Monday, December 17, 2012

Communication - The Parent Voice

So I originally started this blog hoping to start a conversation with other parents within BSD who were seeking more information.  Information about how my student's school was doing in real terms that I could measure, where the district was directing future efforts and how I could possibly add my efforts to help affect change....

I joined the PTA on the state level, because I wanted to know more than what I was learning with just my own school building.  I wanted a broader perspective than my school district.  I wanted to know more about the decision makers at the state level who were making policy and/or budget changes.  I was seeing a national focus and discussion that I wanted to see reaching me and my student's classroom -- so again I could measure results and change in a positive way.

I co-chaired a Working Group leading up to the Operating Referendum last fall and then in the spring, co-chaired again a Community Outreach as part of the Operating Referendum vote.  Trying to get the word out through the various civic associations and family/student sporting groups throughout the Brandywine Hundred as to why these funds were important to our community and the future of our students' education.

I pursued a job with the school district with the Race-to-the-Top Grant because I thought these funds and this potential for a parent to work on the inside could impact change.  I wanted to be part of that positive change.  I also wanted to see where the money was going, be able to report back to other parents and families where the money was being utilized in positive ways and demonstrate measurable results.  Like I knew I was responsible for in other jobs ... and helping to define who the customers were -- us the parents -- the taxpayers in the district. I wanted to help to deliver a positive product for 21st Century problem solvers that our children will have to all become in their own way.

So I've learned a lot about the process, the system, some of the "players" behind the scenes -- been amazed by the dedication of those who want every student to succeed, been frustrated by the process of which nothing seems to get done, been stymied by the attitude of some taking advantage of the system who have lost their passion for the hard work that needs to get done, others who only talk about change but really have little impact on walking that change in the ways I've seen business leaders, project managers and team players do it countless times a day in the many, international corporations within our immediate area.

And I continue to feel as if we aren't reaching the parents and families who can impact change in our district.  So I'm back to blogging my thoughts and desires to find other parents within BSD who are seeking more information and a way to impact positive change.  To be a true parent voice at the table that brings some effective, corporate perspective to making a change -- based on a positive attitude, a strong desire to make a difference in not only their own children, but the larger goal of having a school district that impacts all students.  It might have started with my own children, my own school building .... but now I want it to impact so many more.  And I want to do it with other parents who can help create synergy for change that moves our school buildings in leaps and bounds.

We as families may came in many different styles, background, nationalities, personal experiences, etc....but we do all have a common value, wanting our students to reach their own personal best.

Are there others in BSD who want to raise their Parent Voice with me to be a part of a positive change?  What are the results that we can make a reality? How do we find each other and become a stronger Wave of change? 


Monday, August 27, 2012

The Year of Change???

So the school year starts today.  Not sure if my family is quite ready mentally but a variety of items were purchased and packed in the back packs with great anticipation. What will the year be like?  Do we have good teacher(s)? Will the school have a well-organized administration team?  How many changes have happened over the summer?

That last question needs a bit of a look.  The good news is that within the Brandywine School District, it looks like all of our principals are back from last year.  And that is good news because the principal has the task of setting the tone within the building.  And some of our schools within the last few years have had more than their share of changing principals.  And the lack of consistent leadership becomes apparent not only in test scores but also in the atmosphere of the building and with families.  Will communication be stronger this year than last year?  With strong leadership, comes a school environment in which both students and teachers are respected and respect each other.  That’s important to establish in this first week as it sets the tone on academics as being the priority.  And not school being only “social hour” or a “place to get a paycheck”.  It has to work both ways. And a third-way with families being part of the team as well.

Some of our Assistant Principals have changed within school buildings as well as teachers.  These changes may not be as noticeable, but a good “second in command” can complement the workings of any good leader.  A team with a variety of strong leaders, who are not just “yes-men or women”, can challenge and change a school building to reach new heights within the atmosphere of 21st Century educational reform.

And then there are the changes at the District level and state level – in BSD, our Assistant Superintendent, who has been in the education profession for some 30 years, retired at the end of last year.  That alone can have unique changes on the dynamics, direction and personnel of the leadership of the district and what guidance is offered in the “trickle down” philosophy.  Check out the latest Org Chart on the district website page.

And over the summer at the state level, we’ve had the biggest change in leadership, a new Secretary of State, with not a lot of time in an administrative capacity at a district level nor previous state experiences before this new school year has started.  I’m not sure yet if this is good news or bad news as it has happened in the middle of Race-to-the-Top and right before we, hopefully as families, will begin to see some measurable impacts in our school buildings and classrooms based on the previous 2 years of RttT.  (There are only 2 more years before this additional funding runs out.)  Plus there have been some important changes over the summer with a Waiver process around No Child Left Behind implementation that again is a change that can impact our students learning environment and the attitude of the adults in the building.

So those are just some of the new changes to consider as we start the new school year today that'll impact our students even before they step into that new classroom. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

PTA - Beyond Fundraising

What is the current impression of PTA at your school?  Within BSD, every building except 2 high schools have a PTA unit.  And yes, some are more effective than others, yet they represent over 100 years of history, results-driven projects on a local, state and national level and the one parent group that has consistently looked at academics along with overall parent involvement in a school building.

Sidenote:  For those 2 high schools that don't have PTA units, they also don't have an organized group of parents that are focused on academic success of the student body.  Trust me, I've tried to find a parent network to tap within those buildings.  It's a variety of booster clubs focused on extra curricular topics.  So when it comes to discussing SSP (Student Success Plans) or CCSS (Common Core State Standards), I've struggled with finding an inroad.  At all other buildings, the conversation can at least start with the PTA leaders of that school and what is happening across the building.

Beyond fundraising, I believe that PTA can re-identify itself within BSD by being the academic voice for all students and identifying some of the difficult topics within 21st Century educational reform and holding our administration accountable.  PTA is not just fundraising -- yet too many of our units within BSD are only focused on that element.  Has this "turned off" a larger parent presents and limited our opportunities as parents to have a place at the decision-making table? 

Here is what PTAs could do to support 21st Century public education:
  • Work to have their membership match the demographics of its student body: We live in a global society -- from our neighborhoods to our local economies to our national leaders.  Our parent voices at the local level need to acknowledge that as well and work to grow its membership to be more representative. (No more little "niche" leadership teams.)
  • Educate our parents as to the important elements of academic success:  It starts with understanding the Common Core State Standards (which the State PTA has training for) and then it gets into what BSD is doing in the classrooms, with the curriculum, how our teachers are adopting the standards and the vision for STEM for all of our students, and then how assessments really work.
  • Get us the tools from the district/state - and make sure the local buildings use them -- that help us as parents be informed partners in our students' academic success:  There are a variety of tools available to parents from Home Access to Compass Learning to Student Success Plans in the secondary levels that can help us as parent support our student's learning and also understand their progress.  Not only do these tools need to be consistently offered, but we as parents need to know that they exist and how to use them.
  • Identify an issue that a greater body of parents can identify and advocate for:  Whether this is better testing (and dropping DCAS sooner or making sure all parents understand the next test Smarter Balance before it comes online in our schools) OR organizing better overall nutrion and exercise programs in all of our buildings including the status of our playgrounds OR support state legislation around anti-bullying measures and making sure that they are implemented in our school buildings.
But in order for PTA to be effective, it also takes strong and broad leadership across our district.  And those leaders have to attend the training that is consistently being offered by the State PTA, Region resource teams and even nationally.  Next State training is on June 9th for all new PTA leaders just voted into office for the next school year.  Will our parent leaders make it a priority to attend as their local Board representatives?

And as parents, we need to stay connected to the PTA network.  That is not necessarily attending every meeting, but it is making sure the minutes are consistently provided, a consistent treasurer's report is also included monthly out to the entire membership, and that a strong, 2-way communication effort is established that keeps everyone up-to-date on important matters.  That'll help all of our parents stay connected. 

That's what I'd like to see as next steps for our PTAs across the district.  What would you like to see in your PTA leadership?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

As a parent, are you happy with the recent NewsJournal reports?

The week before Spring Break, there were a series of articles in the News Journal about education reform in our state.  I also attended the Thursday night panel discussion at the University of DE that was a part of that series as well.

I'd really like to hear from other parents on this one, as I felt like the articles and the panel discussion were NOTHING NEW.  There was no forward-thinking, aggressive plans for change.  It was just more of the same, only packaged slightly differently, but the content wasn't moving the bar for all students.

And here are a couple of points that really concerned me:

1.)  IF all public schools had the type of parent engagement and support that Charter Schools have .... well, we wouldn't need charter schools because the landscape and results of public schools would be so different and the bar would be set higher for ALL --- not just a select few.

2.) Charter schools cater to the top and/or the bottom.  Either financially, academically or socio-economically, they have a different playing field from public schools.  They don't serve the middle and they don't service a broad spectrum of different student needs and concerns like public schools.  Therefore they are very niche-oriented and thus can develop very specific and measurable results.  Public schools have to serve every student that walks through their doors, regardless!  Comparing charter schools and standard public schools are not apples-to-apples.

3.)  Similar to students, families come in a variety of shapes, sizes and backgrounds.  The examples given by the panel of the parent were specific to Title 1 funding and its requirements.  Again not a clear picture of the full spectrum of what it means to successfully execute "family engagement".  Parents make the difference in "moving the bar higher" as it is typically our passion and our outside perspective that demands more of our administrators, our teachers in the classrooms and the academic curriculum being set.  The internal, educational jargon doesn't move us -- the dynamics of a school building, constant inviting atmosphere of a school and the classrooms along with specific results in our students' school work home, the activities in the school building and the ease of 2-way communication that shows RESULTS are what parents measure.

Many of us who attended the Thursday discussion thought there was going to be more focus on RttT results from the first year and a half.  Nothing of the sort.  RttT wasn't even mentioned nor was the testing assessment "fiasco" that we are currently experiencing.  DCAS for now until the $25 million from RttT runs out and then they are already talking about moving to Smarter Balanced Assessment.  No wonder parents are cynical when it comes to testing assessment of any kind in this state!  How do I know as a parent that my children are getting a proper education??  We're not even sure what our educational leaders are even measuring with their testing and WHY?

We as parents need more direct and basic information from our school buildings and our districts as to what is going on NOW and on-going developments. Families with students in high school can't wait two to four years more for curriculum and testing assessment enhancements to be fully implemented before they "engage" families.  We need to be a part of the conversation at the table NOW while it's being developed.  And those of us who are able to lend more time because we are more financially stable in these rough times, need to find ways to get the parent voice heard for ALL -- loud and strong because I'm not sure if the educational system will be able to do it without us based on these recent news pieces.

So that was my take after a week or so of review....what was yours?  Really like to have a strong discussion here if we can.  So not holding back please.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

2012 Operating Referendum - Passed - Thank you parents!

Thank you to all of the parents and various PTA efforts over the course of this Referendum process and also the many activities in the buildings yesterday.

Late last night, Dr. Holodick confirmed that the 2012 Operating Referendum did pass, which goes to the efforts of the committees and many parent networks.  Thank you!

With its passage, we'll quickly turn to the "heart" of the Board proposal and start looking at planning and implementation efforts that directly impact our students and their learning environments.  Parents and the PTA will continue to play an important role in 21st Century education reform. 

While making our leadership accountable to established goals defined with this referendum, let's see what we can accomplish together with the power of parents.

Thank you to everyone's hard work and let me know what parts of the Board proposal you are most excited to see implemented.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

21st Century Education needs Community Support

Don't forget to VOTE YES for the 2012 Operating Referendum between 10 am and 8 pm TODAY.

Why would anyone in our community want to support this referendum?  Here are a few ideas that come to mind:

* New families moving to our area are looking at 3 basic items when they are relocating to a new area - general level of housing prices vs quality of the homes, the crime rate in the area AND the quality and performance of the local public schools!!  (Which ties back to the quality of the home they are buying.  A strong community supports and monitors strong public schools which attracts strong companies based on a strong basic workforce.)

*  There is something for every student in the referendum proposal!  The majority of the allocation helps to support our existing programs with the remainder helping our efforts to grow and expand in order to support 21st Century education.  (Like greater access to technology through greater broadband to figuring out ways for personal, student devices to be used within our school environments.  Plus the arts and extra-curricular activities are also support -- to name just a few items)

* Our students need our support!  At the end of the day,  they are the ones who will benefit from the strong, positive endorsement by our community and families by voting for this referendum.  They'll see and feel it in their classrooms and in their school environments.

Please get out and vote today!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

So what do parents want out of their public education system?

I attended an annual parent meeting for one of BSD’s innovative programs recently.  It was an informative meeting covering the history of the program, recent developments, current growth of enrollment, ideas on upcoming initiatives where parents could have an opportunity to be involved on a policy level for the program and then of course, information about the upcoming Referendum.

Towards the end of the meeting, a parent provided input that they thought it was a “sneaky” way for the district to talk about the Referendum.  I thought, “Wow, for as smart as this group of parents is perceived to be, that comment demonstrates that some of them just don’t get it!”  How do they think this wonderful program that they are utilizing gets paid for?  How do they think that future progress and continued advanced training is going to be covered to keep this program “cutting edge” like they expect?  Plus our tax dollars that go towards education pale in comparison to what our neighbors in Pennsylvania pay, yet mention of how great their school system in key counties is seems to come up consistently in our district since they’re right next door.
To me there seemed to be such a disconnect.  And I see it all around as public school parents have “checked out” from being an accountable part of the overall process of educational reform.  Yes, there are very dedicated parents out there – especially when it comes to THEIR STUDENT- who are involved with getting information from the school, attending a PTA meeting every once in a while, making sure their student gets their homework done in order to get good grades, supporting school fundraising efforts when they come up, attending any school function when their student is directly involved, yet that doesn’t change education for a 21st Century need.  That just supports the status quo and looks out for “Numero Uno” but it also sets up our system for limited results

Yes, we are all busy and the demands of job and family seem to be greater than ever before, but have we set our priorities.  If we’re not willing to support the bigger educational picture, how can we expect great things and changes in our classrooms that we’re all expecting for our 21st Century children?  There is so much going on in educational reform right now and parents need to be a strong voice in the process. We need to push their comfort zones, we need to provide real-world perspectives and we need to make sure our schools deliver a multicultural, global perspective that provides the overall life skills for our students to be  great contributors of American Leadership.  A country doesn’t remain a global leader by neglecting its educational base.  If you want great leadership at the top and paradigm changing results for society, it takes a team effort and accountability by ALL to set a higher bar for public education.
It takes a complete perspective of all aspects of running a school district from paper and crayons in the Elementary schools to high tech computer labs in the Middle Schools to strategic curriculum development leading to consistent graduation rates in High School.  That takes money, dedicated and talented teachers, multifaceted principals and district leaders with a vision – and it takes parents being informed and taking action at various levels. Reform and fiscal accountability happens when a strong partner sets the tone and follows through in action.  Parents can be the strongest voice in that partnership!

Are you going to take ACTION on March 28th …. and know why you are doing it…