About four years ago, Stacey Vanhoy asked dozens of teachers in Texas what three things they could do to help more students succeed.
Their top pick? Stronger engagement with parents and families.
So when Vanhoy, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Stand for Children in Texas, started researching how her organization could support teachers in that goal, she encountered repeated praise for a program that sends teachers to meet with students and families in their homes.
“I just heard from enough different people — from teachers to superintendents and families and kids — that the program resonated with me,” Vanhoy said Wednesday. “I came back to Dallas and knew we didn’t have the money to do it — but we had to do it.”
Last week, Education Lab featured a Northern Nevada school district that for 10 years has relied on the home visits to improve relationships between parents and teachers. The idea has earned some attention in King County, where individual districts and schools have piloted similar programs in fits and starts.
But especially in South King County, students regularly move across district lines, so a district-run program could lose track of some of the most vulnerable families. That mobility has prompted some speculation that a regional approach to home visits could work better.
“This might be something we can scale out and not centralize in just one district alone,” said Carlina Brown-Banks, senior director of community engagement with the Road Map Project, a coalition of South King County school districts.
Last August, the Road Map Project flew educators from Northern Nevada to SeaTac to share what they know about family engagement, including their long-running home visit program.
In Nevada, officials with the Washoe County School District suggested that they look at the Dallas-Fort Worth model for an example of how it can work on a regional level. There, Vanhoy — a former middle school teacher — tapped her network to start a home-visiting pilot in 2015.
She recruited an initial group of 46 teachers and other staff from 10 schools. As of this spring, the program has since spread, mostly by word-of-mouth, to 707 educators at 103 schools in Dallas and now Fort Worth. Altogether, they logged 5,430 visits this school year.
“We didn’t do a whole lot of selling,” Vanhoy said.
The program is strictly voluntary, but depending on the district, Stand for Children pays participating teachers and school staff $20 or $25 for each visit up to eight visits a school year. Educators also commit at the beginning of the year to make a certain number of visits, but those who don’t keep their commitment receive no payment, Vanhoy said.
(Stand for Children receives financial support from local and state philanthropic organizations, and the Dallas school district covers the cost for visits made in prekindergarten through fifth grade classes. In Nevada, the participating schools paid teachers from a federal pot of money, known as Title I funds, meant to support low-income students.)
Vanhoy and her sole co-worker at Stand for Children in Texas also offer up to 20 training sessions over summer breaks for hopeful home visitors. The sessions explore the different assumptions that educators make about their students and their home life, including whether it’s safe enough for a visit.
In Nevada, the district trains each teacher on how to properly conduct a home visit. But Vanhoy said there’s a benefit from holding that training elsewhere.
“Teachers tend to take (training) less seriously when it happens inside the district,” she said. “Teachers can be honest with us and tell us what’s working, what’s not working so we can adjust. We don’t hold anything over them. Nothing will come back to haunt them.”
This fall, as part of a study to examine the impact of the home visits on students, parents and teachers, the Dallas-Fort Worth program will expand to several North Texas school districts. Vanhoy hopes to recruit an additional 400 teachers.
Any district interested in adopting the home visit program needs to start small, as in Dallas, to control for training and quality as it expands to more schools, said Traci Davis, the superintendent of Washoe County schools in Nevada.
She also stressed that teachers should always have the option of making the visits — or not.
“Not everybody’s ready,” Davis said. “I would never tell a superintendent to mandate these visits. People will do a poor job.”