• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2013 •

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.PTA Comunitarios are a new response to the challenges of effective family-school-community partnerships. Schools and parent organizations need successful family engagement processes that go beyond traditional family participation. The original official PTA Comunitario is in its fourth year of operation and is growing in membership, expectations and goals set and in taking on education issues. Themes of the meetings include examining the impact of the state accountability system and high-stakes tests, analyzing the state’s graduation requirements, and the re-introduction of a minimum diploma track that steers students away from college.

The new type of PTA functions in a grassroots community organization with meetings held in the native language of participants, in this case Spanish. Members are mostly poor, recent immigrants from unincorporated communities on the fringes of towns. Rotating leadership emerges from these families. Meetings are highly participatory with specific education-related training. Home visitors (promotoras) engage families and organize transportation networks to meetings and events.

The role of families in partnering with schools to create excellence for all children is growing though still not central in the research and literature of parent involvement in education. Institutional improvement through community-school partnerships needs much more evidence and proof in the field. Emerging research is highlighting family-school-community partnerships. In S. Hong’s A Cord of Three Strands: A New Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools, a strong partnership between a community organization and schools focuses on the power of an external organization providing support for family leadership and campus participation. Other references reinforcing the community-family-school relationships are
Ferguson, et al., (2010); Henderson, A.T. (2011); Orr & Rogers (2011); Robledo Montecel & Goodman (2010); and Weiss, et al. (2010).

IDRA’s PTA Comunitario project has now been funded with a four-year grant by the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (I3) program to further develop the process and rigorously document and evaluate the successful practice in expansion to 20 campuses in five school districts. IDRA’s Family Leadership in Education Principles are distilled from four decades of experience and advocacy and have come to fruition in this project. At stake is extending and replicating an effective model of family engagement to transform schools to serve poor children well.

Central to the project are the following components: (1) meetings attended by parents, grandparents, students’ older siblings, neighbors and all who consider themselves custodians of children’s academic success and future education; (2) group projects, like campus visitations to introduce the new organization, open hearings with school board member candidates, and large public events to protest draconian cuts to the state education budget; and (3) multiple opportunities for shared leadership in organizing and carrying out education-related projects. (None of the current projects have involved local fundraising – a caveat set by the original sponsoring organization.)

For the national and state level PTA membership goals, with concerns about diminishing membership, PTA Comunitario offers a process to engage families who have not received effective outreach and in fact are not very interested in the traditional parent organization.

For Title I campuses required to organize and document parent meetings and events, PTA Comunitario offers an effective outreach process that brings concrete and powerful family engagement results. Families previously disconnected and thought-to-be-unconcerned become dynamic and fruitful partners.

Families care about their children’s education and are to be treated with respect, dignity and value. Deficit and family-blaming approaches aren’t just disrespectful, they don’t work. Families, schools and communities, when drawn together, become a strong, sustainable voice to protect the rights of all children. These families from the most underserved, least connected communities are their children’s strongest advocates for an excellent and efficacious education.

Considering the policy threats to keeping schools open, educators must engage and partner with family allies who can be ferocious advocates to keep schools flourishing successfully in their barrios. The PTA Comunitario response requires new outreach that is both labor intensive and personal. As schools and organizations adapt to new patterns, the status quo becomes bold new partnerships and transformed schools. The ultimate benefits are children learning, growing and succeeding in school.


Ferguson, C., & C. Jordan, M. Baldwin. Working Systematically in Action: Engaging Family & Community (Austin, Texas: SEDL, 2010).

Henderson, A.T. Family-School-Community Partnerships 2.0: Collaborative Strategies to Advance Student Learning (Washington, D.C.: National Education Association, 2011).

Hong, S. A Cord of Three Strands: A New Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Education Press., 2011).

Montemayor, A.M. “Hosting Superintendents, Quizzing Candidates and Marking Maps – A Fully Engaged PTA Comunitario,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2012).

Orr, M., & J. Rogers (eds.). Public Engagement for Public Education: Joining Forces to Revitalize Democracy and Equalize Schools (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2011).

Robledo Montecel, M., & C. Goodman. Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework™ (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

Weiss, H.B., & H. Kreider, E. Lopez, C. Chatman-Nelson. Preparing Educators to Engage Families: Case Studies Using an Ecological Systems Framework (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2010).

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is a senior education associate in the IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at feed@idra.org.

[©2013, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2013 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]