By Kevin O’Rourke
Captain James E. Daly, Jr. Elementary School in Germantown serves one of the most impoverished communities in Montgomery County, but one teacher at the school is doing much more than teaching students, she is educating parents and creating a stronger community.
Sara Rodriguez Kelley is a master teacher at Daly Elementary, who according to Montgomery County Public School’s 2014 Annual Report, which was released Monday, is on the front lines in the school system’s battle to close the achievement gap, which is the gap that separates white and Asian students from black and Latino students.
Educators around the country are struggling to close the achievement gap to ensure fairness in public schools and work to help all students graduate high school prepared for careers or college.
At Daly Elementary, on Brandermill Drive, about 70 percent of students receive free or reduced-price meals and more than a third are English language learners. Daly is designated a Title 1 school, which means the school, through MCPS receives federal funding. There are 67 Title 1 schools in Montgomery County, which receive an average of $2 million in additional funding. Not all schools use the funds the same way.
At Daly, Principal Nora Dietz and her staff recognized that parent engagement was a major challenge in their school, as many of the families do not speak English or are unaccustomed to interacting with the school. So Dietz decided to use some of their additional funding to hire Sara Rodriguez Kelley.
Kelley is a bilingual master teacher, whose job it is to bring the school into the community and the community into the school.
According to Dietz, Kelley’s roll at the school has morphed since she started at Daly in 2007. “She was a part time academic intervention teacher, and her position changed as the needs of the school changed and grew.”
“I am a parent advocate,” said Kelley, “and a teacher advocate, teacher resource. The decision to focus more on parents was made by Mrs. Dietz and I, because we felt that we weren’t having as much parent engagement and involvement as we wanted and that we felt we could get.”
In 2011, when Daly was named a Title 1 school Kelley had taken a pre-k position at another school, but the through the Title 1 funding, Dietz was able to woo her back to Daly. Prior to Kelley coming back to Daly, Dietz was leading the work to engage parents and the community in the school activities.
“I could write a dissertation on her impact at Daly,” said Dietz of Kelley. “We had identified the need for more outreach for our parents. I could not do it alone so I took a leap and placed her in the position. Of course, she wanted to do the work. Sara is bilingual, and is passionate about our children and our families. After being around her for a few minutes you would understand.”
“Our community is 40-percent Hispanic,” said Kelley as part of MCPS Annual Report. “We have a lot of immigrants from Central and South America with little or no English. So coming here, especially enrolling their students into school is very overwhelming. One of the things I do, is I try to be available at all times for parents.”
Dietz said that the goal of the parent educator position is to have parents come to the school, but Kelley will frequently visit parents at home.
“The gratifying thing to me is that they come back,” said Kelley, “and they know that we here at Daly want to help them and help their children. One of the biggest things I do is translate documents and forms for parents and parent educational tours.”
Dietz said that Kelley has worked tirelessly to build trust and instill the importance that parent involvement has on student achievement. “We have parent instructional tours which are well attended,” said Dietz. The October tour of the school had 45 parents participate. “Sara is kind and compassionate, and she gets the job done,” said Dietz
The result says Dietz is that parents send their kids to school even during difficult times. “Last year, a family with eight children was displaced because a tree fell on their house. We immediately helped providing a space to make phone calls, accessing county resources for the family, temporary housing was provided, food and clothing was provided. The only thing I asked in return was that the children come to school. They did every day during this time. So no instruction was missed.”
“I believe in the schoolhouse being the hub of the community. Through Sara’s help, and my whole staff, we are making that a reality,” said Dietz.
Kelley also coordinates a program that provides dental services to students at the school. Her work has helped increase the number of parent volunteers and has created a more inclusive and welcoming school environment which has resulted in what Dietz calls “gifts” from the community.
“The gifts of having Sara in this position are interesting,” said Dietz. “A parent who participated in a tour was so grateful he offered to teach Spanish lessons to my staff. We had 15 staff members taking Spanish classes over an eight week period. The parent changed his working schedule to accommodate us. Now, that is powerful!”
The entire MCPS Annual Report is available at the MCPS web site.
Top: Sara Rodriguez Kelley, parent educator at Capt. James E. Daly Elementary School in Germantown, works with parents to help create a more inclusive and welcoming school environment.
Next: Sara Rodriguez Kelley and Daly Elementary School Prinicpal Nora Dietz.
Photos appear in MCPS 2014 Annual Report, courtesy MCPS.