Advice from school leaders for parents



Over the last two weeks, I talked with school leaders and supts in 25 suburban and rural Mn communities, asking them what advice they would give to parents who wanted to help their youngsters do well this year.  I interviewed suburban and rural educators because I write regularly for their papers.  So no disrepect is intended to urban educators.  Below  is some of the most interesting advice I heard.

Some schools in Minnesota have started classes already but most start the day after Labor Day on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Here’s what educators recommend:

Greg Winter, Braham Area Superintendent wrote, “My best advice… to parents is be involved, not intrusive in their child’s education. This advice goes towards not only their child’s involvement in school but also to their involvement in activities outside of school.”

Dan DeBruyn, administrator at PACT Charter School in Ramsey suggests, “1. Set aside an organized and equipped space at home where homework can be completed. Along with the space, make sure that there is a regular time for homework to be completed. Be sure to hold your child(ren) accountable for completing their school work. 2. Stay connected with your child’s teacher(s). By showing interest and making an effort to communicate, the student, teacher and parent can work together as a team.”

Jeff McGonigal, principal, Coon Rapids High School asks that families “Expect your student to be involved in a school activity. That could include athletics, but could also include music, drama, speech, debate, academic competitions (math team); and even activities around elective classes like art, business, and family/consumer science. High schools are large. Involvement in activities makes them feel much smaller.”

“My second suggestion might not be expected. I recommend that all parents find Internet access and view a website called the Minnesota Learning Commons – HippoCampus. The web address is: Once there they can click on HippoCampus. This website delivers online instruction to students based on Minnesota Standards or actual textbooks used by most schools. Instruction offered includes social studies, science, math, and others.”

“I believe Minnesota Learning Commons and this website are sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Education, the University of Minnesota, and the Minnesota State Colleges and University System. What I appreciate about HippoCampus is that a student can use it, only as needed, to repeat instruction on a topic from class; perhaps one they did not completely understand. Parents who have trouble recalling concepts in math are empowered to help when they use it along with their student. HippoCampus has some amazing possibilities for parents
supporting their students.”

Cam Hedlund, Director of Lakes International Charter in Forest Lake suggests: “Replace an hour a week of family TV time with family reading time.  Read to each other, read to your child, read silently together.  Keep track of what is going on in your childʼs classroom; most teachers send a weekly newsletter or have a website they use to keep parents informed.  Then ask your child specific questions about what they are learning.  The key is asking specific questions, not just generally what happening in school.”

Coleman McDonough, principal at North Branch High School agrees with Hedlund.  He advises parents, “Ask everyday, ‘how was school today?’ and don’t take ‘fine’ for an answer.”

Rob Anderson, principal, Blaine High School wrote, “Stress to your students that they are entering a new world in which they will have more freedom but also more responsibility for their own actions. Parents need to stay informed by visiting our web site and also taking advantage of A-H Connect. A-H Connect is the District’s online portal to a variety of student information resources. Continue to show your student how much you care about their education by talking with them about their learning and monitoring their progress.”

Deb Henton, North Branch superintendent believes “It is very important that kids get a good night’s rest and a healthy breakfast before school. Parents can also help their kids stay positive about school, and keep an eye out for discouragement. It is important to remember that education is a team effort; parents should feel free to call their child’s teacher if they have questions or see that their child is struggling.”

James Steckart, director Northwest Passage High School in Coon Rapids explained that the school has created a “Three Legged Stool of Expectations among parents, student and school staff.  It’s found at  Among the requests for families are “model behavior you want to see in your student…Attend EXPO night (when students make presentations about what they are learning) from beginning to end, (know) and support the mission statement, and make the (student’s) advisor the first point of contact.” 

See more suggestions in this graph from Northwest Passage High School in Coon Rapids.

These educators stressed communication and attitude.  They want to hear from families. They ask families to encourage and listen to youngsters.  Families following this advice will be a huge help to their children.


Joe Nathan, a former public school teacher and school administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College.  He welcomes reactions,