Credit goes to all the CPPS staff but especially Stephanie Jones.
Attendees included the Superintendent and several Ex Directors (Bree Dusseault, Phil Brockman, Nancy Coogan, Michael Tolley). The Superintendent went first and, unfortunately, couldn't stay for the presentation as she had double-booked herself.
I had written about this parent training previously when I had attended a LEV conference that had numerous breakout sessions. One of them was on a long-time parent training program in Kentucky. CPPS piloted this program (albeit in a shorter time frame, 2 days versus 6 days) here in SPS. They trained over 60 parents. What I loved was that the outreach must have been good because the diveristy of the participants (both trainers and trainees) was great.
They had a Latina parent speaking quite eloquently about the need to learn these skills and bring them to other parents. They had a brave Somali woman speak (in her own language to the trainer, also Somali) about needing to learn how the school system works in our country to be an advocate. She said she felt the trainer was wonderful. Another participant named Carla had the best line - "I had a burr in my buns but now I'm on fire."
Seeing all these women (but I'm sure some men participated) fired up and willing to speak within their own communities about the need to advocate for their children means more parents speaking up from more communities. It is vital for any kind of progress for parent influence in our district.
We did one table exercise which was to think of barriers at schools, pick one and then see what challenges it presents and then turn it into an opportunity for parents. (This made me think that maybe the district should think of the challenge of Ingraham as an opportunity to support a principal who is doing good in many ways and fully support that academic growth they desire.)
Our table thought communication was important and we said it would be great if there were a variety of parent events like a grade-level dessert party where you would get to know other parents from your child's grade (which is good for the secondary level), quarterly school town halls where parents could ask questions and raise issues, cultural nights (maybe a potluck, again to meet other parents), etc.
The best idea, I thought, was Charlie's table which is to establish an office of family engagement and involvement run by SPS parents who report directly to the Superintendent. This is not to say that Bernardo Ruiz' office doesn't do good things but it's not parent driven. Having a place right in headquarters with regular access to the Superintendent would send a big signal to parents/guardians. Not a fleshed out idea (and, of course, no funding available) but one of those big ideas that deserves some thought.
The Superintendent got the following questions:
- how for parents to be involved beyond the K-5 level? She said schools need to be more welcoming and engaging. She said she wants to hear from parents about ideas on this issue that work at your school.
- again, she was asked about parent involvement, this time what about hiring parents to organize volunteers/outreach? (It was an interesting question because I know many years back Nancy Waldman, a former Board member, had worked at Eckstein as a volunteer coordinator.) The Super said that it is a parent's right to advocate and she believes in that. (She also said they have no money.) She said that she hears from angry parents about bad school experiences and that it really comes down to a frustration of not being heard and not being able to find a way to help at school.
- A SE parent said is it fair to send their children to failing schools and just ask parents "to get involved" when it can't be all on them? She was blunt in saying she cannot fix everything that needs to get fixed quickly. She said (frequently) that job 1 is a great teacher and a great principal at every school. She talked about how Hawthorne had been doing so poorly just two years ago and now is on a steady rise up. (I think the point is that a school can be turned around and if parents support a new principal, it could happen faster.) But the problem is also once a school has a reputation, it is hard to shake that in the neighborhood.
- Someone asked what good leadership/good teaching looks like? Enfield suggested have a common language so that parents will know what they are talking about in educational terms like pedagogy, etc. The Super then suggested something that I think is kind of dangerous - have parents go on principal walk-thrus of classrooms (community instructional walk-thrus). I can't imagine SEA would go for this. While it might be interesting, I think that parents might not quite get what they are seeing and it might be used against the principal or teacher later on.
- One parent had a rather pointed question - what about principals who want parents' physical presence in the school but not their intellectual presence? I think this is a tough issue and especially more so because of all that our PTAs are pouring into the schools. Enfield said she didn't know if there had ever been a genuine conversation around parents and schools and most of the room said no. She said a goal is to have, before the next school year, a number of proposed conversations between parents and the district.
- She said there wasn't anything "too horrible or new" in the budget from the Legislature.
- She got a capacity management question. She stated that West Seattle had "bubbles" there and they need a new middle school in the North end. She went on about the need for more "analysis" of what we have and hopes to have that done by sometime in June.
- She was asked if she had learned anything from the recent "leadership change conversation." She said yes, that she is accountable for outcomes. She said she learned that while the district has a real and formal process for assessing principals, it is not clear to parent and the general public. She said that for Ingraham she wanted "to calm the community down to end the year strong." She said that families, staff and students are "attached" to schools and that the question becomes, "Is a school that works for some but not all a good school?"
- One parent complained that the school reports are not "parent-friendly." She said she needs to hear more of these kinds of issues because she needs to know what is not working, what is getting in the way of working and what barriers parents see to understanding policy and data information from the district.
- Someone asked about academic growth in the SE. Oddly, she didn't mention the second Ex Director. She told a story that SEA leaders had told her which was a teacher who received a write-up from a principal and had filed a complaint. The write-up wasn't that bad but it said the teacher needed improvement in a couple of areas and the teacher's complaint was "I've never been told I needed improvement before." Enfield claims that the new assessments are not a "gotcha" but a different way of looking at teachers. SEA's response to the incident was that there is a culture shift going on that teachers will have to accept. This is where she came in with her line "gentle pressure relentlessly applied." I like it.
She wants to hear from parents either in a group or individually. If she wants input, please let her know.
One thing I have learned from my SPS experience is that the person at the front desk of any school can be the key (or the pushback) to parents being active at their child's school. One bad experience (or lack of help) and some parents walk away. I would advocate a couple of things:
- PTAs and/or schools need to have an information sheet handy at the front desk so that if a parent comes in and says, "How can I help?", they get handed the sheet. It would have PTA contacts as well as school contacts (anyone who wants help like teachers or the librarian). That way, NO one ever gets turned away without information.
- Every school website should have a big red button link that says, "How you can help" prominently displayed on its website.
- The district has got to do better with the new website. It doesn't work well and there's no real way of knowing where to go for help. Again, a big red button to push for links in all directions. Here's a hint from my own experience - in a search engine (not the one at the website but Google), type in "Seattle schools"and whatever key words/phrases to what you are looking for. Most of the time I find what I am looking for (and it usually comes in the form of an old website page).