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Commentary: Report on parent engagement meeting showed heat but not the light

Guest contributor | February 8, 2016

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Kathy Kantner at the Feb. 2 meeting of the LA Unified school board’s Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Subcommittee.

By Kathy Kantner, Rachel Greene and Juan Jose Mangandi

Readers of LA School Report’s coverage of the Feb. 2 meeting of the Board of Education’s Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Subcommittee can be forgiven if they only perceived the heat in the boardroom but not the light. It would be unfortunate, however, if LA School Report’s overly dim view of the state of parent engagement in the district was the last word on the subject.

In fact, we, the parents who chair the district’s central advisory committees, feel a budding optimism about parent engagement efforts within LAUSD. Now more than ever, LAUSD realizes that to increase enrollment in our schools, staff must commit to creating welcoming environments and truly partner with parents in word and deed. We believe a cultural shift is taking place.

For starters, the chair of the ECE/PE, Dr. Ref Rodriguez, asked us to present on the challenges and opportunities experienced by our committee members. This is the first time, to our knowledge, parents have been offered such a chance. Dr. Rodriguez invited us back to present recommendations for improvements at an upcoming meeting. We will certainly take him up on this.

Yes, LAUSD has bungled parent engagement previously. Many members of our central committees have psychic bruises to show for it, and valid complaints. The incident(s) where parents were removed by an officer from a central committee meeting happened in the past. Previous dysfunction and acrimony on parent committees have been covered in the media, including by LA School Report (see here, here and here). We mentioned this in our report to the subcommittee to start the conversation about how to improve our parent committees. Constructive criticism can be productive. Can we please move on and turn our attention to what can be done here and now to drive improvements?

Positive trends have been noted this year:

  • Our new superintendent mentioned partnering with parents as one of her key leadership priorities.
  • Rowena Lagrosa, chief executive officer of Parent, Community Student Services noted during a recent presentation that LAUSD has hired Dr. Joyce Epstein, of Johns Hopkins University, an expert in parent engagement best practices, to help 27 schools develop activities that will improve family engagement efforts.
  • We are hoping for a smooth rollout of the new PASSPORT system, which, if implemented as intended, would start to improve communication between families and schools and would also introduce a centralized way to enroll in LAUSD’s magnet, SAS, school of choice and other programs.

If we believed our participation on central committees was pointless, we wouldn’t bother to show up. If parents act acrimoniously they will not be offered meaningful ways to contribute. Engagement is a two-way street. The conversation in the boardroom last Tuesday could promote the following future developments:

Providing child care for committee members with young children, or reimbursement, to increase participation.

Collaborating with members for more representative committee structures.

Receiving our recommendations for how LAUSD can handle complaints at school sites with greater responsiveness to parent concerns.

We will explore strategies to ensure that our committees attract a diverse membership and that changes result in a better experience for all members.

Parents who are considering enrolling their children in an LAUSD school should feel assured that exciting new programs and a continued focus on how to better meet the needs of students are driving positive changes in the district. Furthermore, the dedicated, passionate, knowledgeable parent leaders on central committees will continue to advocate on behalf of all students. We hope LA School Report will report on our progress.

*The views expressed herein reflect the opinions of the three authors and not the views of the membership of the respective committees cited above.

Kathy Kantner is chair of the Community Advisory Committee. Rachel Greene is chair of the Parent Advisory Committee. Juan Jose Mangandi is chair of the District English Learners Advisory Committee.

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