Fariña says she has high hopes for parent involvement as conferences begin

On the day of the year’s first parent-teacher conferences, Chancellor Carmen Fariña told WNYC‘s Brian Lehrer that she was confident in her strategies to increase parent engagement in schools.

“I refuse to accept the premise that parents are not going to show up,” Fariña said of the city’s newly expanded conferences.

Two provisions of the newly brokered teachers contract aim to strengthen parent involvement. One change doubles the number of parent-teacher conferences a year from two to four, and the other change adds a required 40 minutes of parent engagement time a week to teachers’ schedules.

Sharing the radio spotlight with Fariña was Nick Lawrence, an eighth-grade teacher at the East Bronx Academy for the Future, a PROSE school, who said that parent-teacher conferences are not meant to talk about a particular student’s grades, but to start a conversation.

“We think of it as a community-building opportunity,” Lawrence said.

However, there are still hurdles to overcome, including the feeling that teachers are squeezed by the new requirements. One caller, a man named Ray in Harlem, brought up a common complaint about how increased parent engagement requirements (and professional development requirements) have replaced tutoring and classroom time at some schools.

Ray said that his wife, an elementary school teacher, has lost time in her school day to accommodate these requirements. She already goes in early and late, and is “emailing parents constantly.”

“She has 33 kids in her class and she needs every minute of the day teaching,” he said.

Fariña has said that with better professional development and more parent engagement, students will need less academic assistance because they will be getting a better education in the classroom. She suggested that schools help reach non-English speaking parents by enlisting the help of bilingual staff and other parents to help translate.

Fariña also said she would help share ideas once schools figure out how they will satisfy the contract requirements. “We’ll start collecting ideas and handing them out in a handbook,” she said.