Wayne Rodolfich wants to get to know you. And your mom and dad, too. In fact, Wayne Rodolfich might be stopping by your house to say a quick hello and find out if there is anything you need.
When it comes to building relationships in a school community, no one does it better than Mississippi’s Pascagoula-Gautier School District Superintendent, Wayne Rodolfich. For years he has been visiting families in their homes and greeting each and every student on the first day of school.
We caught up with Rodolfich recently to find out a little more about what inspires his efforts. We talked about home visits, and connecting while distance learning, and even a little about why SchoolStatus works for his engagement goals. His advice is both helpful and heartfelt—and we think everyone could take a few cues from his district culture to foster family engagement for student success.
Ellen Lee: I’ve heard a lot about your home visits, Mr. Rodolfich. I want to know more! Who do you visit? When do you go?
Superintendent Rodolfich: I go in the summertime! Actually, myself and another member of my team visit the home of every third grader in the district, which this year was 471. I bring them a chapter book and I bring them a reading packet, and I ask their parents what we can do better as a school district to help their children.
After Christmas, when we get closer to the third-grade reading gate, I'll go back and visit those families of students who are still struggling. So last year I made over 600 home visits.
Lee: How do families respond to your visits?
Rodolfich: Parents are very gracious and thankful that we come. They know that we care and that it matters that their children are learning in the summer.
It's all about customer service for us as well, and while our children aren't our customers, we do provide an educational service for their families. We want to be the best at providing that service and going the extra mile for your children.
Lee: Where did the inspiration to make the home visits come from?
Rodolfich: I've always been extremely focused on parents and trying to build relationships, and it's just something I kind of created. Initially, way back, several years ago, I think I've got a list of over 1,800 home visits I have that are documented.
I document every bit of it—the nature of the visit, whether I had to call a parent by phone, whether I met with them in their doorway, whether I called them back. So, I document every facet of it.
Lee: We think documentation is incredibly important! Did the documentation data inform who you should be visiting?
Rodolfich: I started out going to our at-risk students' homes first, and then I decided it would be better if I went to every 3rd graders' home and let every parent know the importance of being successful with reading by the third grade. So that just evolved from going to at-risk homes, about 250, to going to all of the students in the 3rd grade.
Lee: That must have a positive effect on your district culture!
Rodolfich: Any teacher or principal in my district has the ability to call me and say "Hey Mr. Rodolfich, I need you to make a home visit! I'm in a difficult situation with a parent." and I will get in my car and go or my assistant superintendents will get in their cars and go.
I have a culture of principals who make home visits here, whether it be about attendance or something else. We're not limited to home visits just about academics, we also do home visits based on discipline or attendance. We want to make sure that parents know we care about their children and how to find a solution-driven way to help their child be successful in school.
"It's important that we're making a personal connection with people. It helps people get to know who you are. So if there is a negative perception of who you are, you can eliminate that perception by being kind to people. That's just another way to exercise that we are a friendly district and we are trying to help everyone in our district."
Lee: SchoolStatus is focused on tracking engagement metrics as well as what was said and how it affected student outcomes—it seems like you’ve been committed to that since the beginning.
Rodolfich: We had been doing what you guys [SchoolStatus] are doing, manually, for years.
Before, we were keeping these elaborate Excel spreadsheets and teachers would turn their parent contacts to me monthly, and I would track the data—and I tracked it closely. I know that between now and March 19th of last year, we've made over a million parent contacts with SchoolStatus. I think it's so important for parents to know what's going on with their children.
Lee: How does data inform your communication with parents now?
Rodolfich: I think it's really important that if people voluntarily do things it's better than forcing people to do things, and I think sometimes with data you can make that happen.
Sharing the data, like, "Your child is not being successful. Here's their developmental level—they are falling behind and here are your numbers. We need to get them back in school," helps.
Just having an explanation before you get there, not just "Hey your child needs to come back to school" I think that's been a real big deal for us.
Lee: What advice would you give other leaders about parent and family engagement?
Rodolfich: There has never been a greater test of our communication ability than with this distance learning platform that we are all trying to use right now—that includes letting parents know when their child is not being successful in distance learning and trying to encourage them to come back to school.
I just think it's very important that we proactively communicate. And 'please' and 'thank you' are always good ways to do that.
SchoolStatus is the district-wide communication tool that integrates key student data in order to increase communication among educators, district administrators and student families. The company’s solution aggregates individual student data, such as state assessments, attendance and grades in an easy-to-visualize format and offers the option to communicate with student families via call, text or email. Through SchoolStatus, millions of communications have occurred on the classroom, campus and district level.