Laura Beard


As a way to strengthen local efforts to connect with families and students, Harlan Independent School District jumped at the opportunity to participate in the Family Friendly School initiative when we first heard of the program. Recognizing that our district already demonstrated many of the key qualities for the program, our staff wasted little time committing Harlan Independent Schools to the work.

Through our partnership with Partners for Rural Impact, previously known as Partners for Education, I was made aware of the initiative and believed the program aligned with Harlan Independent’s philosophies and mission of serving students and families. Our district has worked hard at strengthening our family connections during and after the pandemic. Whether it was through our communication efforts or the work to provide support and wrap around services to our students, this process helped us formalize much of what we were already doing. It also gave us the framework to enhance and build on the momentum we built during the pandemic.

In January of 2021, the Family Friendly Schools initiative established by the Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools notified both schools in the district, Harlan Elementary and Harlan Middle/High School, of their nomination as two of 60 schools to participate in the first cohort of applicants. Both schools, led by Principals Britt Lawson and Tara Posey, developed teams to attend information sessions and begin the collaborative work of module completion and self-assessment in a variety of family focused areas. The process allowed both schools to hear successful strategies others were implementing in their communities and provided an opportunity to self-reflect on efforts already underway. It was through this work that both schools were able to focus their efforts on the partnerships that had already been established to strengthen the effectiveness of those efforts.


Harlan Middle/High Principal, Britt Lawson, noted that the initiative was new to the school at the time I was made aware that a certification process could be available to pursue. I was excited to see that there was a certification process in place recognizing the efforts of family and community engagement for schools. District-wide we take great pride in being a “Family of Dragons” that welcomes our school community to partner with us to provide excellence in schools. The coaching and support our teams had while working through the process was extremely helpful and made the process seamless.

Tara Posey, Harlan Elementary Principal, commented the process gave her school the chance to evaluate what strategies were being most effective in their efforts to be at the center of community activity in Harlan. “Parent engagement in elementary schools is typically easier to accomplish as students are younger, but the key is to provide high-quality, student-centered activities and engagement that impacts student and family outcomes. At Harlan Elementary, we host many activities for families, through this process, we now see that work through a different lens. We know that student performance and outcomes improve when families are engaged and supported and strengthening that engagement is a core value of all of our efforts. This work really helped anchor what we do moving forward so that we are constantly focused on continuous improvement. When that happens, families and communities only get stronger.”

We’ve highlighted the importance of a positive school culture in the district’s efforts to grow community support. Strong communities need strong schools, supporting school efforts to improve the culture and engage families must be a driving force inside our buildings every day. That effort takes a lot of work from everyone that walks through the door and it can never be taken for granted. Our district is committed to keeping this work alive by adjusting and changing to meet the needs of our community every year. As a district, we found several silver linings that we took away from the COVID 19 pandemic. Schools are capable of making bigger adjustments than we previously thought possible. No two years are exactly the same, as school years start and end, people grow and change. In order to meet students and families in the process, the adults in the schools must embrace the journey. When they do and students flourish, it is a beautiful thing to witness. I am really proud that both schools in our district are among the first Kentucky schools to participate in this work. We believe it will make us stronger in the future.

The Prichard Committee brought together an all-star cast through the Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools to create a way to celebrate and highlight Kentucky schools that prioritize family and community partnership. Partners included Learning Grove, National Center for Families Learning, Partners for Rural Impact, Kentucky Department of Education, and the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood along with multiple families and educators across the state. This group created the Family Friendly Schools certification process.

Additionally, the group wanted a more structured process for schools to measure how they were doing in welcoming and connecting with families and then make plans to improve engagement efforts in teams with families, educators and community partners. The group accomplished both through the Family Friendly School Certificate which launched in March 2022 for K-12 schools, and in September 2022 for early education centers.

“This is helping us transition from “one-off” family engagement to a system that is integrated and planned,” Kentucky 2022 Family Friendly School Principal.

The opportunity for all students to succeed requires families, teachers, principals, afterschool programs, and others working together to support each child in distinct ways. Each team member much contribute their own expertise to set children on a pathway to success.

Schools and early care centers who apply for Family Friendly certification gain a deeper understanding about the importance of family-school partnerships, examine core beliefs about family-school partnerships, learn and apply concrete strategies for increasing family engagement in their school and analyze the findings from their self-assessment. To receive certification, schools must demonstrate they have reached a level 3 in- relationship building, communication, shared responsibility, advocacy and community partnerships. They must also develop family engagement action teams with action plans and provide evidence for next steps to deepen equitable family engagement in their school and community.

On Monday Nov. 14th, the KY Collaborative, Governor Andy Beshear and Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman recognized the first 32 schools and one early care center to achieve this extraordinary certification. Certified schools are encouraged to expand on their work and submit applications annually. Early care centers and schools who have not participated in 2022 are encouraged to apply in the 2023 application window which opens May 1st, 2023.

Multiple principals expressed gratitude for a process that helps them see what they are already doing right and where they can improve. “This is supporting a transition of doing “for families” to a transition of doing “with families”. We’re now having valuable and rich conversations about our family engagement practices,” Tyler Reed, Frankfort High School Principal.

Read which schools were certified in 2022 and more about the Family Friendly Certification process here –
Questions –

You’ve probably heard of Red Ribbon Week or Spirit Week, but have you heard about Family Engagement Week?

November 14-18th the Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools will be promoting and celebrating family-school partnerships. Because we know parent engagement in a child’s education leads to better student outcomes, our hope is that this week will encourage schools and families to reflect on how they can work together to build stronger partnerships.

If you’d like to join, here are a few good places to start:

  • Visit the website for a full list of activities: Week at a Glance – Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
  • Join the social media buzz on Facebook @kycipl,  Twitter @KYFamEngage, TikTok @userkyfamengage, and follow hashtag @KYFamEngage22.
  • Attend Webinars: FamilyEngagementWeekFlyer.pdf (
  • Volunteer on Thursday, November 17, National Family Engagement Day! Check with your school about eating lunch with your student, helping a classroom, or performing a task for the teacher. If you have not completed a volunteer training or completed necessary forms this is a great week to get that done so that you are ready for the holiday season and second semester.

Pictured here is Superintendent, Kenny Bell signing the Wolfe County Family Engagement Proclamation.

Create your own unique engagement activity! Hashtag #KYFamEngage22 and share with us. Let us know if you plan to participate at this link.

This week-long celebration brought so much positivity to schools across Kentucky in 2021 we’ve made it a yearly event. Mark your calendars now for 2023! November 13th-17th

The start of school has been making a wave across Kentucky, with students returning in early August and others who are returning this week. After several years of uncertainty, this beginning seems reminiscent of the pre-covid back to school frenzy.

The Connections Newsletter-Welcome Back Edition, hit inboxes in early August, as mailed letters also made their way to each Superintendent in Kentucky public schools. Connections is a monthly newsletter from the Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools.  Welcome Back letters included Superintendents, Building Leaders, Teachers, FRYSCs, Families, Students and Community Members. The purpose of this Welcome Back spotlight is to elevate family engagement as a critical tool for student success.

The best predictor of student success is the extent to which families encourage learning at home and involve themselves in their child’s education. Research suggests if schools successfully engage families in education, their children, regardless of ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic background, are more likely to:

  • Earn higher grades or test scores
  • Be promoted, pass their classes and earn credits
  • Attend school regularly
  • Graduate from high school and attend postsecondary education
  • Have better social skills and classroom behavior (Henderson & Mapp, 2002)

The Welcome Back letter is a way to share statewide family engagement resources the Kentucky Collaborative has to offer. If you’re a school looking to improve your family engagement strategies or if you’re a family  or community member looking for ways to serve in your school, we invite you to sign- up to receive monthly updates, join the Groundswell Initiative and apply for the 2022-2023 Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership Fellowship Track.

As a superintendent, you may be thinking “that’s my line, I’m typically drafting the welcome back language this time of year.”

As school begins, we want to extend a word of encouragement and offer support as you begin implementing plans for student instruction in the coming months.

We want to send a sincere thank you for the work you do day-in and day-out, for students and their families.

Can you believe the start of the 2022-2023 school year is upon us?

We love our FRYSCs and want to thank you for the amazing ways you find to meet the needs of students and their families each day!

We know there is much excitement about the first day back to school. Some of you may be thinking “Summer cannot be over!”

Maybe back to school isn’t necessarily on your radar if you aren’t closely connected to the school district in your community.

To learn more about these opportunities visit

Laura Beard
Senior Manager of Family Engagement
The Prichard Committee