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Parent groups ask LAUSD to improve engagement

Mike Szymanski | April 20, 2016

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Rachel Greene

Rachel Greene

Leaders from major parent groups brought school board members their recommendations for improving parent involvement in LA Unified.

Topping their list is a centralized Parent Advocate office and website for their concerns, they told board members of the Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Committee on Tuesday. Other  recommendations include involving parents in every principal search committee and providing resources and training.

One simple thing for the district to do is apologize to parents. “Apologizing for mistakes is actually evidence-based and reduces litigation,” said Kathy Kantner, a member of the Community Advisory Committee who spoke Tuesday.

School board member Ref Rodriguez, the committee’s chairman, said, “I’m very excited about this report, this is something we’ve been building up to.”

The biggest problem for parents is trying to figure out how to address grievances because there are so many avenues when dealing with the district’s downtown Beaudry headquarters. The various parent groups formed a study group that spanned all of the Local Districts and came up with suggestions, including:

• Establish an Office of the Parent Advocate with a website and telephone helpline that the parents suggest could be funded by the mayor’s office or LA County Office of Education.

• Hire and train administrators to be service leaders who have positive attitudes toward parental involvement in schools.

• Continue working to engage “everyday parents” but acknowledge and appreciate parent leaders, and perhaps designate them as Parent Ambassadors with different-colored volunteer badges.

• Share power in major decision making, budgets and other committees.

• Provide resources and training to parents when they are on campus at new family orientations, open houses and other events.

• Improve the handling of the use of Disruptive Persons Letters which the district gives to parents who create problems on campus and have their access to the school limited.

“We all know there are people who are struggling with mental issues and substance abuse, but too often these DPLs are given because of a power struggle with parents,” said  Kantner.

There were 486 DPLs handed out to parents in the last three years. Some parents get issued such a letter without being able to tell their side of the story, Kantner said.

“Our biggest ask is for the Office of Parent Advocate,” Kantner said. “We are in a position of growth and improvement with the district, by the very fact that we are having this discussion.”

She pointed out, “If I’m a parent and have a problem, it’s really hard to figure out where to go.”

Rachel Greene, of the Parent Advisory Committee, also presented the report.

Juan Jose Mangandi from the District English Learner Advisory Committee said through a translator, “It is time for parents to be critical and see what we lack for our children in education. We must change the attitude of coldness of education by people who see it as a business and not as a mission.”

Some parents mentioned former Superintendent John Deasy as creating some of the problems with parental engagement. “For Deasy engagement was not his strength,” said  Araceli Simeon of Parent Organizing Network. “We saw how he engaged parents, board members … and that had an effect. The leader sets the tone for the rest of the structure.”

Board member Scott Schmerelson said that when he was a principal he felt most problems could be solved at his level, and he resented when parents went over his head. “Most issues can be solved right at the site,” he said.

Kantner said she had once been told to stop calling people at the Beaudry headquarters. “When an issue wasn’t resolved it seems like our concerns were shunted aside,” Kantner said.

Juan Molinez, another parent who spoke during the public comment period, said he is concerned about parental involvement in the district because “especially the low-income families have a lot of outrage.” He said the meetings are not enough. “The voices of other parents are not being heard. Parental involvement is free, and we can help so much more.”

“It is important that the district has done so much to engage with parents, but we have a long way to go,” Rodriguez said. “Only through working together can we get there.”

Rodriguez asked for another report at his next meeting to determine whether to go before the full board for specific actions.

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