Supporting Families, Supporting Students: How Boston, Nashville, and Austin Are Implementing Whole-Family Approaches to Promote Student Success

It’s no secret that one of the most powerful contributors to student success is parent engagement. Empowering parents to be an advocate and catalyst for their child’s learning and development is a key goal for many teachers and administrators across the country. Strong parent/school/teacher connections offer the opportunity to maximize student growth, co-develop and monitor student goals, and create a shared accountability model for boosting academic achievement. Cultivating a school environment where all parents feel welcome and engaged, however, can be a challenge. This is particularly true in urban districts, where tens of thousands of students and families come together from a wide array of diverse socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. In a single large school district, there can be hundreds of respective primary languages spoken inside the students’ homes.

While family engagement is a common objective across schools throughout the U.S., few cities are able to tout successful approaches that have resulted in measurable and consistent parent engagement over the long-term. Three cities in particular have bright spot practices that are working to equip, encourage, and empower families to become an integral part of the school culture. Below is a brief overview of these three cities and their unique approaches to understanding and supporting families’ unique needs to maximize student achievement.


City Connects – Boston, MA

The City Connects mission is based off of the premise that out-of-school challenges can greatly diminish a child’s ability to learn and thrive, especially in high-poverty urban school districts (e.g., hunger, homelessness, abuse, and trauma).

City Connects builds a network of support for students, their families, and the schools that serve them to improve current and future outcomes.

Key Characteristics of the City Connects Approach

  • City Connects embeds a full-time Coordinator within the school to collaborate with teachers to review the strengths and needs of every student, every year.
  • The Coordinator creates a customized support plan for each student – leveraging prevention, intervention, and enrichment services that already exist at the school or in the community.
  • The Coordinator tracks progress and works closely with the students and families to provide referrals and support that bolster the long-term health of the entire family. (See Illustration A. for City Connect’s full feedback process.)

Illustration A: City Connects Process

Some of the key statistics touted by City Connects include:

  • 50% less likely to drop out with City Connects support
  • 20,000 students served and resources connected
  • 100% of principals surveyed believe City Connects improves school climate
  • In all subjects, at every grade, City Connects students achieve significantly higher mean report card scores than comparison school students.*

*Includes Reading, Writing, and Mathematics in grades 3,4 and 5.


Community Achieves – Nashville, TN

Community Achieves is an initiative launched by Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), which includes a cohort of 17 schools that draw on the resources of local community organizations. These schools incorporate Family Resource Centers, after-school programs, health clinics, and classes for adults, with the goal of improving college and career readiness, family engagement, health and wellness, and social support in Nashville's public school system.

This cohort of new community schools follows the success of the award-winning community school Glencliff High School. MNPS created the Department of Parent and Community Involvement to develop and scale up its community school initiative across the entire district.

Key Characteristics of the Community Achieves Approach

Glencliff’s parent engagement approach has included the following key characteristics that will be replicated, as appropriate, across the 17 other area community schools:

  • Hiring interpreters (full-time Spanish and Arabic interpreters and part-time Somali interpreters) and a full-time Family Engagement Specialist to help assess individual family needs and connect them to resources.
  • Creating a full-time Family Resource Center with a devoted staff member in a dedicated space for classes and meetings.
  • Engaging partners to provide workshops for parents to help them navigate high school with their student and prepare them for careers and/or college.

Illustration B: Principles of Community Achieves

Some of the key outcomes Glencliff has been able to achieve over 3 years include:

  • Increase in graduation rate - 66.4% to 2%
  • Increase in student performance on writing assessment - 58% to 93%[1]
  • Increase in Dual Enrollment credit with a community college +12%
  • Decrease in student mobility rate - 48% to 42%
  • 81% of students surveyed feel that community and business partnerships have improved school climate


Austin Voices for Education & Youth (AVEY) – Austin, TX

Austin Voices for Education and Youth (AVEY) mobilizes the community to improve public education and expand opportunities for students and families. In partnership with community leaders, young people, parents, and educators, AVEY builds successful schools and strong neighborhoods.

Over the years, AVEY has built a reputation for facilitating powerful collaborations between youth and adults. Groups such as the E3 Alliance and the Gates Foundation have called on AVEY to lead community engagement efforts.

Key Characteristics of the AVEY Approach

  • Engaging key stakeholders in community-based strategic planning and partner development.
  • Creating after-school programs that develop student voice and leadership skills.
  • Building Family Resource Centers that work to strengthen at-risk families through wraparound services and monthly community partner meetings.

Illustration C: AVEY Blueprint of a Community School

Some key statistics of AVEY’s programs include:

  • 175 students engaged in AVEY Youth Leadership Programs
  • 1,800 families served annually with wraparound services through 6 Family Resource Centers
  • 7,000 Austinites engaged in campus events and planning 


While each of these school models is vastly different, all of them intentionally partner with families to understand their unique needs, and help those families thrive – with the understanding that a healthy, strong family foundation leads to positive student outcomes.

The Miles Foundation is proud to work with local partners committed to engaging families and the broader community in our shared mission to boost student achievement and build a brighter future for Fort Worth.

For more information, please visit the respective websites via the links provided below:


[1] Scored proficient or advanced.