I had worked in the refugee resettlement field for over ten years when I decided I wanted to work in schools. I had worked at the local and national levels. In other words, I had done my fair share of home visits with refugee and immigrant families at the local level, but I had also worked at a national organization (BRYCS) where part of my job was to help school districts better accommodate refugee students and families. I had written publications and spoken at many conferences about refugee parent involvement in schools.
And yet, when I went to look for a job related to family and community engagement in schools – I hit brick wall after brick wall for over a year. It didn’t seem to matter that I had loads of family and community engagement experience, including with some of the very same populations that nearby districts were struggling to connect with.
I was a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Even with my social work background I struggled because I wanted a “big picture” job that aligned with my program development background. I’m a macro social worker who focuses on improving systems. In every district I looked, the jobs I wanted required some type of administrative credential that was very specific to the education field.
This is important for the family and community engagement fields! Let me reiterate – despite having much experience in family and community engagement, school districts couldn’t hire me because I didn’t have the right credential. One district even told me they really wanted to hire me, but just couldn’t find a way to get around the credential issue.
And yet, school districts wonder why they struggle with family and community engagement? The best way for school districts to improve their family and community engagement efforts is to hire people with experience working with families and communities and/or to hire folks from the local communities they’re struggling to connect with.
Ultimately, I found a district that did not require the administrative credential and became their manager of immigrant family engagement. Over the years I worked there, I often heard hiring managers lamenting that they couldn’t find any bilingual and/or bicultural candidates for various positions. Yet, when I opened up the application process each spring for my bilingual parent liaison positions, I was flooded with dozens, if not hundreds, of stellar bilingual and bicultural candidates. Why might this have happened? It is because my positions were very flexible as to the requirements and backgrounds of candidates. Their degree could be in almost anything (and it didn’t matter if the degree was obtained in their home country) and the position didn’t require any type of credential specific to the education field.
So many of these candidates had years of experience with youth and families from their respective immigrant communities, but again, for many school districts, they were “square pegs trying to fit in round holes” because they didn’t hold the certificate or license for teacher, principal, or school counselor. Well, I swooped up these candidates faster than a hot knife through butter! And not surprisingly, they were very successful. They were all from the communities in which they served. Students and families formed strong connections with them and they bonded over their similar linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
In so many districts across the country, if you are not a teacher, administrator, school counselor, psychologist, or secretary, districts don’t know what to do with you, even if you have the very connections and experience they’re looking for. If the family and community engagement field wants to make progress, there needs to be some advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels around this. Family and community engagement job descriptions need to be as flexible as possible so that districts are free to hire people with experience working with families and communities.