Recent education summit focused on improving engagement, equity and literacy

November 28, 2022
A photo taken at the conference with a group of educators, presenters and attendees standing in a semi-circle.

When families and communities participate in education, they can help students thrive and advance educational equity. Those were key takeaways from a recent summit co-hosted by the Centennial School DistrictCatalyst @ Penn GSE and consulting firm Nothing But Education.

Educators, experts and student leaders from 12 states convened in Norristown and King of Prussia on Nov. 3 and 4 for “Family & Community Engagement: Transforming Learning Through Voice, Culture, and Literacy.”

They were there to exchange ideas and share examples of successful initiatives. As schools and communities strive for educational equity and to provide high-quality and diverse literacy curricula, it is critical to hear about successful initiatives and learn about available resources.

“We invited attendees from across the country that have implemented innovative programs, policies and practices in their schools that support educational equity, encouraged literacy and incorporated student and family voice in the process,” said Tomea Sippio-Smith, Director of the Coalition for Educational Equity (CEE) at Penn GSE. “These educators didn’t just say they were going to try something different; they (actually) did it and transformed education in the process.”

She explained that the conference's purpose was to "highlight innovative ways to encourage family and community engagement in schools by transforming learning through culture, literacy and student and parental voice."

Sippio-Smith's group is one of several within Catalyst that designed and organized the conference, partnering with colleagues from the Penn Literacy Network and the Center for School Study Councils. Catalyst is Penn GSE’s hub for global education innovation and transformation.

Penn GSE professors and staff shared their work at the event and participated in panel discussions. Sippio-Smith introduced CEE and moderated a panel on Equity in Action. Andrea Kane, Professor of Practice in Educational Leadership, moderated a discussion on transformative education and transformative leadership. Bonnie Botel-Sheppard and Lara Paparo, who together lead the Penn Literacy Network, explained how schools can get involved in the organization’s professional development and curricular enhancement programs. And innovation consultant Rita Ferrandino led a conversation about making schools great places to work and learn.

Centennial School District Superintendent Dana Bedden shared details about their successful transformational education and community engagement initiative. The district, which serves 5,300 students in Bucks County, Pa., received approval from its school board to distribute books to students that provided a breadth of reading experiences, including topics of high interest and engagement, as well as books aligned to college and career standards. The books included titles with themes related to social-emotional and academic learning, equity and representation.

The program's success motivated the Centennial School District to help organize the "Family & Community Engagement" conference. And according to some summit participants, the event could not have been timelier. 

“It was a very eye-opening experience as a student to observe how district administrators actually care to make the school experience as equitable as possible for students, staff and the community,” said attendee Jamar Mitchell, a high school student leader from the Centennial School District.

“Culture, as an anchor for transformational leadership, stabilizes the focus for the critical work ahead in P-12 and beyond,” said Cynthia Alexander Mitchell, Associate Professor at Christian Brothers University.

“This summit brought together education changemakers with an equity focus that was inclusive of all attendees' voices,” added April Francis-Taylor, Director of DEI at Eastern Suffolk BOCES. “The wealth of knowledge shared and collegiality was truly inspiring! I am grateful and have renewed motivation to continue to be a voice for change and dismantling inequitable systems for all our students.”