Several programs and strategies implemented by the Poway Unified School District are highlighted in this Continuum Practice to show the benefits of taking a comprehensive and systemic approach to family engagement.

System Oversight, Infrastructure and Organization: 

System Oversight, Infrastructure, and Organization

Several programs and strategies implemented by the Poway Unified School District are highlighted in this Continuum Practice to show the benefits of taking a comprehensive and systemic approach to family engagement.

In 2018-19, the Poway Unified School District (PUSD) in San Diego, CA began making a concerted effort toward system improvement and tending to relationships with families of students with disabilities. Their approach was multifaceted and resulted in significant changes to policies, procedures, and practices that led to extraordinary shifts in family-educator relationships. A significant reduction in due process, state, and OCR complaints can be largely attributed to these efforts.


In order to improve community relations, establish and preserve trust, and enable the productive resolution of conflicts, new leadership:

  • communicated a clear vision for engaging families as partners
  • modeled expected staff behaviors, such as listening for understanding and being responsive to concerns
  • allocated resources for securing and training Program Specialists to reduce procedural errors and supporting families and educators in conflict resolution
  • established procedures and practices that ensure continuous, district-wide special education system improvement and accountability

Resource Allocation

Resources have been allocated to fund the following positions:

  • Family Engagement, Support & Resolution Director
  • 11 ADR Program Specialists
  • Family Engagement Liaison

In addition to these positions, PUSD has been able to expand their capacity to engage new special education families by training and partnering with 54 parent volunteers, also known as Parent Ambassadors.

Stakeholder Involvement

Beginning in 2018, the Associate Superintendent and the four Directors of Student Support Services began attending monthly Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meetings to increase visibility and show their commitment to being present and available. This leadership team began assisting in the creation of meeting agendas and presented on a variety of topics of interest within the community. As concerns were shared with the Student Support Services leadership team, they listened and responded, providing monthly updates on progress. These efforts led to establishing credibility and restoring trust.

Program Access & Delivery: 

Program Access & Delivery

PUSD offers families a system of support that meets them where they are at as they navigate the special education and dispute resolution systems.

Parent Ambassador Program

PUSD established a Parent Ambassador Program which assists welcoming and supporting new special education families to the district. The goal was to have one trained Parent Ambassador Volunteer at each of their 39 schools. To date, over 54 parents of students with disabilities have volunteered to be a Parent Ambassador to mentor and support other families within the special education system.

The Parent Ambassador Program is prominently included as a special education support on the Poway Unified School District website that features a "Get Connected” button. Parents can then access Parent Ambassadors or district personnel, such as the Parent Engagement Liaison, their child’s Case Manager, a Program Specialist, or the Director of Special Education.


PUSD offers alternative dispute resolution options through several mechanisms.

Although a linear model for conflict resolution is provided with contact information for Program Specialists, the Parent Engagement Liaison, and the Directors, families do not have to talk to or use one process before accessing the next level of intervention.

PUSD also offers Partners in Resolution Program, a voluntary program in which a neutral panel works with parties to facilitate a resolution. Interested parents contact the Resolution Program Coordinator who explains the program, listens to their concerns, helps identify their issues and interests, explains special education laws and practices when relevant, and refers them to others when necessary. If the parent chooses to proceed with this option and the other party agrees, the Resolution Program Coordinator will assign a panel and help facilitate the scheduling and location of the meeting.

Public Awareness & Outreach Activities: 


Parent Ambassador Program:

  • Over 4,500 informational flyers on IEPs were distributed to school sites and students with special needs.
  • An introductory video featuring existing Parent Ambassadors was created and posted to their website.

Partners in Resolution Program


Evaluation & Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI): 

Evaluation & Continuous Quality Improvement

PUSD reported that because of their Family Engagement efforts, families and their advocates/attorneys are more inclined to use the district’s alternative dispute resolution supports instead of filing due process or state complaints, resulting in a 59% decrease in due process cases, an 11% decrease in litigation settlement costs, and a 22% decrease in attorney fees between the 2017-18 and 2021-22 school years.

In addition, PUSD is committed to continuous quality improvement, which includes listening and responding to family voice and establishing new procedures to address areas of concerns. For example, they now debrief every due process case that is filed, discuss areas of concern, and make improvements as needed.

To view the CADRE webinar, The Transformative Power of Engaging Parents as Partners, featuring Poway Unified School District, click here.