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Research & Insights / Academic Family Engagement at the James Otis Elementary School: The 2021 School on the Move Research Study

Academic Family Engagement at the James Otis Elementary School: The 2021 School on the Move Research Study

Attendance! Teacher Retention! Test Scores! Community Partnerships! When EdVestors awarded the James Otis Elementary School (“the Otis”) the 2021 School on the Move Prize, EdVestors knew that the Otis was doing something remarkable.

What really impressed me was the attention to detail from the teachers and the differentiation that went behind providing every family with the resources that they needed to support the child.
The Otis Parent

As the 2021 EdVestors' School on the Move Prize Winner, the Otis stood out among Boston Public Schools (BPS).  The Otis’ highly effective engagement strategies with wide-reaching impacts had our attention. However, the details of the Otis’ engagement practices were not yet documented in full and the question of usability and applicability of practices to educational sites beyond the Otis was not yet answered. There was an opportunity and a need to know more.

EdVestors partnered with Learning Experience Design Research at Charles River Media Group (“LXD Research”) to shine a spotlight on practices that succeed at the Otis to demonstrate “what works” when educational communities foster intentional partnerships between schools and families. The goal was to study best practices in family and community engagement at Otis, including their use of Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTT), and create a useful toolkit for other schools.

Why Holistic Engagement Matters

Research has established multiple academic and holistic benefits for family involvement in schools. However, best practices for sustaining successful teacher-family relationships through the pandemic are mostly undocumented. A survey conducted by the Action for Healthy Kids in January 2020 showed a substantial inclusion gap: the difference between parents interested in partnering with schools on student academics and well-being and the parents who feel included. The Otis succeeds in closing this gap.

Research Methods - Connecting with the Otis

In partnership with Otis and EdVestors, LXD Research implemented a mixed-methods evaluation to learn more. Research activities centered on connecting with the Otis’ network of stakeholders to hear their experiences and analyzing data to document emerging themes.

  • Family partners: Interviews with four parents to learn about their experiences with APTT and family engagement at the Otis; families had five children across grades K-6.
  • Educators: Observations of the Otis’ virtual APTT sessions & educator survey with classroom teachers, specialists, interventionists, and substitutes across grades K-6.
  • Administration and staff: Interviews with three school leadership and staff members to learn school-based priorities and thinking behind the Otis’ APTT program.

Key Findings

LXD Research found that APTT is not practiced at the Otis in isolation but instead thrives as part of a larger matrix of family-school engagement and collaboration across roles. The school practices a holistic form of Academic Family Engagement as a complementary approach to family engagement that implements academic partnership, planning, and outreach as part of an active, structured, and intentional culture of engagement practices and relationships between families, staff, and teachers. The Otis has a structure in place to support and empower its culture of academic family engagement, including teacher collaboration across traditional grade and subject silos. Teachers indicate high levels of engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

The Otis’ Voices & Insights

  • Community partners see the Otis' family engagement as academically-focused, leadership-driven, and outcome-oriented – this sets the Otis apart from other schools.
  • Staff members at the Otis highlight their efforts to actively reach out to families to inquire about student absences, promote APTT sessions, share good news, ask if families need anything, and more on a daily basis. 
  • The Otis educators report that the Otis stands out from other schools because of its long-term leadership, staff continuity, community coordinator position, family engagement activities (including APTT), and identity as a family-friendly school.
  • Families highlight the importance of family-friendly culture and events and programming for all families, including newcomer families, as factors in building community at the Otis.

The Academic Family Engagement Toolkit

LXD Research synthesized observation, survey, and interview data from the Otis into an actionable Academic Family Engagement (AFE) Toolkit that represents the partner, staff, educator, and family voices of the AFE culture. 

The AFE Toolkit is designed to be used in parts or full by an educational program, depending on site needs and capacity. The practices observed at the Otis were rolled out over years of effort, collaboration, and iteration. With the Otis’ example and timeline in mind, the message from the Otis about AFE is clear – don’t try to do it all at once but do start! 

Simone Flynn, PhD is Senior Research Manager at LXD Research.

Heather Johnson is the Vice President, Programs, Strategy & Impact at EdVestors.


About Edvestors

EdVestors’ mission is to advance equitable, meaningful education that prepares every Boston student to activate their power and shape their future. We drive toward our vision by 1) activating people and resources, 2) learning and iterating in context, and 3) influencing system change. We believe that continuously attending to all three drivers ensures our programs and initiatives will create impact. Since starting in 2002, EdVestors has raised and directed over $35 million for urban school improvement efforts through EdVestors’ Racial Equity Seed Fund, BPS Arts Expansion, the School on the Move Prize, Zeroing in on Math, and Career Pathways. Learn more at www.edvestors.org.

About LXD Research

LXD Research is an independent evaluation, research, and consulting division within Charles River Media Group, LLC focusing on educational technology. We design rigorous research studies, multifaceted data analytic reporting, and dynamic content to disseminate insights. Visit www.LXDResearch.com.