Most discussions of students and student performance center around what’s happening in the classroom. And while Cumberland County Schools’ strategic plan has targets and goals for that, an integral piece in CCS’s success involves parent and family engagement.
That’s the focus of this extended Q&A with Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly Jr.
“At CCS, we believe that the success and well-being of our students is a joint effort, one that involves the active participation of parents, teachers and the wider community,” he says. “Together, we can create an environment where our students can thrive and realize their full potential.”
Connelly’s public education career spans 30 years, including time (2013 - 2018) as chief of staff for the Wake County Public School System, and seven years as assistant superintendent for student services. Connelly also has experience as a middle school and high school principal and as a high school assistant principal.
He began his work in public education as a special education teacher assistant and teacher following service as an officer in the U.S. Army, including time in the 82nd Airborne Division. His recognition and awards include Sandhills Regional Superintendent of the Year award, NAACP Educator of the Year, the Raymond Sarbaugh Leadership award from the N.C. Association of School Administrators and the N.C. School Superintendents Association and the Raleigh/Wake Citizens Association Educator of the Year awards.
He and his wife, Joyce, have four children, nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. He spoke with CityView Executive Editor Bill Horner III.
There are many key relationships in public schools, with those between teachers and their students obviously taking center stage. Why, though, is the relationship between your team at Cumberland County Schools and the parents of your students also important? And what benefits accrue when parents are engaged?
The relationship between the team at Cumberland County Schools (CCS) and the parents of students holds immense significance for a multitude of reasons. Research findings consistently show that when parents and families actively participate in the educational journey, our students experience a host of positive outcomes. These include higher grades, test scores and graduation rates, better school attendance, increased motivation, better self-esteem, lower rates of suspension, decreased use of drugs and alcohol, and fewer instances of violent behavior.
Strong family engagement not only contributes to the academic excellence of our students, but it also bolsters their overall well-being, setting them up for success in the classroom and beyond. In order to achieve this, effective communication between our school staff and families is key. It ensures that parents are well-informed about their child's progress, upcoming school events and any challenges that may arise. In the end, this open and clear communication fosters an atmosphere of transparency and trust, which is essential for the collective growth of our school community.
At CCS, we believe that the success and well-being of our students is a joint effort, one that involves the active participation of parents, teachers and the wider community. Together, we can create an environment where our students can thrive and realize their full potential.
You’ve spoken before about parent engagement in schools and certain metrics to which you’re paying attention. As a part of the 2026 Strategic Plan, you’re tracking a number of new engagement measures as well. Can you speak to that work? What are you looking for there, and when it comes to CCS, how’s it going so far?
In 2019, our school system began a collaborative journey with our Committed Community, and together, we made a profound commitment to our students. Determined to nurture lifelong learners and help them realize their full potential, we introduced the Cumberland Commitment Strategic Plan. This comprehensive plan consists of four Strategic Priorities, each of which plays a vital role in shaping our district's vision: Successful Students, Premier Professionals, Exceptional Environment and Committed Community.
Strategic Priority 4, known as Committed Community, is all about fostering a collective effort to engage our schools, parents and community members in building success for our students.
As part of the Strategic Plan for 2026, we remain unwavering in our commitment to assess the impact of our engagement strategies. We regularly gather feedback, conduct surveys, and track data to gauge their effectiveness and make any necessary adjustments to ensure we are always moving in the right direction.
Within the framework of Strategic Priority 4, we have a range of metrics in place to evaluate our progress and track our efforts to include families in the educational process. These include gauging stakeholder satisfaction through surveys and focus groups, tracking the number of participants at family engagement events, assessing the extent of our partnerships with local businesses, faith-based organizations, universities, the military, and the wider community, and monitoring parent engagement through the ParentPortal in PowerSchool. It's through these endeavors that we collectively work towards building a stronger, more engaged and closely-knit educational community.
Part of your engagement strategy is an outreach program to give parents and guardians useful, accurate information to help them support the education of their children. What’s involved in that outreach, and what’s been the feedback?
One of the outreach programs within CCS that has sparked significant parental interest is our Cumberland Family Academy (CFA) launched during the pandemic when we couldn’t meet face-to-face with our families. We invite families to join us for informative sessions that embrace a wide range of topics, including Individualized Education Plans (IEP), the joy of family reading and the exciting journey of college planning.
These workshops and educational events are absolutely free, and we're excited to share that they have made a profound impact on our community. We've received encouraging feedback from those who have participated, expressing their satisfaction and gratitude for their CFA experiences. It's exciting to see our families engaged in nurturing the growth and development of our students.
What new communications and marketing efforts have been launched, and how have they been received?
Covered in Strategic Priority 4A, CCS’ Cumberland Family Academy is a comprehensive family engagement initiative that has welcomed an astounding 300,000 participants through both virtual and in-person family engagement offerings. It offers an array of engaging sessions, spanning from homework assistance to college preparation. In its second school year, our Family Ambassador program has successfully recruited and trained parents from across the district to serve as peer supporters in parent-to-parent outreach.
Transitioning to Strategic Priority 4B, our focus is set on leveraging diverse communication strategies to connect with our families and stakeholders. Every school now boasts an active social media presence, and our website has received enhancements to better serve our community. Furthermore, we deliver weekly "NEED TO KNOW" updates each Sunday afternoon, reaching families and employees throughout the district via phone calls, text messages, emails, and social media. Our innovative engagement strategies extend to billboards, digital advertisements, targeted video streaming and text messaging, ensuring that we embrace a multifaceted approach to family engagement.
Under Strategic Priority 4C, we have deepened our connections with community, business, university, municipal and military partners. CCS is fortunate to have hundreds of official partners contributing to the success of our students, both in and out of the classroom.
Furthermore, in our unwavering commitment to collectively engage schools, parents and the broader community in our endeavor of building student success, this school year has seen the commencement of "Committed CommUNITY Chats with Dr. Connelly." Additionally, we've established the Key Communicators Program, both of which have opened up valuable channels for us to hear what our community has to say and respond in a sincere and transparent manner. These initiatives are a testament to our dedication to working hand in hand with our community to create a brighter future for our students.
Can you talk about your Family Ambassador program? How are you leveraging engaged parents to reach other parents who might not be as engaged?
Our Family Ambassador program, which launched in January 2023, fosters stronger partnerships with our families. These remarkable individuals stand side by side with district and school leaders to orchestrate and champion a host of family engagement activities and outreach initiatives. They are the bridge connecting families and our school administration, nurturing increased parental involvement in their children's educational journey. Our dedicated Ambassadors play a pivotal role in ensuring that families remain well-informed about vital updates, news and information from the school and district.
Some parents and advocates are celebrating the passage of SB 49 in North Carolina, also known as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights.” What impact has that legislation had in the work being done by CCS’ Central Services staff?
What we know is that students thrive when families are actively involved in their education. In Cumberland County Schools, we hold parental engagement in the highest regard and deeply respect the fundamental rights of parents in shaping the education and upbringing of their children.
In light of the recent approval of the Parents' Bill of Rights by the North Carolina General Assembly, we wholeheartedly embrace this legislation and stand firmly committed to fostering unbreakable partnerships with parents to pave the way for student success. We firmly believe that parents are indispensable pillars in their children's lives and education.
Our commitment is unwavering, as we empower parents by upholding their rights to guide their children's education, access important records, make crucial medical decisions and actively engage with their academic progress. Together, we create a safe, positive and rigorous learning environment where parents and educators join hands to nurture the bright futures of our young learners.
Teachers and administrators see many things parents don’t see. Among those are certain aspects of the influences of things like social media. Any thoughts to share about recent news about the lawsuits against Meta — the parent company of Facebook — and other negative influences such as TikTok challenges that involve students striking teachers or vandalizing school restrooms?
The concerns that have been raised regarding the negative impacts of social media on our students, including troubling trends like inappropriate TikTok challenges and school restroom vandalism, are issues that deeply resonate with our teachers and administrators. We acknowledge that these challenges can disrupt the learning environment and, most importantly, raise safety concerns that we take very seriously.
At CCS, we recognize the crucial importance of keeping our educators and administrators well-informed about these developments, and we're committed to addressing these challenges collectively. We have taken proactive steps to implement educational programs and policies that instill responsible online behavior in our students. Through these initiatives, we aim to educate our students about the potential consequences of their actions on social media, fostering a sense of accountability and mindfulness.
In addition, our partnership with parents is at the heart of creating a safe and respectful online environment. We firmly believe that by working hand in hand with our families, we can fortify the digital spaces where our students learn and interact, ensuring they are positive and nurturing places for their growth and development. Together, we are building a brighter, more secure digital future for our students.
CCS’ strategic plan addresses the notion that working together produces the best results, and that unified action helps solve common problems. Has this become more — or less — important during your career as an educator?
Collaboration has always held a special place in the world of education, and throughout my journey as an educator, I've witnessed its significance grow even stronger. The belief that when we stand united, we achieve the very best results and overcome shared challenges resonates deeply with the values at the heart of Cumberland County Schools.
In our ever-evolving educational landscape, the call for collaboration among educators, students, parents and the community has never been more important. It's not just a key element; it's the foundation upon which we build for addressing the challenges and realizing the goals laid out in our district's strategic plan. The emphasis on working hand in hand has consistently proven to be an enduring and priceless aspect of nurturing success in education.
As we move forward together, let us remember that when we unite our efforts, we create a vibrant and nurturing educational community where every student can thrive. It's in this togetherness that we find the strength to overcome any obstacle and fulfill the promise of a brighter future for all our students.