Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Becoming Compadres in Education

Putnam City West High School, Oklahoma

Story posted October 28, 2009. Results updated November 14, 2011.

• Hispanic student performance on end-of-course assessments has risen dramatically in a number of subjects, including Algebra I and II, Biology I and English III
• The graduation rate among Hispanic students has increased by nearly 70 percent since 2007
• Attendance at Hispanic Family Night has increased from 50 to more than 250 since 2007

Putnam City West High School serves a rapidly changing, ethnically and economically mixed cross-section of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The student body of more than 1,600 turns over at a rate of 40 percent per year. Twenty-two percent of the school’s students are Hispanic (a dramatic increase over the past twelve years) and 72 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Despite gains in student achievement made by the school in recent years, the achievement gap between rich and poor students, as well as the gap between white and minority students, remains a constant problem. To address this issue, school officials joined forces with the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) and the Putnam City Association of Classroom Teachers.

These educators realized that to truly close the achievement gap, there would need to be collaboration between school officials, teachers, parents and community members. A grant from the National Education Association’s (NEA) Public Engagement Project laid the foundation for "Compadres in Education," a community conversation program designed to help Hispanic parents connect with teachers and administrators at the school, in turn improving the learning of their children.

Participants in these conversations identified the main factors contributing to achievement gaps locally, formulated plans to address them, and took action.

Locals learn to sustain program
Initially, NEA and OEA provided seed money and trained local community members to facilitate, structure, and record community conversations. Since community members have learned to conduct these structured conversations themselves, the community now has the local capacity necessary to sustain the program.

Fifty people attended the first Compadres in Education event in 2007. Now, it regularly draws crowds four or five times that size. The OEA, school and community leaders have been an integral part of the program from the start. Parents, teachers, and students are also deeply involved. Other participants include the Francis Tuttle Technology Center, Oklahoma State University and Regents for Higher Education, the University of Oklahoma, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Gear Up, and the state’s Departments of Education and Rehabilitation Services.

Discussion is action-oriented and community-driven
Based on the earliest community conversations, Compadres in Education has taken a number of actions. For example, each quarter the school now opens its doors for Noche de Padres Hispános, or Hispanic Family Night, which students and their families attend together. On these nights, presentations demonstrate the economic value of higher education, contrasting the earnings of students with high school diplomas, certificates from two-year training programs, and bachelor’s degrees from four-year colleges. Teachers help students and their families fill out financial aid forms, including the notoriously difficult-to-complete Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and applications for Oklahoma’s Promise, a state scholarship program for students from families with annual incomes below $50,000. Bilingual teachers and community volunteers provide individualized college enrollment assistance for students and their families.

At Hispanic Family Night and during community conversations, the discussion is community-driven and wide-ranging, addressing topics ranging from the legal rights of immigrants and their school-aged children to the challenges of raising teens in today’s world, success in school, and the college landscape — entrance requirements and how to apply.

Other actions taken by Putnam City West in response to concerns expressed during community conversations include:
• Securing a $20,000 grant from IBM for software that translates English documents into Spanish.
• Hiring more bilingual staff members.
• Providing school- and district-wide professional development to enrich teaching and enhance achievement among English-language learners.
• Furnishing written descriptions of course offerings in Spanish and in English, with emphasis on college entrance requirements.
• Expanding opportunities for student service-learning in the community, especially for those at risk of dropping out.

Graduation rates and test scores rise
According to Assistant Principal Melanie Pealor (who played an integral role in establishing the program), the number of Hispanic students graduating from Putnam City West rose by nearly 70 percent between 2008 and 2009. The pass rate among Hispanic students on Oklahoma’s End-of-Instruction Test in English II, a statewide graduation requirement, rose from 55 percent in 2007 to 77 percent in 2008. Hispanic students’ Academic Performance Index, a broader measure of achievement, rose from 839 in 2006 to 1,152 in 2008 (on a scale of 1,500).

Due to the success at Putnam City West, the community conversation approach is being used to drive school improvement and close achievement gaps in other parts of Oklahoma as well.

For additional information, please contact:
Melanie Pealor
Assistant Principal, Putnam City West High School

Dottie Hager
Oklahoma Education Association

Results updated November 14, 2011, based on a profile of Putnam City West High School in NEA Priority Schools Campaign's Family-School-Community Partnerships 2.0: Collaborative Strategies to Advance Student Learning.

NEA’s Public Engagement Project/Family-School-Community Partnerships (PEP/FSCP) is based on this premise: It’s time we take family and community engagement as seriously as we take curriculum, standards, and tests. The project has sponsored more than 125 community conversations in 21 states — catalysts for change driven by local coalitions of families, students, teachers, business people, clergy, and other stakeholders. Together, they identify local causes of achievement gaps, develop and implement action plans, and mobilize to get results. For more information, contact Roberta Hantgan at 202-822-7721 or rhantgan@nea.org.

This story came to LFA’s attention after being featured in the National Education Association’s Stories of Closing Achievement Gaps Through Community Engagement (September 2009, written by Barbara Moldauer).

Adapted with additional information from the Oklahoma Education Association’s Education Focus (June/July 2007 and May 2008) and the assistance of Melanie Pealor.

Photos courtesy of the Oklahoma Education Association’s Education Focus.