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Family matters: Baesler's Family Engagement Cabinet holds first meeting

Three members of State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler's Family Engagement Cabinet listen during a meeting in Bismarck on Thursday, May 23, 2019. In front is Bree Anne Hinojos, from Spirit Lake, and in back are Kris Piehl, of Litchville-Marion High School, left, and Jaycee Schumacher, of Grafton. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — What do school board members, school administrators, teachers, a Head Start director and a paramedic have in common?

They're all members of State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler's newly formed Family Engagement Cabinet, but they're also parents and family members to North Dakota students.

On Thursday, May 23, the Cabinet held its inaugural meeting in the Pioneer Room at the state Capitol. The 23-member group will meet every three months to discuss topics pertaining to how schools could improve communication with families.

The group is similar to Baesler's Student Cabinet, which she created in 2015 to discuss education and solicit opinions and advice from students in grades 4-12.

Baesler told her Family Engagement Cabinet on Thursday that in her tenure as superintendent, she's realized family input has been a "critical" piece she's been missing.

"I didn't feel that I was doing as well of a job in serving our students and their families as I could be if I didn't take the time and opportunity to hear from those families," she said.

Cabinet member Bree Anne Hinojos, a member of Spirit Lake Nation who works for Head Start at Cankdeska Cikana Community College, said she hopes to learn how to overcome barriers on the reservation to learn to better engage with families.

"We're definitely dealing with high levels of unemployment, poverty (and) addiction; all of these affect the families. That's why I need ideas, too. How do we increase that family engagement?" she said.

Hinojos shared a table with Cabinet members Kris Piehl, an administrative assistant at Litchville-Marion High School, and Jaycee Schumacher, a Grafton Public Schools employee. Before the meeting, they shared what experiences that they plan to bring to group.

"Just working in a school office, I see firsthand, day after day, what kids' struggles are," Piehl said.

Schumacher said she also plans to offer her perspective as a mother of four.

"I feel like I can kind of pinpoint my frustrations, and I'm hoping to be able to visit with more families through my position to try to reduce some of those," she said.

The group spent Thursday afternoon hearing from Steve Constantino, an author and motivational speaker, who stressed the importance of family engagement in helping students.

Cabinet members also discussed goals for the group and planned topics to discuss at future meetings.

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