Parents, educators and Wayne County Public Schools leadership came together Tuesday afternoon to discuss ways to better inform parents about their children and their schools, and by doing so increase parent engagement in education.

The meeting, a special committee designed to have representation from each group, was the brainchild of Board of Education District 2 representative Len Henderson, who attended. Henderson said during a February policy committee meeting that, while the complex school improvement plans offered by the state's NCSTAR program are a good tool for teachers, they don't do a good job at explaining to parents what is being done to help their children.

As a result, WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Tamara Ishee called together the meeting.

Carol Artis, director of elementary education and student improvement plans, began the meeting with an overview of the NCSTAR program.

The program, she said, digitizes the usually stressful and labor-intensive school improvement plan process, which allows both her and school improvement teams to come back to their plans frequently for updates.

School improvement plans, however, are complex and technical, and do not do a good job of communicating with non-educators. Greg Jenkins, a Brogden Middle School parent said he didn't have any interest in school improvement until his daughter's principal got him invested in her education.

Jenkins said that principal Damesha Smith used curriculum nights, which his daughter was excited about, to get him to the school in the first place.

"You have to build up to the more complex stuff," he said. "To start with, you have to give parents the basic information to get them interested."

Starting from the basics was a common theme throughout the meeting.

Those in attendance agreed that, to get parents interested in the broader work of student improvement, they would need to begin at the grassroots level by reaching them in their communities.

Kevin Smith, principal at Spring Creek Middle School, said that he wanted to find ways to reach out to the substantial Spanish-speaking population at his school.

Those who do not speak English well may not feel comfortable coming to a school setting, he said.

Even though they may care about their children's education, it can be difficult to bridge the language gap in order to work together with them.

Lori Goodman, principal at Carver Elementary, suggested going and meeting with Spanish-speaking people at their gathering places, such as churches. She said that Carver, which also has a large Spanish-speaking population, has seen the benefits of reaching out to people in their communities.

"We realized that the Catholic church in that area was overflowing, needing to have three or four masses to get everyone in," she said. "So we went there, and worked with the priest. He welcomed us, explained who we were, and we just said 'we will answer any question you have, just ask.'"

Reaching out to the communities should be done by people who live in those communities, said NAACP education committee chair Keith Copeland.

"Me and Ms. Ishee can't just go around knocking on doors," he said. "But if somebody who they know knocks on the door, maybe that person can bring along two or three people. And from there it just keeps multiplying."

The meeting was the first in a series, and the committee left with a goal in mind - find ways to distill information to the basics, and then get it to parents in more personal ways.

The committee will begin discussing means to do that in more detail at their next meeting.