"Our town is small, so the families here just seem to feel like everyone is needed to make the school work," says Chris Farley, mother of three students in the Flambeau School District, which serves 700 students in a rural community in Wisconsin.
More than three-fifths of all households have participated in focus groups that set educational priorities in the district. Begun in 1994, the project, known as the Flambeau Action Committee on Education for Tomorrow, brings together family members, educators, and local officials to redesign the community's education system.
"The families in this community learned about education reform through the focus groups, but they have also taken to these groups as a way to make certain that their interests are identified and prioritized in the school," says Chuck Ericksen, Flambeau's full-time community education director. The result has been an emphasis on skills identified by the community as essential to their children's success.
While these include the usual competency in math, reading, and writing, parents also identified problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity as equally important. "The parents here saw the need to transform their kids into self-reliant learners," says Ericksen.
Parents and other adult family members routinely offer their time and knowledge to support school activities. For instance, family members helped set up 360 classroom computers and wire dedicated ISDN lines to provide fast connections to the Internet.