This weekend’s FROM WALLINGFORD is written by my counterpart on the column Steve Knight – former Wallingford Town Councilor.
Published online Wednesday November 25, 2009 for publication in The Record Journal on Sunday November 29, 2009
Kudos to Wallingford School Superintendent Sal Menzo and the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce for their creative program reaching out to human resource managers of local companies to discuss parent-teacher conferences and how they can help. Last Monday’s Record-Journal editorial highlighted this event, but it also goes on to say that it is understandable that parents have difficulty making time for these conferences because "people work multiple jobs and juggle complicated schedules today."
School boards and school administrators hear this lament constantly. Here are three suggestions on dealing with it: 1) change the culture of excuse-making for parents; 2) change the parent-teacher conference schedule and 3) use the modern electronic communication tools available.
1) Change the culture: As a society, we have got to end the pity party we are throwing for today’s parents. Being busy is nothing new in American society. What is new is our willingness to excuse poor parenting because of it, especially concerning involvement in their children’s education. Why are we doing this? Over-whelming evidence points to the direct relationship between a child’s academic success and their parent’s involvement, yet school systems are reluctant to demand any significant involvement. I’m not talking inviting parents to participate as if it were an option. I’m saying demanding involvement. Stop accepting excuses for poor parenting.
Quick example: one of my daughters graduated from Hamden High School where they have a three-track sys-tem. On open house nights at the school, parents were invited to attend. In top tier classrooms it was standing room only. In the middle track, the room was half full. Bottom track? Rooms practically empty.
Hello? Anyone home? Do we as a society not see the problem? And how are we addressing it? By figuratively patting parents on the head saying "There, there, we understand. You’re so busy." Hogwash.
2) Change the parent-teacher conference schedule: Okay, having said all that about changing the culture, I will say that the school system does have to close off the "I can’t make it ’cause I’m working" alibi. Here’s my suggestion: Cut two days off of the end of the school year (eliminating two days of movies and field trips) and schedule two Saturdays for teacher-parent conferences in addition to the evening sessions already in place.
Unrealistic because of union contracts? Not if we have serious educators in our school system. Additional expense? Some. Payback if we close the door on one major excuse for nonparticipation? Priceless.
3) Use modern communication tools to interact with parents: A lot of this is already being done by teachers, much to their credit. We can go much further. If Sarah Palin can reach tens of millions of people on Facebook, why can’t our teachers reach parents the same way? A well-developed Facebook page maintained by each teacher would enable parents to keep up with what is being taught to their children and the various activities they are involved in, and it would enable them to actually be part of the class. I’m relatively Internet-illiterate and can barely use a cell phone, but even I can see the huge potential benefits to using these interactive tools.
Now I have friends who are, or were, teachers, and I can see them rolling their eyes as they read this column. No, I don’t know all of the reasons that it might be hard to implement these suggestions, and everyone has their hands full already. But what I do know that for far too long we have been pointing the finger at "failing schools" because it is politically incorrect to hold "failing parents" to account.
Wallingford has every component of an excellent school system: adequate resources, up to date infrastructure, dedicated teachers, administrators and Board members, and a new superintendent with a wealth of energy and ideas. The table is set. The students are there. Now we need to insist that every single parent pull up a chair.