Friday, February 27, 2009
Speaking *to* parents is a job. Speaking *with* parents is a talent.
I, along with two other parents from our After-School Academy, attended the Dallas Achieves meeting at North Dallas High School. I suppose the meeting was meant to inform. As the meeting started, the school board member welcomed everyone and expressed his appreciation for the "wonderful principals, teachers, and kids." One of the parents with me, fairly audibly to those of us sitting around her spoke up to say, "and PARENTS!"
The school board member went on to talk about how "the community needs to be involved and they (as if the community wasn't sitting in the same room) need to be more informed." It was at that point I got worried that we were in yet another high level meeting where parents are talked at and not listened to.
The first 45 minutes of the meeting was dry, with a power point with small words I couldn't read. The presenter spoke very high level and over our head, "We just bought back $4 mil in bonds. ...We will have a 'wireless overlay.' ...We have our 21st Century grant." I really don't think the parents cared much about the district patting themselves on the back. The parents were there for more basic reasons...their children.
Finally, they opened the floor. From that point forward, I was impressed. Parents were allowed to submit questions via a card or they could speak at the microphone. The two parents I was with voiced their concerns:
Parent 1: I would like teachers to contact me when a problem arises...not wait until two or three problems arise. If they would contact me, I could deal with the problem the first time! The school needs better communication with the parents.
Parent 2: We just moved into the Dallas district from Richardson. My girls were good students. Now, all of a sudden, they are going down hill. One of my children is a special needs student. I would like to know what programs are available through the district that I could get her into. I would like to know for both of them what the school is doing to improve because I don't want my girls getting out of high school not knowing how to read, write, and add...*if* they even make it that far. I don't want them being a statistic and dropping out because they can't do the work and don't have the skills.
I was impressed with the way the principals from North Dallas High School and a few middle schools responded. (I don't know where the principal from our elementary school (J.W. Ray) was...and that concerns me). The principals listened and addressed questions. They assured us they would contact us to follow up if we submitted a card. But more importantly...
Dr. Eduardo Hernandez, principal of North Dallas High School, gave us all his cell number and encouraged ALL of us (elementary, middle, and high school parents) to contact him at any time via phone call or text. Texting will allow him to get back with us quickly, he assured us. He promised to respond as long as it was before 7:00. After 7:00, he requested that we respect the time he spends with his own daughter.
I spoke with him afterwards. He was just as personable then as he was during the meeting. He invited me to serve on their Site-Based Decision Making board. He said he takes it off campus to a Starbucks to make it more friendly for everyone. (Gotta love that!). Plus, I found out, he lives in my neighborhood--grew up there and now has moved back.
Dr. Hernandez has the talent of speaking *with* parents. I plan to work with him so that our After-School Academy for elementary kids doesn't stop at 5th grade, but works toward getting them toward the goal of college. To do that, I need to know where they are headed and what they need to prepare for now to get them ready. I believe Dr. H will work with us in that.
I would like to see more administrators be that accessible and neighborhood/parent friendly.