Last night, the School Reform Commission hosted a Strategy, Policy, and Priority Meeting at 440 North Broad Street focused on Family and Parent Engagement. A roundtable discussion included the following 4 points:
- Provide examples of best practices of family engagement. Discuss how to replicate these practices
- Identify challenges to meaningful family engagement
- Discuss how school based staff (principals, teachers, central office) should engage families
- Identify strategies the School District should use to engage families in policy decision making
Each table included a SRC member and a Parent Coordinator from the Family and Community Engagement Office. Unfortunately, the anger and frustration that many parents and teachers are feeling percolated to the surface. “Shut up and listen and tell me what you heard,” sums up what many of the attendees felt who have been shut out of discussion. Tables spoke of needed transparency and not making decisions behind closed doors. Some criticized the lack of hospitality and respect that some school staff demonstrated towards parents and families. One teacher spoke of the lack of services for students with IEP’s especially in regard to the Le Gare process. A parent, Maureen Fratantoni , spoke with sadness of Laporshia Massey, the 6th grader from Bryant School who died as the result of an asthma attack with no nurse on staff.
Alison McDowell, a parent and member of Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools circulated a letter that detailed some of the many frustrations. "The current deficits in our schools stem from the School reform Commission's inability to provide basic resources to our children...The current climate of austerity and deprivation magnifies disparities between the schools that have and the schools that do not."
Quibilia Divine of Women’s Christian Alliance and Parent Power mentioned the importance of trust and “meeting parents where they are.” The prickly term of referring to parents as customers created mixed responses but the best counter was, “We do not want to be treated as customers. We want to be treated as citizens.”
The problem with this meeting is that it spoke of engagement, which is important, without mentioning the budget cuts and the lack of staff. As I write, the governor just announced the release of 45 million dollars. I bet that the quick release may have more to do with a dead student on the news than a few concessions regarding seniority.
Parents cannot engage a school or a district with low morale, unsafe conditions, uncertainty, and fear. The battle for full funding and an equitable funding formula is tantamount. It is also time for every advocacy group, teacher, educator, school district employee, and parent to decide what is the political plan for 2014. It is time to create solidarity around a candidate for governor who will speak for Philadelphia and our schools. We did not have a plan when Rendell left and I am sure many of us do not want to repeat that mistake again. We also have to look to our city council members and Congress to make sure that we are fully satisfied with the decision’s being made on our behalf.
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia may want to review the 2001 lawsuit proposed by Mayor Street that challenged the state’s poor funding and how it affected poor and minority children at larger percentages. MSNBC just reported, “In Philadelphia, more than 80% of the students affected by the closures are black, though they make up just 58% of the public school population. Four percent of the affected students in Philadelphia are white.”
We also need to make sure that public education does not simply become a business entity that divides and conquers charter versus public. Ethical spending measures should be introduced to insure that money helps children and does not simply create a monetary franchise.
Work is needed, but we may be prematurely having meetings about parent engagement when gaping holes exist in public schools that need to be repaired and not simply glossed over or ignored. Do not celebrate the 45 million dollar release. Continue to fight for all of the services outlined in the Pennsylvania state constitution. Do not settle for small victories. Our children deserve more.