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January 25, 2014
Shelby County Schools event helps connect families with educational resources
Nearly 100 parents filled the conference center at the Salvation Army Kroc Center for the Shelby County Schools Family and Community Fair on Saturday morning for…
January 9, 2014
Fariña's parent engagement strategy starts with index cards
“I hope you hold me accountable,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña told a group of parent leaders this morning. “And by June, I’d love to ask you: Are the communications between us and parents better?”
December 17, 2013
Memphis Stand UP parents graduate as organization plans new direction
Some 140 Memphis parents participated in Stand UP trainings this fall at six Memphis schools. Stand UP will not continue to exist in its current iteration, but its parent group, Stand for Children, plans to continue to run parent-education sessions.
October 25, 2013
Empty halls at one high school’s parent-teacher conference night
John Elfrank-Dana, the UFT chapter leader at beleaguered Murry Bergtraum High School in Manhattan, sent over this picture of Bergtraum’s halls at 7:15…
September 6, 2013
Parents would get a seat on Bill Thompson's proposed PEP
A day after his rival Bill de Blasio scooped up another endorsement from parents, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson is promising to give a specially elected parent a seat at the decision-making table. According to a parent engagement plan released today by Thompson's campaign, Thompson would reserve one of his appointed seats on the Panel for Educational Policy to a parent who gets voted in by a diverse group of other parents. Rather than appointing his own voting member, Thompson would select whichever parent is picked by parent leaders culled from each of the 32 Community Education Councils. The CECs are diminished holdovers from when districts were controlled by school boards. Thompson's campaign staff said the proposal is an example of how Thompson would cede some of the mayor's control over the Panel for Educational Policy, a power that Mayor Bloomberg has used to aggressively — and contentiously — push through sweeping changes to the school system. In 12 years in office, a Department of Education proposal has never been rejected by the PEP, which consists of eight mayoral appointees and five members appointed by borough presidents. Under this proposal, the elected parent would remain an appointee of the mayor. That means that Thompson could technically remove the panel member at any time, a privilege that Bloomberg once exercised with cunning precision when he fired three of his appointees in 2004 for opposing his proposed ban on social promotion. It's unclear if Thompson is willing to actually give up any of the eight seats that are appointed by the mayor, a change that would require an amendment to state law. When he ran for mayor in 2009, he proposed a plan in which he would pick from a slate of diverse candidates selected by a 19-member nominating committee.
August 23, 2013
Quinn targets a de Blasio selling point: his record with parents
As a school board member, public advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, pictured here with ex-state education commissioner David Steiner, once supported a superintendent who resigned amid charges of mismanagement. Christine Quinn’s mayoral campaign is unearthing an old education scandal to take aim at Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the current Democratic frontrunner in the race to replace Mayor Bloomberg. In a press release, the Quinn campaign compiled news coverage about Frank DeStefano — the superintendent of Brooklyn's District 15 in the late 1990s who ran up a $1.2 million budget deficit — to make the case that de Blasio, then a school board member, allowed the mismanagement to occur. The attack comes as the two are embroiled in bitter fighting over many issues, including the city's support for local hospitals. "What Bill de Blasio says and what Bill de Blasio does are two very different things," Quinn spokesman Mike Morey said in a statement. "While he talks glowingly about his work on his local school board, parents in the district knew de Blasio was only concerned about what was best for Bill de Blasio." There’s no disputing that the scandal, which ended in the district superintendent’s resignation, was a difficult time for the school district where de Blasio got his start in city politics. When GothamSchools looked into the episode earlier this summer, de Blasio declined to speak about it, and his campaign did not respond to requests for comment today. But the story is not as cut and dry as the Quinn campaign suggests.
October 17, 2012
City aims second set of parent involvement plans at academics
Chancellor Dennis Walcott today updated parent coordinators and parent leaders about new plans to engage families in helping children make academic progress. A year after announcing new efforts to cultivate parents as "partners" in supporting students' academic progress, Chancellor Dennis Walcott fleshed out some of the details in a speech today. Speaking to parent coordinators and other parent leaders at Manhattan's High School of Fashion Industries, Walcott announced that the city would open its Parent Academy next month with a training session in Brooklyn about how to make the most of parent-teacher conferences. As we reported last week, work behind the scenes on the Parent Academy, modeled after a similar program in Charlotte, N.C., picked up this summer and fall. The city contracted Long Island University to run the academy and in August placed job ads for a “Parent Academy Project Director.” It also quietly launched a website inviting schools to be part of the “inaugural class,” and Walcott said today that 100 schools had already responded. A preliminary version of a website for the program has also gone live, though not at the URL advertised on the invitation. Over the course of the year, Walcott said, the academy will include as many as 2,000 parents in 15 borough-wide workshops and also train smaller groups of parents on "partnership standards" that he said last year would be created. He also reiterated a promise to improve the process by which district parent council members are elected. The councils have few statutory powers but are seen as one of few ways that parents can influence Department of Education policy decisions. Last year, elections to fill the councils went so badly that they had to be redone. Walcott said the department would make the process more transparent by putting information about eligibility and elections on a single website set to launch next week. Last year, "with the lack of information, people weren't even aware that voting was open," Juan Rosales, the department official in charge of engaging the councils, said after the speech. But for the second year in a row, Walcott made clear that his conception of family engagement stays close to the classroom.
October 11, 2012
City slowly backs up shifted rhetoric on parents, needy students
Like the Bloomberg administration's schools reform efforts, our series tracking the city's progress toward fulfilling its recent education policy promises started last month with teachers and schools. Now we are turning toward the students and families they serve. It's a shift that city officials also made in the last year. For nearly a decade, the Department of Education's approach to helping needy students focused largely on creating excellent new schools and closing ones that don't work. But its policies drew fierce criticism that families were shut out of decisions and that some student groups had not benefited from years of initiatives. Last year, the first that Chancellor Dennis Walcott led in full, city officials announced some changes to its approach, introducing policies aimed at helping students and parents. Concrete actions have been slow to come, but we found that the department is slowly plugging away at creating programs to back up last year's rhetoric shifts. (Each promise is in bold, followed by an explanation of how far the city has come toward meeting it.) On students: The city will study high schools that graduate black and Latino students at high rates to find out what they are doing right. (Mayor Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative speech, August 2011) The study is the intended outcome of the Expanded Success Initiative, the flagship education program of Mayor Bloomberg's recent effort to help black and Latino young men. The three-year, $24 million program got underway in June, when the city named 40 schools to monitor as they pioneer new college-readiness strategies funded with grants of $250,000 each. The city will decrease the concentration of high-need students in some schools. (Communication with the state, June 2012) Responding to pressure from State Education Commissioner John King, the city quietly embarked on a pilot program to distribute students who enroll during the school year and summer over a wider swath of schools, despite steadfastly maintaining that high concentrations of needy students do not make it harder for schools to succeed. The city gets about 20,000 new high school students, called "over-the-counters," each year, and they have traditionally wound up in a small number of struggling schools. Last year, about 800 of them went to 54 high schools that have not usually accepted midyear arrivals. But many schools still receive few or no over-the-counter students, while others complain they receive more than they can handle. All city high schools, even those with selective admissions processes, will accept students with disabilities. (Directive to schools, June 2012)
March 19, 2012
Behind the office door of a parent coordinator with longevity
Chantal Desdunes, a parent coordinator, in her office at Brooklyn's High School for Youth and Community Development. For Chantal Desdunes, going to work sometimes means riding the subways with a parent in search of a runaway child. Sometimes it means visiting a child’s family member in the hospital or mediating a mother-daughter argument over the phone. Sometimes it means offering guidance to a student’s crying, jobless father. As the parent coordinator at the High School for Youth and Community Development at Brooklyn's Erasmus Campus, Desdunes starts her days early, walking briskly through the halls nudging her “babies” to take off their hats and get to class. On a recent Wednesday, Desdunes entered her office — “the parent center slash you name it” — grabbed her morning cup of coffee and settled in at the meeting table. Stacks of manila folders, photocopies of fliers, and scribbled family outreach records crowded the tabletop. “Anything that has to do with parents goes to me,” Desdunes said. On the docket for the day: Stuffing the folders for mailing, finishing the monthly Gazette parent newsletter, preparing for an evening workshop, solidifying plans for a student outing to a Nets game, securing four student immunization records, updating the honor roll bulletin board, and monitoring the automatic messaging system that she uses to communicate with parents en masse. In 2003, Desdunes was an assistant director at a community organization, Community Counseling and Mediation Services, when Marie Prendergast, YCD's founding principal, selected CCMS as her community partner. Through their collaborative planning work, Prendergast became familiar with Desdunes and her values and pulled her on board to be the school's parent coordinator. At the time, the position of parent coordinator was in just its second year of existence, after Mayor Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel Klein created the position in their first round of school reforms. They required each principal to hire a liaison to work with families even as they sought changes to the city's school administration to reduce parents' input in governance. A decade later, parent coordinators continue to be mandatory for elementary and middle schools. But in 2010, the position – which pays around $40,000 – was made optional for high schools. In October, 57 parent coordinators were among more than 700 school support workers who were laid off. As one of the longest-serving parent coordinators in the city, Desdunes highlights what the role adds at a time when it is threatened. Parents say YCD would be unimaginable without Desdunes's watchful eye, nurturing guidance, and encouraging words.
December 15, 2011
Parents demand stronger role at council hearing on engagement
As today's City Council hearing on parent engagement wore into its third hour, parents grew agitated that they had yet to deliver their testimony. After listening to chancellor Dennis Walcott and executive director for family and community engagement, Jesse Mojica, discuss parent engagement with council members for hours, the parents were ready to contribute, but the meeting was scheduled to end at one. "It's really unfair that this wasn't mostly parent voices," Michelle Lipkin, P.S. 199's PTA president, said when she took the mic. "There's a real disconnect between the definition of parent engagement for parents and the definition of parent engagement for the department of education." That disconnect was made clear as parents and council members agreed that the Department of Education can engage parents all they want, but without power, the engagement is all for naught. “There’s no big secret in what gets parents involved," Councilman Charles Barron said. "It’s when parents actually have power.” He suggested giving parents a say over curriculum, principal hiring, and budget. Others agreed and noted that the Panel for Education Policy, the Community Education Councils, and the school closure procedures give only the guise of engagement. “The parents need power through legislation. Not engagement, not feedback, not any of those pretty words. We need a vote on the PEP,” Christine Annechino, president of CEC 3, testified. “We have no voice. We have no power.” Concerns raised by council members and parents during the meeting included the cut of 57 parent coordinators earlier this year, the accountability and assessment of parent coordinators, the lack of communication about toxic school environments, and the relocation of last night's PEP meeting. While the tone was civil throughout, the issues always came back to the fact that parents don't just want to be kept abreast of issues in their child's school, they want to have the power to effect change.
November 18, 2011
To reach parents, Francis Lewis HS works to deepen local roots
Francis Lewis High School The principal of the city's second-largest high school is hoping a community-building event he is throwing tomorrow will set a trend for his colleagues across the city. Francis Lewis High School Principal Musa Ali Shama has organized a "networking fair" for the Queens high school tomorrow that will convene education providers, city agencies, and private vendors to offer resources for families at the school. Shama recruited local elected officials, community organizations, and Queens' brand-new branch of the Fairway supermarket to support the event. One goal, Shama told me, is to provide resources for Francis Lewis families, who include immigrants from 60 countries, to help their children succeed in school. That goal fits perfectly into the city's priorities: Chancellor Dennis Walcott has said that the city wants to see more parent engagement aimed at boosting academic performance. "If I want my parents to be more engaged I have to build the tools," Shama told me last month when he described early plans for the networking fair. But a second goal, to establish Francis Lewis as a community hub for its section of Queens, is a bit more of a stretch for most high school principals to attain.
November 10, 2011
At Washington Heights town hall, Walcott gets a cool reception
A District 6 town hall meeting with Chancellor Dennis Walcott got a little unruly last night in the auditorium of Washington Heights' P.S.48, to the point where both Walcott and Judith Amaro, president of District 6’s Community Education Council, had to ask audience members to be respectful. Washington Heights parents use posters to help get their message across at last night's town hall “I get it, I get it,” Amaro told her community, amid jeers. “But we’re going to do this respectfully because regardless of what’s going on, there are visitors. Here in District 6, we treat our visitors right.” The hostility was not funneled towards a specific issue, as was the case with last week’s town hall in District 23, where parents focused the agenda on school closures. Nor was it so loud that the meeting could not proceed, as when a group of protesters derailed a Department of Education meeting about new curriculum standards. But, it touched on multiple issues ranging from colocations to instruction to budget cuts. Early in the meeting, the CEC quickly clicked through a powerpoint presentation overviewing their district’s demographic and academic profile. More than a third of K - 8 students are English Language Learners, almost ninety percent receive free or reduced lunch, the majority of students are Hispanic and black. “You will never, ever hear me single out poor children or children of color as being children that are different. I’m a firm believer that all our students can learn and can learn at high levels,” Walcott said later in the meeting. “You will never, ever hear me make excuses about what a student can or can’t do because of his background “ Before the community took the mic, the CEC presented six sweeping questions of their own to be answered by Walcott and his delegation of DOE employees, who represented offices such as English Language Learners and Portfolio Management. Their questions ran the gamut from “What makes a good school?” (strong leadership, qualified teachers, involved parents) to “What plans do you have for our ELL students?” (native language programs, grants for dual language programs). When Walcott attempted to answer a question about tightening budgets within schools by mentioning the salary steps built into the United Federation of Teachers’ contract, he was met with rogue shouts of “Are you kidding me right now?” and “Don’t try to put the budget on the teachers!” When he touched on the idea of colocations and of rising class sizes, the response was similar.
November 3, 2011
Advocates say they haven't heard from the DOE's "chief parent"
This story originally appeared in Spanish in El Diario, which supplied the translation. The city's school system has a new person in charge of helping the parents of the 1.1 million children in public schools. The problem is that many have not heard of him since he was appointed last July. After three months in his role as “chief parent” of the New York City Department of Education, organizations that defend parents' interests said they have not yet heard from Jesse Mojica and do not have knowledge of his plans to improve the troublesome relationship between the department and families throughout the city. Mojica was recruited in July by new Chancellor Dennis Walcott to occupy the $138,000 a year position as executive director of the office of Family and Community Engagement. Placida Rodriguez, from the parent action group Make the Road New York, an organization based in Queens and Brooklyn, expressed her dissatisfaction at the little attention Mojica has paid so far. “Basically I have had no contact with Jesse Mojica,” said Rodriguez.
October 11, 2011
Editor's blog: Teaching kids the importance of news
This editor reflects on a visit to her daughter's fourth grade classroom this week to discuss the fate of newspapers, and why they're important. The students wow her with their creative, thought-provoking questions.
September 28, 2011
An outspoken parent quits a Queens district council in disgust
Charging that elected parent councils are "window dressing" that allow the city to avoid listening to families, a member of one of them quit publicly last night. Brian Rafferty, a member of the Community Education Council for District 24, announced his resignation at the council's meeting by reading a letter of protest he had written to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. "The Community Education Council serves no purpose other than to be a shield between the Department of Education and the parents of schoolchildren citywide," Rafferty wrote in the letter, which he also posted on Facebook. Rafferty echoed complaints that parents around the city have sounded for years about the weak role of the councils, which are seen as one of the few venues for parents to voice opinions about DOE policies, even though their only statutory function is to redraw school zone lines. Over the summer, after a disastrous set of council elections that had to be conducted twice, Walcott replaced the head of the DOE's family engagement office. But Rafferty suggested that little has changed since then. He said council members did not receive maps of new school zones until just before a recent public meeting about them, so members could not respond to parents' criticism. "We were as blindsided as the parents, and our job, as whipping boys for the DOE, was to take the brunt of the parents’ lashes without any regard to our own opinions on this," Rafferty said.
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