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We have a new partnership in Tulsa. Here's how it came to be

eight women from tulsa public schools are wearing parentcorps tshirts and smiling for a photo to celebrate the launch of the district's partnership with parentcorps

Back in 2022, Cortni McGilbra and Jordan Sheffield-Mix were brainstorming ways to improve their family engagement efforts with the pre-K caregivers of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Both work within the Tulsa Public School system’s Early Childhood Education department, Jordan as a Content Manager and Cortni as a Family Engagement Coordinator. Their goal was to create an environment where all parents would be treated as valuable partners from the start of their children’s school journeys

The two got together and began reviewing the landscape of family engagement programs nationwide. As they dug into their options, it became clear that their main goals were to find a program that held diversity, equity, and inclusion at its center, and that utilized family voice and input to drive the program. 

“ParentCorps, we stumbled across,” Jordan said. “And as we started digging into it more, we realized it met all of our non-negotiables and the parts of our vision of what we were looking for.”

It felt like a great match from the very first meeting. “We clicked with them automatically,” Jordan said. “Just their passion and excitement for their program – it was not like somebody was trying to sell us a program. They were pitching something that they cared about deeply.”

“We connected,” Cortni added. “It didn’t feel like just another contract. It felt like actual partnership.”

Fast forward to this school year, and ParentCorps is officially rolling out at scale in Tulsa Public Schools. To build readiness for this roll-out, Jordan and Cortni spent lots of time introducing ParentCorps - what it is, what it takes, how it could help transform relationships between home and school - to school staff. “I felt like they were really bought in,” Jordan said.

That district-wide commitment helped ParentCorps Fundamentals, our foundational professional development series designed to strengthen family engagement and lay the foundation for programming, go smoothly. This training in October included Tulsa pre-K teachers, kindergarten teachers, counselors, and parent involvement facilitators.   

In planning for professional development, Cortni and Jordan were excited to make the actual space where training took place inviting. 

“We wanted to make sure the teachers were fed while they were there, that it was comfortable,” Jordan said. “We know it's a lot of content, and some of it can be hard content.” 

For Jordan and Cortni, one of the most impactful moments of professional development was when school staff grappled with the ways in which families’ past experiences in school impact how they engage with their children’s schools now.

“[In working with parents] I've really been intentional about just keeping that concept in mind and trying to help not change their experience, but just honor and acknowledge their past experiences,” Cortni said.

In January, our staff returned to Oklahoma to train Tulsa staff who would be facilitating ParentCorps programming for pre-K families. “The minute we walked in, it was just some of the best engagement I've ever seen,” said Melissa Santos, a ParentCorps Specialist who led training and implementation in Tulsa. “It’s day one, 30 minutes in, and people are raising their hands – they're ready to jump in, they’re sharing.”

Despite a snowstorm that disrupted program launches, as of April, two ParentCorps programs for caregivers are underway. “The families didn’t know each other before, but by the end of the first session they were hugging, crying, and validating each other,” Cortni said. 

 “The families didn’t know each other before, but by the end of the first session they were hugging, crying, and validating each other.”

The partnership between ParentCorps and Tulsa Public Schools is for five years. Each year, we’ll deepen our work to bring ParentCorps programming to more schools, continue adapting ParentCorps to fit Tulsa’s unique content, and build for long-term sustainability so ParentCorps becomes fully embedded in Tulsa’s pre-K experience. 

Jordan and Cortni have high hopes for what the partnership will mean for the community.

“As a district, we've struggled with family engagement,” Jordan said. “Tulsa is a community that has experienced trauma, and a lot of families don't feel like they're a part of a school community.  I think ParentCorps has been one step to rebuilding the relationship between the schools and the community. If this program can be successful in a city with challenges, I can't imagine what it's going to do as we expand over the next few years.”

Clarissa Donnelly-DeRoven is the ParentCorps' Communication Specialist

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