Skills, Input a Boon to Schools
by Joe Nathan, TwinCities.com, August 31, 2003
For more articles like this
Real openness and cooperation, not just the all-too-common
rhetoric, are vital for effective schools.
As the new school year begins, it's worth remembering that
students do better when educators and parents don't just listen
to but hear each other. Building ties can be harder than you
think. Sometimes, misguided professionalism or family
frustration over previous failures limits what can be
Four short stories about parent-educator conflicts I've seen or
heard about over the past few years offer some lessons.
In the first school, a group of parents went to a "site
committee" meeting. Parents had been invited to present ideas
about how the school could spend about $140,000 in state funds
to improve achievement of students from low-income families or
families who did not speak English. These parents brought a
translator to the meeting, since many of them did not speak
English well. They proposed hiring a bilingual aide to work in
the office (about 35 percent of the school's students spoke
The parents also proposed training for teachers to help them
understand their youngsters, and an after-school program to give
their children extra help in learning English. Their proposals
would have spent about one-third of the available money.
Then the principal distributed recommendations that he and the
faculty had developed. It did not include any of the parents'
suggestions and no parents had been invited to the meeting where
the list was developed. After brief discussion, the committee
adopted the principal's list. None of the suggestions from the
non-English speaking parents were adopted.
These parents never again came to the committee. Several
enrolled their children in a bilingual charter school.
In another school, several parents tried to get their children
in an Advanced Placement course, but teachers insisted that only
students with a high overall grade point average were eligible.
Parents suggested students with a strong record in a specific
area, such as English, math or social studies, should be allowed
to take the advanced course in that field. But the faculty
insisted students without a high overall grade point average
would "drag down" the class.
It seemed to me the students should be given a chance to try
meeting standards in one AP class. But the faculty wouldn't
budge, deeply frustrating parents and students.
At another school, an angry parent met with her daughter's
school principal. The child had tripped on a loose playground
board and skinned her knee.
The parent felt the school's playground wasn't safe.
The principal agreed that the playground was old and needed
work. So the principal asked the parent if she would help form a
parent-community committee not just to fix up, but to transform
the playground into something everyone could be proud of. The
parent, expecting excuses from the principal, was surprised by
her openness and readily agreed. Parents, educators, students
and the broader community had raised money, hired an architect
and produced a playground over the next year that was a model
for many communities.
In a fourth school, parents were frustrated by graduation night
parties some students attended. Some graduates had been involved
in alcohol-influenced car crashes that produced terrible
injuries in the past few years.
The school's principal formed a parent-faculty-student
Several students learned about a nearby community that had an
all-night graduation party at the school. Businesses and
community groups donated prizes and food. Virtually all the
seniors attended the party.
Putting it on was a huge amount of work for parents. But the
number of traffic accidents involving graduating seniors
declined to almost nothing.
Overall, no one — faculty, families or students — is always
Sometimes people have goofy or unwise ideas. But openness and
cooperation often help solve problems. Welcome back for another
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