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May 18, 2018
This Memphis principal says supporting teachers and parents helped pull her school out of the bottom 10 percent
This year, Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary left not only left the bottom 5 percent of Tennessee schools but moved out of the bottom 10 percent
Learning to lead
May 19, 2015
It’s not high school civics, but parents (and teens) learn the ropes of public policy
A 20-week training called the Family Leadership Training Institute aims to give Colorado parents, grandparents and teens a greater voice in public policy with the goal of improving health, education and other outcomes.
March 6, 2015
Parent time-off bill highlights partisan divide
A bill that would guarantee parents time off for some school activities sparked a lively House floor debate before passing on a preliminary voice vote Friday.
March 18, 2014
At a new school started by parents, uncertainty about how to include them
Midway through the Highbridge Green School’s first year, parents and educators are grappling with what parent involvement will look like going forward. How much say should parents have in the school’s daily operations and long-term vision, now that a team of teachers and administrators have been hired to run the show? Deep commitment to parent engagement on the part of parents and staff, combined with uncertainty about what form that involvement should take, has led to both tension and innovation.
April 3, 2013
Leonie Haimson exits public school parenting but not advocacy
Leonie Haimson at a rally last month outside of the Tweed Courthouse. Leonie Haimson's career as a New York City education activist started when her older child was assigned to a first-grade class with 28 other students. That was in 1996, and since then, Haimson has advocated for public school parents — through her organization, Class Size Matters; the blog and online mailing lists she runs; and the national parent group she helped launch. But her personal stake changed last summer, when Haimson ceased to be a public school parent. Her younger child started at a private high school in September, following a trajectory from public to private school that her older child, now an adult, also took. Many of Haimson’s close friends and colleagues in the parent advocacy world have known for months about the change in her status. But she did not make it known publicly until today, after learning that GothamSchools planned to disclose the information in a story. “I myself don’t think it is either particularly interesting or relevant,” she wrote in a post on the blog she started in 2007, NYC Public School Parents, before going on to explain the choice. "It is a parent’s responsibility to find a school that they believe best fits their children’s needs," Haimson wrote in a statement she sent to GothamSchools before publishing her own post. The disclosure caught some other advocates off guard. "I'm surprised," said Sheila Kaplan, a student data privacy advocate who has worked with Haimson in recent months. “She’s never said anything about her kids being in private schools.” After shaping much of her identity around her role as a public school parent, decamping from the city’s public schools puts Haimson in a delicate situation. It also opens her up to questions from her many opponents in the polarized education policy debate.
January 15, 2013
Quinn says city schools need collaboration, not competition
City Council Speaker and mayoral frontrunner Christine Quinn visited a school with UFT President Michael Mulgrew at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. In her first major education policy address, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn signaled that she would depart in significant ways from Mayor Bloomberg's approach to running the city's schools. Instead of pitting schools against each other, as Bloomberg's policies have, Quinn said she would push them to collaborate. Instead of directing funds to pricey consultants, she said she would look for solutions within the system. And where Bloomberg spurred rapid growth in the city's charter school sector, Quinn said she would keep the sector at its current size. But on other issues, Quinn suggested that she would take a cue from the Bloomberg administration. For example, she said she would improve "customer service" to help families resolve problems but said only that she would “engage parents in relevant decisions and keep them in the loop.” One of Bloomberg's first school policy changes, back in 2002, was to add parent coordinators to each school. But he has drawn sharp criticism for excluding parents from policy decisions. Quinn's ambitious list of education proposals includes extending school days, coordinating city services to provide comprehensive health and social services in schools, boosting literacy instruction, slashing some state testing, and buying a million tablets to replace textbooks.
February 8, 2012
City actually undecided about charter parents' call for inclusion
The city is "sympathetic" to — but not ready to embrace — charter parents' desire to win spots on district parent councils, officials said today. On Tuesday, more than 1,200 charter school parents traveled to Albany as part of Lobby Day. Their main ask was that legislators set aside seats for them on the city's elected parent councils. The councils, known as Community Education Councils, frequently discuss charter schools but have no formal authority over them. A Department of Education spokesman told me on Tuesday that the city's position on the request had not changed since 2009, when officials argued that seating charter parents on CECs would represent an inappropriate conflation of charter and district school management. As it turns out, that's not quite true. The city hasn't actually made up its mind about whether to support a bill introduced by two legislators — Assemblyman Peter Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, and State Sen. Marty Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn — that would reserve one of the 11 seats on each council for a charter school parent. I heard today from Micah Lasher, the city's chief lobbyist in Albany, who said that the city had taken a deeper look at the issue on request from charter advocates and found merit in their argument.
February 7, 2012
Charter parents' inclusion call yields a bill but not city support
Charter Parent Action Network Director Valerie Babb addresses charter school parents and students in Albany. (Photo courtesy of the New York City Charter School Center) An annual caravan of charter school parents to Albany took place today with a specific mission: convince legislators to approve a bill allowing charter parents to run for the city's local parent councils. It's a battle that charter advocates will have to fight without the Department of Education's help. The city has never supported allowing charter parents to run for parent councils, even as it has encouraged the proliferation of charter schools and allowed them to operate in district space. State law requires that each school district in the city field an elected parent council, known as a Community Education Council, to provide an avenue for parents to weigh in on schools policy. Some of the council's duties, such as presiding over public hearings about co-locations, involve charter school issues. But the Bloomberg administration has constrained the councils' authority and their only statutory function is to redraw school zone lines, which do not affect charter schools. They do not actually approve or reject co-locations. Still, the CECs are seen as one of the few formal venues for parents to voice opinions about department policies, and charter school parents see the exclusion as an equity issue. They have convinced two legislators — Assemblyman Peter Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, and State Sen. Marty Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn — to introduce a bill that would reserve one of the 11 seats on each council for a charter parent. "In order to protect our children and their continued access to a great public education, charter parents need and deserve a seat at the table to help inform the decisions about the schools in their neighborhoods," said Valerie Babb, director of the Charter Parents Action Network, in a statement. "By supporting this legislation, our lawmakers will send a strong signal to families that their voices carry just as much weight as other public school parents in their districts."
January 30, 2012
Chelsea parent is an unlikely ally in the school closure fights
Mary Conway-Spiegel (right) talks with Zenobia White, principal of the Academy for Scholarship and Entrepreneurship in the Bronx, while observing a middle school class. After dropping her two sons at their Chelsea elementary school one morning this fall, Mary Conway-Spiegel spent several minutes fiddling with the GPS in her black SUV before it spat out directions to her next stop: a high school 15 miles north, in the Wakefield section of the Bronx. Conway-Spiegel had an appointment with Zenobia White, the principal of a secondary school whose middle grades faced closure by the Department of Education. Conway-Spiegel had no connection to the school, the Academy for Scholarship and Entrepreneurship, before last October, when White responded to a surprise offer from Conway-Spiegel to help ASE combat the stigma of being on the city's shortlist for school closures. The offer came during a round of cold calls that has become an annual ritual for Conway-Spiegel, who has appointed herself surrogate class parent at some of the city's most struggling schools. She defends them under the banner of a one-woman advocacy outfit, called the Partnership for Student Advocacy, and the mantra — repeated almost daily via Twitter — "There are no failing schools."
October 27, 2011
From Charlotte, a vision for NYC's second try at parent training
The parent training program that Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott promised to launch last night would be new to New York City. But it wasn't supposed to be that way. In 2009, over the objections of some members of the Assembly who said doing so would waste scarce resources, state legislators passed a bill to create a parent-training center in New York City. The bill was one of four amendments that Senate Democrats required before they would agree to renew Mayor Bloomberg's control of the schools. That center was supposed to cost $1.6 million, which the city and state would jointly supply. It would have been housed at CUNY. And it would have trained parents who normally wouldn’t get involved to serve on community education councils and school leadership teams. But it never got off the ground. The Department of Education said at the time that it was unwilling to pony up its portion of the costs unless the state contributed, too. And the state's funding never materialized. This time around, the city won't be relying on the state for its parent training center. Walcott did not name a price tag for the new initiative, which will start in 2012, but he said the city would pool public and private funds to pay for it. A DOE official said the public funds would not come from the same pot that would have helped fund the CUNY training center. A similar initiative in North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenberg school system, which DOE officials said is a likely model for the program that the city will put in place, has been funded entirely with private dollars from local and national foundations and companies.
October 26, 2011
Walcott outlines new initiatives to involve parents in schools
Outside, an organizer lobbies security to let protesting parents inside; In the auditorium, the audience was far more subdued than last night. The Department of Education will replicate other cities' parent training programs and start measuring how well schools engage families, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced tonight. In his first-ever policy address last month, Walcott unveiled an initiative to help the city's long-struggling middle schools. Tonight, he turned his attention to another weak spot in the department's record: keeping parents involved. Addressing parent leaders at an RSVP-only event where he was joined by Jesse Mojica, head of the department's oft-renamed family engagement office, Walcott outlined a plan that he said would boost parent involvement in city schools. He said the department would hire outside groups to run training workshops for parents who want to get involved, ask more from parent coordinators, and put more information for parents online, at a new portion of the DOE website for families. Walcott also said the city had developed standards for family involvement that a small number of schools would test before they are rolled out citywide. Ultimately, he said, the city plans to measure schools on how well they communicate with parents and make them feel welcome. The speech comes after years of complaints that DOE decision-making has shut parents out — and months after elections for district parent councils went so badly that they had to be redone. Walcott acknowledged problems with the elections and promised that the next time they happen, in 2013, the process would go more smoothly. But he did not open the door to giving parents a larger role in setting city education policy.
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.
June 7, 2011
Meeting with parents, Walcott gets feedback and asks for more
Chancellor Dennis Walcott met with parent coordinators and leaders of Parent Teacher Associations yesterday. Chancellor Dennis Walcott met the parents last night at a panel session with PTA leaders and parent coordinators that gave him a chance to demonstrate his oft-stated commitment to community outreach. Walcott also previewed a new survey, called the Chancellor's Family Feedback Form, that he said will be released later this month. A flier handed out to parents describes the survey as an opportunity to "Tell us what information about your child is important to you and how you'd like to get it." The flier advertises a web site for the survey, FamilyFeedback.org, which is not yet live. Asked for more detailed information, a Department of Education spokeswoman said that the survey is still being developed. The announcement came as several attendees complained to Walcott about the challenges of getting a response from school officials. "What resources do parents have when principals don't respond?" one woman said. “What’s the chain of command here if we have a problem?” asked another attendee.
April 8, 2011
This week's teaching & learning tidbits
Teacher on leave over CSAP improprieties - Students move into renovated North HS - Parent involvement bill passes Senate - Overland HS paper to publish - ABCs of IEPs - Get ready for College Friday
March 10, 2011
New PTA parent guide explains Common Core Standards
The National Parent Teacher Association recently released guides for parents explaining the Common Core State Standards. The guides are available in English and Spanish online.
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