offers assistance with college applications; workshops for parents and students on college readiness, financial aid, and test preparation; college planning software to match students with colleges, scholarships, and internships; and college fairs and appointments with university and community college counselors.


Workshops to become educational advocates

The Parent Institute for Quality Education offers a signature nine-week curriculum delivered to parents in their primary language, aimed at helping them to become educational advocates for their students. It is in a long-term partnership with the California State University (CSU) system to receive funding and support in its outreach and training for low-income families. The relationship between CSU and PIQE paves the way to college for many families throughout California. The program educates parents on how to foster a positive educational environment for their children both at home and at school.

PIQE also offers several other programs that assist parents in becoming stronger advocates, including an Early Childhood Development Program, a Teacher’s Workshop on Effective Parent Engagement, a Family Financial Literacy Education Workshop, and a Parent Leadership Program.

Giving parents a voice

Parents for Public Schools (PPS) is a national organization of community-based chapters collaborating with public school parents and community supporters to improve and strengthen public schools. PPS is leading advocates in shaping education policy at the local, state and national levels. Parents have a voice and are active—serving on school boards, writing budgets, and shaping education policy. PPS parents are organized and equipped to speak up for all students.

PPS chapters have changed teacher-hiring practices, re-written state education policy, and pushed elected officials for public school funding decision for the benefit of all children. Local chapters conduct public school enrollment presentations and outreach for thousands of parents in multiple languages.

Giving Parents the Tools to Help Other Parents

The Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) is sponsored by the Connecticut Commission on Children and Hartford’s Office for Young Children and funded in part by the Hartford Foundation through its Brighter Future Initiatives to equip parents and other adults to be leading advocates for all children in the community. The 20 week program covers social and economic trends affecting children and families, how state and local governments work, using the power of the media, forming alliances, and evaluating program successes.

Parents gain self-confidence using their skills as agents of change in the community. Children benefit when parents participate more in their lives as advocates and decision makers. Communities benefit when parents use their tools of democracy in civic initiatives.