Northside Achievement Zone

Report date
August 2017

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Family coaching has been a key activity. Over the course of the grant, we developed a specific “Family Achievement Coach,” role which combined two prior roles (Connector and Navigator) and allowed for deeper relationships between Coaches and families than before. We also increased our training and support of Coaches, particularly in the Goals to Action framework, which is the way in which Coaches and families set and achieve goals, and which includes a focus on leadership development. This framework is also used in training; as Coaches, many of whom are from the community, have similar lived experience, or are former NAZ families, become leaders in their own roles, they are better able to support leadership with parents.

The Coach role has also evolved to be more visible, particularly with our community partners. At Anchor School partners, for example, co-located Coaches are able to form strong relationships with scholars, parents, and the school, which helps to increase family engagement and influences the school to embrace parent participation. In this way, Coaches are able to be a bridge between parents and institutions that will benefit from their leadership.
Building partnerships was another key activity. Our Family Academy Parent Education courses, which are often held at partner organizations, provide many opportunities for parent leadership, both during classes and after, when parents are able to return as class liaisons to help with classes for new parents. Classes are held at community sites to improve engagement, and we have invested in improved logistics to help families attend, increased our staff capacity to support Family Academy, and taken steps to make sure that families can fully engage. For example, at one school partner with a large Spanish-speaking population, we co-located a Spanish-speaking Coach at the location and recruited Spanish-speaking parent leaders to attend and help with classes.

Strong partnerships also help us learn how to partner with organizations to recognize the leadership potential in parents and develop ways to meaningfully engage them, while we simultaneously support parents in engaging with a school or organization where they have typically been disengaged, felt unwelcome, or have experienced trauma.
Our final key activity was developing clear paths for parent leadership. The Parent Leadership Pathway program and the Parent Advisory Board are specific avenues for parent leadership, and we are exploring additional opportunities (noted below) for parents.

Parent Leadership Pathway work is built into our Coaching process. Coaches are trained to notice, support, and build upon parent leadership potential and opportunity. As parents set and achieve goals, their sense of confidence builds and Coaches help parents to see how they can be leaders at home, in their child’s school, or in the broader community. Parent leaders may help with a Family Academy class, testify at the legislature, or start a block club. Our method of explicitly supporting parent leadership opportunities for each individual parent ensures that leadership remains driven by parents themselves.

The Parent Advisory Board (PAB) is another formal structure for parent leadership in North Minneapolis. The PAB acts as an advisory group to the Board of Directors (which also includes current NAZ parents) and are currently helping us to shape the next steps in our parent leadership strategy.

Key lessons learned

One lesson is that leadership development requires both developing leadership in parents, and developing leadership opportunities within the community. Because of our collaborative structure, NAZ has been able to find creative ways to support parents in building the skills and beliefs required for leadership while also building capacity within our collaborative to recognize and work with parent leaders.

One example of this process took place at a NAZ partner school that had a policy requiring an appointment for parents to enter the building for any reason, in part due to past conflict. Recognizing that this could become a barrier for parent engagement, NAZ and school staff partnered to create an alternate strategy; each time a parent set an appointment or volunteered at school, they were entered into a drawing for $50 movie gift cards, with 2 winners drawn each month. This had the effect of transforming a punitive policy into one that encouraged parent engagement and helped build authentic relationships between teachers, parents, staff, and NAZ. This also helped create an environment much more hospitable to parent engagement and eventual leadership.
The second key lesson we learned is that parent leadership must involve meaningful leadership and engagement opportunities as defined by the parents themselves. We have been in discussion with the PAB and Coaches about parent leadership looks like and two key lessons have emerged:

1. Meaningful leadership develops from the inside out; first with themselves, then within their family, block, school, community and then into more traditional leadership roles. Many NAZ parents prefer to be seen as leaders to their scholars first (examples included volunteering at church or planting a community garden), and pursue more traditional leadership opportunities (advocacy, board membership, etc.) after they develop confidence and skills in these areas.

2. While support and encouragement are important, parents also expressed a desire to be held accountable as leaders. This is consistent with NAZ’s desire to work outside of a social-services paradigm that views parents as perennial recipients; however, it is a consistent challenge for both parents and organizations to change long-held beliefs and attitudes in this area.
Finally, we learned that we will be most effective in developing and supporting parent leadership in North Minneapolis with a full-time position focused on this strategy. Currently, much of our leadership strategy is woven into other areas of our work, and will remain so; however, moving toward new, more meaningful parent leadership opportunities in a community where engagement has long been discouraged requires ongoing and focused attention.

This is even more clear in light of a recent data error we discovered. In 2016, data showed 99 parent leaders, a very encouraging number with an annual goal of 100 parent leaders. However, due to an unusual data query error, we found that in fact the number was 40; this year we are tracking 57 parent leaders so far. This indicates to us that our strategies are working, as the number of parent leaders is increasing, but that more time, attention, and strategy is needed to help us monitor our progress, apply what we learn from our continuous improvement process, and achieve our annual goals. Below we discuss our plans to continue our work based on this learning.

Reflections on the community innovation process

The community innovation process outlined by Bush is a good visual representation of the process we are using to develop a cohort of parent leaders in North Minneapolis. Over the period of the grant, we’ve moved in and out of these stages; our continuous improvement process helps us increase our collective understanding and generate new ideas while testing solutions, that then evolve based on more learning.

The elements of being inclusive, resourceful, and collaborative are also built into our model. From the beginning, we have recognized parents as the leaders of our work, and understood that we needed the collective efforts of multiple stakeholders to be successful. Being resourceful continues to be perhaps the most important element for us – combining the resources and expertise of many people and organizations as we learn together, in real time, what works to support parent leaders, will continue to determine our success moving forward. We are confident that NAZ parents, themselves extremely resourceful in the face of adversity, will continue to emerge as leaders in new and creative ways.

Progress toward an innovation

We believe that we’ve developed a breakthrough in finding innovative ways to support emerging parent leaders in North Minneapolis. Parents enrolled in NAZ often face substantial challenges including poverty and community violence. Many do not consider themselves to be leaders in any capacity. NAZ has developed systems – Family Achievement Coaching, the Parent Leadership Pathways program, the Parent Advisory Board, and engagement strategies across partners and between parents, schools, and other organizations, that provide a core structure for leadership among a group of parents who would likely not otherwise be engaged in leadership development.

Now, with a group of engaged parent leaders and strategies to support new and emerging leaders, we think the next breakthrough is engaging more parents, in more meaningful ways, and continuing to support our collaborative efforts to embrace parent leadership and provide leadership opportunities. We are currently developing strategies to take these next steps in partnership with parents and via the community innovation process articulated by Bush.

What it will take to reach an innovation?


What's next?

NAZ recently developed a full-time Leadership Strategy Manager role to help us take the next steps in our parent leadership strategy. The role will be dedicated full-time to building up our strategy based on what we’ve learned and with the collaboration of the Parent Advisory Board. They will also work together with partner organizations and other community organizations/groups to develop leadership and volunteer opportunities. Finally, they will support parents in stepping into various leadership roles, and provide support for parent leadership across staff functions and across the collaborative. This position will help us move from engagement opportunities that are less meaningful to parents and partner organizations and toward true involvement. We are also pleased to note that the person moving into this role is a long-time NAZ staff member who is a North Minneapolis resident with a history of successful engagement efforts in the community. With this new position, we’re looking forward to what we’ll learn, and, most importantly, new opportunities for parent leaders.

If you could do it all over again...

It would have been helpful for us to have known how important it was to create meaningful opportunities for parent leadership across our collaborative and within our community. Without these opportunities, parent leadership can simply become a box to check or one more hoop for parents or organizations to jump through to meet funder or other requirements. Relationships between parents and community organizations can be fraught after years of negative interactions, staffing changes, or other challenges faced by the North Minneapolis communities. By working together as a collaborative with parents at the center, we are rebuilding and repairing relationships, and through our continuous improvement process, we are learning what truly works to foster leadership across our collaborative and within our community. Knowing this in advance would have helped us to build in more meaningful leadership opportunities with partners from the beginning; however, with this lesson clearly in mind, we’re looking forward to the possibilities ahead.

One last thought

We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again! We so appreciate the support of the Bush Foundation, material and otherwise, throughout this process. Your flexibility and understanding the non-linear, and often time- and labor-intensive process of tackling entrenched and challenging issues such as parent leadership is very much appreciated.