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updated: 8/29/2011 4:53 PM

Wood Dale teachers making house calls

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Dozens of parents of Wood Dale students may find a teacher knocking on their door this week.

And that will be a good thing, officials say.

Wood Dale Elementary District 7 is launching a program that allows teachers to make home visits to the parents of each of their students. The idea, Superintendent John Corbett said, is to build a better relationship between teachers and families that will ultimately improve students' academic performance.

District 7 already offers such a service for students in its early childhood program using funds from a state grant, but Corbett wanted to expand it districtwide.

The idea was born when Corbett read an article about a St. Louis school district that offers a similar program. He said visits led to an increase in parent participation at school events, a decrease in discipline referrals, and teachers feeling like they have more credibility with parents.

"Teachers found it easier to call parents with sensitive situations regarding their children," Corbett said. "Teachers also had more empathy for some of the family situations and challenges children may face, such as not having a place to do homework."

The program is voluntary for staff. This year, four teachers signed up from second, third and fourth grade -- one from Oakbrook and two from Westview -- as well as the reading specialist at Wood Dale Junior High. They were trained this summer with resources from the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project in Sacramento, Calif., which has a similar program that will serve as a model for District 7.

Constance Tadel, principal of District 7's Early Childhood Education Center, is leading the training "since she has been supervising visiting teachers for years," Corbett said.

Each teacher has 22 students in class and they aim to visit the homes of all students during after-school hours. But parents must also be willing to participate and welcome the teacher, Corbett said.

"The focus of the initial meetings is for teachers to really come in and listen to the parents," Corbett said. "They want to ask questions about their hopes and dreams for their children, challenges the children are facing, as well as strengths they can encourage in class. Ultimately, we want to use this information to better serve our families."

Visits began this week and staff will provide feedback to Corbett once they are complete. Later this fall, teachers will follow up with families they feel will benefit from continued contact.

Teachers are paid a stipend that is structured similarly to staff members who coach after-school sports and clubs.

Corbett admits the program is new and may need adjustments as it unfolds.

"I'm not sure how it's going to work out and we're all going to work this out together," he said. "(But) I have very high expectations."