October 7, 2011 - 12:26 AM
Pretty much everyone agrees that one of the things that sets City Honors apart (in addition to the fact that all the students have to test in) is the fact that parents there are much more involved than the parents at most Buffalo schools.
Many people seem to figure that's the result of the socioeconomics of the kids at City Honors -- 26 percent of the students there qualify for free or reduced lunch, compared to 77 percent district-wide. (Now, exactly how that school came to have such a different socioeconomic profile is a story for another day.)
The thinking seems to be that better-educated parents, or parents who make more money, are more involved in their children's education. If you go with that line of thinking, then increasing parent involvement at most of the other schools seems like almost a lost cause -- or at best, a steep uphill battle.
And, given the fact that parent involvement is a key ingredient in a child's success in school, this is a pretty important issue to think about.
Well, one of Sam Radford's children was accepted to City Honors this year, and boy, what an eye-opener that has been for Buffalo's most outspoken parent leader.
What he sees at City Honors is a structure for parent involvement. Each classroom there has a parent volunteer who is responsible for communicating with the parents in their classroom.
Radford's thinking is that when you have a parent responsible for communicating with the parents of the 20 to 30 kids in that room, that communication is going to be effective. That puts the communication on a more individual level, for one thing, and for another, that parent intimately knows the challenges and needs of the kids in that classsroom, as well as the strengths and skills the parents might be able to offer.
(At this point, the district relies heavily on large-scale marketing efforts for communicating with parents, such as mass mailings, automated phone calls and letters sent home in backpacks. If you want to know how effective those are, ask a parent.)
Radford has been urging the School Board to replicate City Honors' parent structure at the nearly 60 other schools in Buffalo.
"We have a working model at City Honors, you could say," he told the board.
He also wants a paid parent facilitator at every grade level, in every school. (Right now, the district is supposed to have one paid parent facilitator at every school. At the struggling schools, that's a full-time position. At the other schools, it's part time.)
The cost? He pegs it between $600,000 and $3.1 million, depending on how much the parent facilitators get compensated. That's out of a district budget of nearly $900 million. The district is required to spend 1 percent of its Title I budget (nearly $40 million) on parent involvement efforts.
I've heard him make that pitch to the School Board a few times already in the past several weeks. The board has not given him much feedback on it, at least not publicly. He keeps coming back and making the same pitch.
It was starting to seem like this would turn into a never-ending rerun: Radford makes the pitch. The board listens, maybe asks a couple questions, then moves onto other things, without having a full discussion about it.
And it looked like things were headed the same way at this week's committee meeting:
Mary Ruth Kapsiak: This is going to have to come back to the table.
Radford: I know what that means.
Jason McCarthy: It's only because we've run out of time.
Radford: We want to ask for procedures for implementation of board policy, which is the critical piece. What we want to know is can we set up a time (to talk about it).
At that point, Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon stepped in. She said what Radford is asking for is a procedure for parent involvement -- which is the realm of central office administrators, not the board (which is a policy-making body).
She agreed to have central office staff sit down with Radford and talk through his ideas, then come up with procedures and present them to the board. (To clarify: she did not agree to implement everything Radford's asking for, but did agree to talk about it.)
McCarthy, who chairs the educational support committee, agreed to have the board discuss it again in November. That was music to Radford's ears.
I don't know whether Radford's proposal is the right one. What I do know is that whatever the district is doing now to get parents involved sure isn't as successful as it could be.
If district officials decide Radford's proposal isn't the right one, let's hope they come up with an innovative solution they're ready to try -- soon.
Could it be that there is a way to replicate the parent involvement that City Honors enjoys?
Maybe we'll find out.
- Mary Pasciak
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