School Leadership and Family-School- Community Partnerships: The Model Schools for Inner Cities Initiative

School-level leadership is key in establishing family-school-community partnerships. The present research is based on interviews with parents and school administrators from two Toronto-area MSIC schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Participants were asked about programs and services available to children and families at the school, school-family relationships, how the school acts as the hub of the community, and engagement of newcomer, refugee, and culturally diverse families. School staff and parents play key roles in fostering family-school-community relations, and trusting relationships are the foundation for future community partnerships. This research has implications for hiring in an inner-city context, as well as training in family and community engagement. Anti-oppression and anti-Black racism staff training are also vital to ensure that schools effectively support students and families.

Our approach

The purpose of this study is to identify the leadership practices and strategies that fostered family-school-community partnerships in a Toronto-based, board-wide equity initiative. The Model Schools for Inner Cities initiative strives to enhance equity in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) by increasing access to social and educational supports for students and families in the city’s most marginalized communities. Qualitative case study techniques were used to explore leadership strategies and practices in two Toronto schools in the MSIC initiative. A descriptive analysis of secondary parent focus group and school administrator interview data were guided by the following research question: Within the context of the MSIC initiative in Toronto, Canada, what leadership strategies and practices do school administrators use to foster family-school-community partnerships? 

Semi-structured interviews were held with school administrators (principals and vice-principals) at both schools in 2014 and 2019

What we found

Seven prominent themes emerged from the descriptive analysis. These themes are bolded in the following discussion. The analysis revealed some similarities and differences between the two school sites. When no noteworthy differences were observed between time points, 2014 and 2019 data are treated as one sample.

Parents and administrators at both schools discussed the importance of creating a welcoming physical and social school environment. Parents discussed the importance of having an inviting entranceway and the important role played by all school staff, particularly front desk staff, in establishing a welcoming environment. All schools in the TDSB have automatic locks on their doors, but MS1 administrators tried to allow more open access to families. Parents and administrators at MS2 commented that their front entrance was small, not welcoming, and inaccessible for people using wheelchairs or strollers. MS2 parents spoke highly of a now-retired school custodian who was particularly approachable and involved with the school. Still, some parents at both schools did not feel welcomed.

Participants discussed ways that schools fostered a culture of care among staff and families. MS1 administrators interpreted a culture of care as demonstrating that the school cared about family and community well-being, social justice, and student achievement. MS2 administrators interpreted a culture of care as fostering caring, trusting relationships between school staff and families. MS1 administrators fostered their culture of care by including it in conversations with students and families, the school newsletter, and in school announcements. In 2014, MS2 parents and administrators referred to some distrust between families and school staff; administrators attributed this to past traumas or negative experiences with schools among parents, whereas parents said it was related to power dynamics and a lack of communication. In 2019, MS2 administrators discussed specific strategies to encourage trusting relationships, including establishing the office as a safe space for students and families and taking time to build positive relationships with each family.

Both schools encouraged communication with families using flyers, newsletters, phone calls with families, emails, social media, informal conversations, and more formal events. The parent council was a key way parents could bring concerns to the attention of the school at MS1.

Participants, especially at MS1, said that school staff, including administrators as well as other TDSB and MSIC staff, encouraged parent leadership and advocacy within the school. Schools offered opportunities for parents to serve as leaders, make decisions, and advocate for themselves and community causes. At MS1, the parent council was a key avenue for parent leadership. Parents described the MSIC Community Support Worker and administrators as co-leaders in the parent council. MS2 parents did not take on leadership roles in terms of school or community initiatives as MS1 parents did.

Parents at both schools felt that leadership presence in the community helped the school play an active role in the larger community. For example, in 2019, MS2 administrators hosted parent council nights and an intergenerational book club in a local apartment building after noticing that it was difficult for some families to get to the school in the evenings. This demonstrated to families that school staff were working to be a part of the larger community.

Participants identified several ways school staff and administrators established their schools a social and cultural broker, helping families connect with and navigate information and services in social, health, and educational systems. Parents and administrators identified Community Support Workers and TDSB Settlement Workers as key supports, particularly for newcomer families navigating Canadian health, education, and social systems. Still, some parents at both schools felt the schools could be more supportive of newcomer families, e.g., by providing translators and information about Canadian educational systems.

Finally, participants reported that administrators leveraged their community partnerships and their own social capital to address systemic inequities. For example, MS1 administrators referred to partnering with universities, hospitals, and not-for-profit organizations to address systematic racism by offering professional development focused on anti-oppression and anti-racism for staff and targeted school-based programs for racialized students and their families. MS2 administrators spoke less about specific partnerships to address systemic racism, but noted they were beginning to organize professional development for staff members focused on Black student excellence and anti-bias training as part of a larger, board-wide initiative. MS2 parents wanted more relevant parent programming to address systemic issues like unemployment, food insecurity, addiction, and teen pregnancy. They noted that programming at the school (e.g., parent events focused on literacy) were ‘band-aid’ solutions that did not address the root problems, and felt the school had the potential to help address generational cycles of poverty, addiction, and other social justice concerns. How administrators viewed social justice seemed to affect how schools addressed systemic inequities. MS1 administrators noted that equity was at the centre of their work and often referred to social justice in conversations with families. They felt that by expressing their intention to create more equitable educational and social systems, they helped parents view the school as an ally that cares about their children, family, and community.

What are the takeaways from this study? 

The leadership practices highlighted in this study are particularly important in this time of increasing advocacy for anti-racism, anti-oppression, and justice in systems such as education that can reproduce – or help combat – classism, racism, ableism, and social inequities. The findings have implications for school-family-community partnership practices, school leadership strategies in marginalized communities, system-level decision-making about the distribution of services and resources for students and families, and ultimately, how schools and education systems can create more equitable schools and communities. 

Click here to read more about the study.

To read more about the TDSB’s MSIC initiative and GEEC’s research, click here.

Document citation: 

Cummins, N. & Patel, S. (2021). School leadership and family-school-community partnerships: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University.

This is an ongoing study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Partnership for Change: The RBC Immigrant, Diversity and Inclusion Project, Ryerson University, and the Toronto District School Board.  

What programs, services and supports are available for newcomer and culturally diverse families in the Model Schools for Inner Cities initiative?

What are the challenges experienced by newcomer and culturally diverse families?

Newcomer and culturally diverse families can face unique challenges and marginalization, particularly as it relates to learning how to navigate the education system in Canada. The Model Schools for Inner Cities (MSIC) initiative aims to support all families and reduce inequities in their children’s educational success and well-being through innovation in public education. Programs and resources offered board-wide, through MSIC, and at the local school-level contribute to diverse families’ sense of well-being and belonging in their schools and communities. 

Our approach

Researchers spoke to TDSB administrators and parents in 2019 to gather their perspectives on the MSIC Initiative. They were asked specifically about what their school was doing to engage newcomer and culturally diverse families.

Findings

The following categories of programming, services, and supports were noted as contributing to newcomer and culturally diverse families’ sense of well-being:

  • Child and/or family focused programming and supports
  • Health and nutrition programming
  • Community outreach and getting to know families
  • Supporting settlement
  • Celebrating diversity
  • Equity-focused staff professional development and training

Recommendations and Implications for Practice

Equity, community, inclusiveness, and expectations are the goals of MSIC1. These principles can be exemplified and enhanced through the school-based MSIC and board-wide programs and services aimed at improving health and well-being for newcomer and culturally diverse families. Findings demonstrate that MSIC’s philosophy along with its enriched program features help to provide comprehensive supports for students and families from newcomer and culturally diverse communities.

  • Positive family-staff relationships and open communication are vital to newcomer and culturally diverse family engagement. A welcoming and supportive school culture helps families to feel that they are not alone. 
  • Professional development for staff is needed, including conversations related to power and privilege, identity, anti-oppression and anti-Black racism. Families emphasize the importance of educators and administrators understanding how their own identity and privilege can influence their teaching and work.
  • Celebrations and acknowledgement of diversity are an important way to showcase various cultures and ethnicities and can contribute to an increased sense of belonging. 
  • Including the voices of newcomer and culturally diverse families in decision making around school and educational policy is key to upholding the goals of MSIC, and should help to inform practice in schools and communities. 
  • Results highlight the importance of school staff outreach and getting to know your community of families.

1. Toronto District School Board. (2005, May). Model Schools for Inner Cities task force report. Retrieved February 13, 2019 from: http:// www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/ Community/ModelSchools/ InnerCityReportMay2005.pdf 

Click here to read more about programs, services and supports for newcomer and culturally diverse families within MSIC.

To read more about the TDSB’s MSIC initiative, and GEEC’s research, click here.

Document citation: Patel, S., Bemister, K. & Yau, M. (2020). Programs, Services and Supports for Newcomer and Culturally Diverse Families within Model Schools for Inner Cities (MSIC): Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University

This is an ongoing study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Partnership for Change: The RBC Immigrant, Diversity and Inclusion Project, Ryerson University, and the Toronto District School Board.  

Model schools student and school staff perspectives on parental involvement and home support for students

This blog post is part of the School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A longitudinal study of educational success and well-being study. To learn more about the larger study, visit our projects. 

The Model Schools for Inner Cities (MSIC) initiative aims to reduce inequities and achievement gaps for students living in low socioeconomic communities by providing additional school-based supports and services (TDSB, 2017). The MSIC initiative offers a variety of in-school health and educational support services, additional staff to support student academic success and wellbeing, and additional teaching and learning resources for staff. An essential objective of the MSIC initiative is to establish the school as the heart of the community, where parents and community members are viewed as partners in students’ learning and success. To support family and community involvement in schools, MSIC schools often have partnerships with community agencies to offer programming in schools and Community Support Workers at each school act as liaisons between the community and the school. In addition, the Parent Academy, led by parents in MSIC schools, have hosted parent conferences and workshops to support the school community (Yau, Archer, & Romard, 2018). To read more about the MSIC initiative, click here.


Student artwork at the redesign school.

In our research, we spoke with students and school staff in 2013 and 2014 to learn more about their perspectives on family involvement both in school and at home. We found that most students said that their parents and caregivers were involved at home and helped them with their homework. Other students said that their parents were unable to help, because they were unable to speak English or were too busy.

School staff said that families were involved with school issues. For example, at one school, parents voiced their concerns over Wi-Fi being installed in classrooms. Staff also discussed school and community-based programs that encouraged parent involvement. These programs included school-based preschool services along with free programs and activities in the community.

This research shows that culturally diverse parents may tend to focus their involvement in their children’s education at home as opposed to physically volunteering in schools Patel, 2018; Patel & Corter, 2013). The MSIC initiative continues to strengthen school-family-community partnerships through programs such as the Parent Academy, which aims to empower parents to share resources about student learning and education and provides opportunities for personal and professional development for parents. Programs such as these can foster family involvement in students’ educational success and well-being and a closer two-way communication between families and schools.

We held focus groups in 2013 and 2014 with students (ages 4 to 13) and their teachers.

References

Patel, S. (2018). Student and teacher perspectives on Model Schools for Inner Cities: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University

Patel, S., & Corter, C. (2013a). Building capacity for parent involvement through school-based preschool services. Early Child Development and Care, 183(7), 981−1004.  DOI:10.1080/03004430.2012.701625

Toronto District School Board [TDSB]. (2017). Enhancing Equity Task Force: Report and recommendations. Retrieved on February 13, 2019 from Toronto, ON: Author. Retrieved from: http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/community/docs/EETFReportPdfVersion.pdf

Yau, M., Archer, B., & Romard, R. (2018). Model Schools for Inner Cities: A 10-Year Overview. Toronto, ON: Toronto District School Board.

Click here to read more about student and teacher perspectives on the MSIC initiative.

To read more about the School Redesign and Neighbourhood Redevelopment: A longitudinal study of education success and well-being studyclick here.

Document citation: Patel, S. (2018). Student and teacher perspectives on Model Schools for Inner Cities: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University.

For further information regarding the overall project see: Patel, S. (2016). School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University.

This is an ongoing study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and in partnership with the City of Toronto (Children’s Services), Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Toronto District School Board, Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (University of Toronto), Housing Services Corporation, and the Centre for Urban Health Solutions (St. Michael’s Hospital). We will continue to share more updates about our ongoing projects soon.


MSIC: Reducing inequities in children’s educational success and family well-being in marginalized communities through innovation in public education

How can marginalized communities be supported through innovation in public education?

The Reducing inequities in children’s educational success and family well-being in marginalized communities through public education investigates how the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) comprehensive, multi-pronged, system focused, and holistic Model Schools for Inner Cities (MSIC) initiative works and what initial conditions and program features help contribute to sustainable improvement in marginalized students’ educational success and family well-being.

“We are proud to be a Model School for Inner Cities,” school poster reads.

What is Model Schools for Inner Cities?

In an effort to level the playing field for all students, the TDSB’s MSIC initiative was launched in 2006. The MSIC initiative aims to reduce inequities and achievement gaps for students in low socioeconomic communities by providing additional school-based supports and services for students in Toronto communities with the highest needs. The TDSB began with four pilot school sites in the first year, which then expanded to over 150 schools six years later serving over 56 000 students in low socioeconomic communities (Kugler, 2007; Toronto District School Board, 2005). Grounded in maintaining high expectations for students and promoting a vision of achieving excellence, the MSIC initiative is guided by five essential components:

  1. Innovation in teaching and learning practices
  2. Support services to meet the social, emotional, and physical well-being of students
  3. Supporting the view of the school as the heart of the community
  4. Frequent research, review, and evaluation of students and program effectiveness
  5. Commitment to share successful practices
At a MSIC school, there are also services for parents, such as the Parenting and Family Literacy Centre.

The MSIC initiative offers a variety of services, supports, and resources for students and families in MSIC schools including:

  • Health and educational support services (e.g., nutrition programs, free vision and hearing tests, in-school health clinics, before- and after- school programs)
  • EarlyON Centres (school-based drop-in programs for parents with young children)
  • Parent Academy (a program that provides an opportunity for parent representatives to organize and offer locally relevant parenting and workforce development workshops)
  • Additional staff to support student academic success and wellbeing (e.g., Teaching and Learning Coaches, Community Support Workers, Social Workers)
  • Additional teaching and learning resources (e.g., information technology, MSIC social justice curriculum, ongoing professional development for teachers)
  • Partnerships with community organizations (partnerships with local agencies to offer programming and opportunities to students and families within and outside of school)

Our Approach

To investigate how the MSIC initiative works and its approach to supporting equity in children’s educational success and family well-being, we will work in collaboration with our partners at the Toronto District School Board to conduct:

  • Secondary analysis of qualitative data, including child and staff focus group and interview data collected at five MSIC school sites over time
  • New key informant interviews with school board staff
  • New focus groups with parents at five school sites

After data collection is complete, we will focus on sharing our results with study participants, school community members, and the broader public.

References

Kugler, J. (2007). Inner city model school initiative: A vision for equity and social justice. Orbit36, 4-6.

Toronto District School Board. (2005, May). Model Schools for Inner Cities task force report. Retrieved February 14, 2019 from https://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/Community/Community%20Advisory%20committees/ICAC/research/InnerCityReportMay2005.pdf

Toronto District School Board, Model Schools for Inner Cities. (2014). Retrieved February 7, 2019, from https://www.tdsb.on.ca/Community/Model-Schools-for-Inner-Cities/Initiatives

To read more about the TDSB’s MSIC initiative, and GEEC’s research, click here.

Document citation: Patel, S. (2019). Reducing inequities in children’s educational success and family well-being in marginalized communities through innovation in
public education: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University.

This is an ongoing study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Partnership for Change: The RBC Immigrant, Diversity and Inclusion Project, Ryerson University, and the Toronto District School Board.  We will continue to share more updates about our ongoing project soon.