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“this is what I got… a pretty good learning experience for all involved.” Lara Latto is Principal of Harbor View Elementary School in the Charleston County School District, South Carolina. She not only understands the importance of last Monday’s blog message, “Include Parents as a Member of Your Classroom’s Team,” she is proactive in her engagement of parents. Recently, she rounded on parents with three questions:

What is working well at HV Elementary?

What needs to be improved at HV Elementary?

Which employees at HV Elementary need to be recognized and why?

Principal Latto responded to all of the parent feedback provided. First, she rolled out to the teachers and discussed with them. Then, she emailed it to parents. Here are some highlights about what’s working well:

Communication seems very efficient via e-mails, phone calls, newsletters, social media etc. The teachers and staff are excellent. Administration, support staff, janitorial, kaleidoscope, food service. Everyone seems to be working as a team. There is focus and attention to detail. People care.

The faculty and staff all work well to help my kids feel comfortable and they are bringing out the best in my kids. I have seen them excel beyond my expectations, especially the last two years with my second grader and my kindergartener is growing and learning more than ever.

Car line (Really, this was mentioned numerous times!)

The majority (n=41) of parent comments about “what needs to be improved” were actually positive (e.g., “nothing [needs to be improved],” “everything is great”); the following are areas representative of the “needs to be improved” comments:

Additional assistance programs or tutors for children struggling with learning. [These comments ranged from helping children with learning disabilities, tutoring, and a “math group like the reading group” for kids struggling with mathematics.]

Transportation [Comments included busing and the car line.]

Curriculum [Comments focused on enhancing electives (e.g., art) and project-based learning.]

Cafeteria [Comments related to healthy food options]

Class Sizes; Classroom Snacks; Germs; Recess; Safety; and Technology

What joy there is in reading parent responses about who they would like to reward and recognized! What was so special about the comments for Harbor View Elementary is that the parents recognized the schools leader, teachers, and support staff. One parent responded about the difference her daughter’s bus driver makes:

Ms. Wright is my daughter’s bus driver. Every day she keeps a very close eye on [my daughter] and comforts her when she is upset. We had a mix up one day when [my daughter] missed the bus when leaving school and Ms. Wright personally called me to inform me that [she] was not on her bus and of her concern for the situation. She has gone above and beyond on several occasions.

For many students, the school day begins with their bus drivers and this parent recognized the importance of this first connection to the school day. This was one of a handful of comments about the great work of support staff, including the school nurse, at the school. Similar comments recognized the teachers and Principal Latto; below are a few:

I would like to recognize Ms. Tillman because she has been a godsend to our child. From the very beginning she took out time to understand our child’s strengths and weaknesses. She differentiated her instruction to ensure [our child] succeeded. Through all of this she went over the top communicating with me what was working and what wasn’t so that we could make any needed adjustments. Any child would be blessed to have her in their educational life. [Our child] has grown leaps and bounds this year. I really appreciate Ms. Tillman’s interest in my child.

Ms. Kathleen Hall, awesome!!!! I would have loved having her as my kindergarten teacher. Her love for teaching is shown every day in her warm smile. She is great about letting the parents know what is going on in class as well as e-mailing “special” moments a child has in class.

Lara Latto has all the best qualities of a great school leader and shows it on a weekly basis inside and outside of the school… an excellent leader who excels in communication with parents… follow-up is incredible… and genuinely cares for students and upholds standards in making HVES an excellent school….

Principal Latto’s rounding on parents at her school is one example of how she encourages them to be part of the Harbor View Elementary School team. As evidenced by the parent comments, its not the only thing that she and her colleagues do to connect with parents of students; and, because of the relationships established, parents then feel comfortable providing open and honest feedback. Why is this important? Because this is one way Harbor View and all schools focus on continuous improvement to achieve excellence. In Charleston County School District “Excellence is [their] Standard” and to achieve excellence in the school district, each school and department in the district must be excellent.

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Special thanks to Principal Lara Latto, Harbor View Elementary School, for sharing parent responses and the pro-active actions she took based on the comments. Check out the great things happening at HVES under Principal Latto’s leadership at http://harborview.ccsdschools.com/.

Our mission at Studer Education’s EBL K12 is to provide students with a great place to learn, teachers with a great place to teach, and parents with confidence that their children are getting a great education. To do this we partner with teachers and leaders to create results-oriented school cultures. Visit us online at http://eblk12.com to learn more about Studer Education and Evidence-Based Leadership in K12. Studer Education is a division of Studer Group, ranked for the sixth straight year on the Best Small and Medium Workplaces by Great Place to Work® and a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.