Project Description


During the 2016-17 school year, CDE Foundation launched the Engaging Families in the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) Development Process Initiative through funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. This initiative is grounded in the goals and outcomes of a research-based framework, Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships that is designed to build capacity among district leaders, educators and families to partner with one another around student success and school improvement.

The Engaging Families initiative helps participating districts and schools shift from parent involvement that merely measures parent participation at family engagement events to high-quality family engagement that is linked to learning and improved student achievement. To aid in the shift, the initiative’s work has been closely guided by the Dual Capacity-Building Framework that specifies that both the school and the family need to build capacity to meaningfully connect to support their child’s learning. The framework describes the process and organizational conditions required for high-quality family engagement.

What made the Engaging Families initiative different, and why so many participants found it transforming, is the way it shifted the mindsets of parents and school staff around the value of partnering together. The initiative brought an equity lens to family engagement work and demonstrated how targeted outreach to families could break down barriers to participation especially for traditionally marginalized families, including families with limited formal education, families who speak languages other than English, and families who are not familiar with the U.S. education system.

It also kept participating districts and schools accountable for their family engagement efforts, and provided school and district teams with flexible supports such as professional development, technical assistance, and a stipend that could be used for family engagement events and activities. These factors–a focus on shifting mindsets and balancing accountability with support–set the Engaging Families initiative apart from other efforts to improve the quality of family engagement.

Our Work

CDE Foundation partnered with the San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE) and school districts in San Mateo County to provide research-based family engagement professional development, technical assistance, and expand a professional learning network for district and school teams.

CDE Foundation also partnered with two local San Francisco Bay Area organizations, High Expectations Parental Service and Californians for Justice (CFJ) that utilize research-based strategies for family engagement in their capacity building for stakeholders at the district and school level including education leaders, site administrators, teachers, family engagement staff, families, and community partners. The approach emphasized whole systems thinking and continuous improvement to achieve a shift in mindset around family engagement and the LCAP that will result in greater equity and student achievement.

Twenty-one schools across four school districts (Cabrillo Unified School District, Jefferson Elementary School District, Redwood City School District, and San Mateo-Foster City School District) participated in the capacity building over the 2017-18 and 2018-2019 school years. The district leaders and school teams made an initial year-long commitment to the initiative that entailed capacity-building, technical assistance, and family engagement activities supported through a stipend as described below.

Objectives and Approach:

  1. Capacity Building for School Teams: A two-day Family Engagement Learning Institute (FELI) provided by High Expectations to school teams comprised of principals, educators, families and community partners. The training is based on research from the Dual Capacity Building Framework. The school teams designed a family engagement plan based on a piece of school level data. They looked at their achievement data, for example in literacy or math, and determined how to engage parents around this data. They left with an action plan that links all family engagement activities to learning. See the video below that captures the objectives and outcomes of the initiative, including the design of the FELI.
  2. Technical Assistance: High Expectations provided ongoing technical assistance designed to build the capacity of school teams to develop, implement, and evaluate family engagement practices that lead to increased learning outcomes. A culminating event is held at the end of the school year called “Celebration of Excellence” that brought schools together across the four districts to share outcomes.
  3. Stipends: Each school received a stipend of $1,000 to support family engagement activities and related expenses such as transportation, food, translation services, child care, and stipends for teachers to lead events on weeknights and weekends.
  4. Family engagement events: Schools held family engagement events based on action plans developed at the two-day FELI. The activities were designed to link family engagement to support learning at home and contribute to improved outcomes for students. See our Impact to view videos of effective family engagement events held at two participating schools.
  5. Capacity Building for District-level Stakeholders: Californians for Justice provided capacity building for district-level stakeholders such as LCAP Advisory Committees that involve parent leaders to develop districts’ capacity for meaningful parent engagement in the LCAP development process.


Measuring family engagement outcomes and comparing across districts is challenging because the strategies and activities vary widely and there are no standard metrics agreed upon to best measure the quality of family engagement. The indicators and data sources in the district LCAPs used to measure family engagement such as participation rates in parent satisfaction surveys and LCAP surveys do not necessarily reflect improved quality of family engagement.

The Engaging Families Initiative focused on building capacity among district leaders, educators and families to partner with each other around student success. One of the goals was to increase the number of district and school level staff who have the capacity to implement quality family engagement.

Results include:

  • Nineteen District Leaders trained from four districts in San Mateo County
  • One hundred and seventeen principals, teachers, families, and community partners from school teams trained
  • Four San Mateo County Office of Education and Community Partners trained

The capacity building and technical assistance resulted in a shift in school staff and parents’ mindsets around the value of partnering together. In addition, it resulted in a shift in family engagement practices and activities linked to learning. School staff repurposed family engagement activities that already occur like back-to-school night or parent-teacher conferences by providing opportunities for parents to learn strategies and tools they can use to support their children’s learning outside the classroom.

The initiative brought an equity lens to family engagement work and demonstrated how targeted outreach to families could break down barriers to participation especially for traditionally marginalized families. This was evident by the work carried out by Farallone View Elementary School in Cabrillo Unified School District

During the 2017-2018 school year, the school hosted five Family Literacy Nights and saw increasing attendance at these events throughout the year. The literacy nights were designed to address challenges of parent participation such as transportation and language barriers by offering some events in the communities where parents live and providing simultaneous translation. During the 2018-2019 school year, eight Family Literacy Nights were scheduled, a 60% increase in the family engagement events offered. A new family engagement committee has implemented school-wide reading logs and provided incentives for participation in this initiative through Parent Teacher Organization (PTO)-sponsored prizes and a field trip to the local library.

The family engagement committee plans to analyze students’ progress and growth on Fountas and Pinnell reading levels and use these insights to plan more effective family engagement events.

CDE Foundation developed videos of effective family engagement literacy events held by Farallone View Elementary School and Beresford Elementary School in the San Mateo-Foster City School District. These family engagement events designed to increase reading comprehension and improve literacy were the result of action plans developed by the school teams at the Family Engagement Learning Institute.


CDE Foundation commissioned Public Profit to conduct an evaluation of the initiative with the goal to lift up the lessons learned in order to motivate other districts in California to build their own capacity to meaningfully engage families. The report, Promoting High-Quality Family Engagement in San Mateo County School Districts, provides lessons learned from the initiative and case studies on each district that highlight bright spots from their work on family engagement.

CDE Foundation utilizes Collaboration in Common (CiC), a virtual platform for organizing professional learning communities and resource sharing, to develop and expand the Professional Learning Networks and further build district and school teams’ capacities. The LCAP Priority 3: Parental Involvement Channel on CiC includes resources on family engagement have been curated by California Department of Education (CDE) staff, and includes the Department of Education and California frameworks on family engagement, toolkits, and research on family engagement practices.

The Family Engagement Toolkit, published by CDE in collaboration with WestEd, provides districts and schools with practical planning and evaluation tools that support efforts to engage all families, particularly those of underrepresented and under served students. CDE Foundation encourages district leaders, educators, family engagement coordinators, and parent liaisons to engage with the resources on CiC, create professional learning communities within and across schools and districts, and contribute to the knowledge base on effective family engagement.