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March 4, 2010
De Blasio creates new citywide parent advocacy group
New York parents may soon have a new advocacy group to help them press for change in the city schools, led by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. De Blasio announced the group, which will be known as the "Parent Advocate Coordinating Team," or PACT, at a town hall forum on education his office held last night in downtown Brooklyn. The public advocate's staff began collecting contact information for parents last night, and de Blasio said that he hoped to mobilize parents across the city. At the meeting, De Blasio specifically mentioned organizing against the proposed MTA student Metrocard cuts, and he has called for a moratorium on giving charter schools space in city school buildings. De Blasio's office hasn't yet determined what topics the parent group will tackle first, de Blasio spokeswoman Maibe Gonzalez said. (Gonzalez is a former spokeswoman for the Department of Education.)
August 19, 2009
City is seeking parent help to schedule those skipped hearings
The city is asking elected parent leaders to help it hold mandatory public hearings about school funding that should have happened in June. The state requires all school districts to hold annual hearings about they plan to allocate Contracts for Excellence dollars, state education funds that can be spent only in certain ways. Other districts held their hearings in June, according to the schedule set out in the law. But New York City did not. (Remember, those were heady days for the city, with mayoral control's expiration date rapidly approaching.) After Anna reported last week that the hearings hadn't happened, state officials said they were merely being rescheduled. Now we have a hint of when the hearings might be held. Martine Guerrier, head of the education department's Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy, sent an e-mail to district parent councils today asking them to help run local hearings in September. "We are committed to meeting our statutory requirements for Contracts for Excellence and ask for your support in partnering with the Department to hold public hearings on the 2009-2010 plan at the beginning of the school year," Guerrier wrote. She said her office would help the councils hold the hearings either during one of their regularly scheduled meetings or at a separate time. Guerrier's full letter to district parent councils is after the jump.
July 15, 2009
Parent councils sent resolutions on a road to nowhere
Over the course of the last year, an elected parent council passed four resolutions, but the Department of Education never got them. The Community Education Council in District 1 sent each of the resolutions to staff members at the Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy and then waited for a response. For council members, the resolutions, which are non-binding, are their main avenue for talking to the chancellor. Now the Office says that it never received the resolutions because the CEC didn't follow the correct protocol for submitting them. "No resolutions were received from CEC 1 last year," wrote Martine Guerrier, who heads the Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy, in an email to council member Lisa Donlan yesterday. The communication breakdown between the two bodies is not an isolated incident. Several councils said they've never received a single response to the resolutions they've passed, confirming for many members the sense that the city is ignoring them. At the same time, the Office says that parent councils have disregarded the system set up specifically to handle their resolutions. Jim Devor, a member of the CEC in district 15, said he first learned that his council's resolution had been declined when he read it on GothamSchools on July 9. Four days later, the DOE still had not contacted the council with its decision, he said. "Common civility would have dictated a formal reply actually directed to the Council and/or its members," Devor wrote in a strongly worded email to Klein. He added that the lack of response reflected "a thinly veiled contempt" for the council.
July 8, 2009
Next debate: what should more parental involvement look like?
The Senate may be nearing an agreement on mayoral control, but now there's a new debate — over how to increase parental involvement, and what involvement means. At the center of the debate are the two parent groups most actively lobbying Albany, and each has its own slightly different vision. The Parent Commission on School Governance is pushing for a kind of parent union, which it calls an Independent Parent Organization and Training Academy. According to Patricia Connelly, a member of the Parent Commission, the organization would act like a think tank-cum-lobbying force for parent advocate groups and would be modeled on the now-defunct United Parent Association. "It can be a place where people come together and learn from one another," Connelly said, adding that the group would also do research and train less experienced parents. "Right now we don't have an institutionalized role and people say well there's OFEA [Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy], but that's just an arm of the Department of Education and it's more about delivering PowerPoint presentations rather than what we really need to know to be effective advocates," she said.
May 27, 2009
A week after criticism, city expands its parents bill of rights
When City Council Member Bill de Blasio criticized the Department of Education's bill of rights for parents as being too limited last week, it was the first many of us had ever heard of such a document. Now, just a week later, the document has expanded, ballooning to an eight-page list of 57 enumerated rights divided into four sections. That's up from five one-sentence rights published on a single Web page. A spokesman for de Blasio said school officials alerted his office to the new bill of rights yesterday, the same day the document appeared on the department's Web site. In a statement, de Blasio said he is encouraged by the expansion, but not satisfied. The new version outlines a litany of specific rights for parents, including the right to receive their children's full instructional schedule, the right to have meetings about their children's educational record, and the right to communicate with teachers. The original bill of rights, which is also still published online, in English and a slate of other languages, was more vague, affording parents the right to things like "a free public school education" for their children and to "be actively involved in the education of their children." The new version does not include one of de Blasio's recommendations, though: the right to attend a zoned school in their neighborhood. De Blasio called that omission "troubling." His full statement is below the jump. UPDATE: A spokeswoman for the department, Nicole Duignan, said school officials have actually been working on the expanded document for two years. She said the family engagement and advocacy office built it "based on input and experience from parents who wish to play an active role in their children's education." "We always welcome ideas and suggestions from elected officials to promote and improve parent involvement in our schools," Duignan said.
March 27, 2009
A proposal to empower parent councils by transforming them
Lots of people nod at the idea that the biggest failing of mayoral control of the public schools has been a lack of parent involvement. The president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer, this week issued a proposal that lays out a roadmap he argues would change that. Rather than re-thinking the citywide education board, as other advocates have done, Stringer's proposal targets the elected parent councils that already exist. His idea is to inject gravity and authority into the councils, which are now beset by pitifully low participation rates and a reputation for powerlessness, by taking a hint from the real-estate and development world. In that world, groups of citizen volunteers called community boards work together to develop responses to proposals from developers and policy makers on everything from whether to tear down a building to concerns about dog excrement. City Hall can't make a decision without at least collecting a board's formal response. The idea is gaining some headway; Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz of Brooklyn intends to introduce a bill that would formally propose the idea to the legislature in the next few days.
March 18, 2009
Report: Immigrant parents feel shut out of schools
Hot on the heels of a DOE report saying that immigrant students are doing better than ever before, groups serving immigrant families issued a report of their own today, calling on the city Department of Education to "change the culture in schools" so that immigrant parents feel welcome participating in their children's education. Many immigrant parents would like to be involved in their children's schools but do not feel able because of language barriers and cultural differences, according to the report, which was written by Advocates for Children of New York, where I used to work, in conjunction with a number of community groups that represent immigrants. The report calls for the DOE to develop an aggressive plan to involve immigrant families in their schools, citing research that has documented a link between parent engagement and student performance. The premise behind the report — that parents should be involved in schools — is one that DOE officials say they support. Asked at Friday's mayoral control hearing about parent participation among immigrant families, Maria Santos, who heads the department's Office of ELLs, said there is "not enough." The report suggests a number of reasons why immigrant parents might not feel encouraged to get involved.
December 9, 2008
Elected parent leaders learned of school closure by e-mail
It's déjà vu all over again for parents as the Department of Education reveals its latest round of school closures. Last year, City Council members complained that the DOE announced school closures without first discussing them with community members. Like other parent advocates, council members argued that the DOE's actions were in violation of the state's education law, which requires the chancellor to "consult with the affected community district education council" before closing or substantially changing schools. But despite the outcry, the district-wide community education councils aren't any more in the loop this year. "The CECs were notified the same day the staff was told" at each school, DOE spokeswoman Melody Meyer told me today. For District 15's CEC, at least, that notification came in the form of an e-mail yesterday afternoon, after the principal of PS 27 had already been told her school would be closing in June, according to the council's president, Jennifer Stringfellow.
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