Sunday, June 24, 2012

Parent Involvement and District 150 - a little history

Parent involvement - Hinton Administration
When I first joined District 150's Parental Involvement Committee, I was appointed by then school board member, Rachael Parker. The Committee worked directly with Cindy Fischer, Assistant Superintendent; J.B. Culbertson, Title 1 Administrator; and Sandra Burke, the District Parent Liaison as we worked on matters of  the Board and Administrative Policy.

It seemed that everyone on the Committee took the appointment quite seriously, as the State had cited Peoria Public School District #150 had insufficient parental involvement. The Committee was very diverse, at least four parents (Richwoods, Hines, Glen Oak, Manual) were on the Committee; there was a representative parent from private schools; and there were the necessary District Administrators who were charged with answering our questions and advising on procedure. The Committee was set up pursuant to Board Policy 8:96.

Training parents to be knowledgeable 
The parent involvement model that J.B. enthusiastically trained us on was based on a workbook entitled "School, Family, and Community Partnerships," by Joyce Epstein. Sandra Burke, did a wonderful job of getting all District schools up and running with the Parental Advisory Committees, just as laid out by the Epstein handbook. Parents, teachers and administrators were meeting regularly (Sandra Burke was available for groups when necessary) to make the goal of completing the plans for inclusion in the school's SIP. A lot of groundwork was laid in the first two years of our Committee and Sandra had built many bridges into the community, as we began to envision how we could utilize our Community Schools.

District wide parent involvement
The parents from each school's Parent Advisory Committee came together every semester like clock work at Valeksa Hinton. We felt safe to offer input, ask questions particular to our schools, and most importantly, we felt empowered as we learned from each other what was working in our schools.

Parent University
The first Parent University, which was very enthusiastically brought to our District by Martha Ross (who had visited several PUs in other cities) was held at the Civic Center. It was held during the time when parents had to come in and register for school. Sessions were based around getting parents ready for the school year. At the completion of each session, the parent's card was stamped. At the end of all sessions, the parents received a book bag with back to school supplies for their student and a survey that they turned in before they left.

The surveys were distributed to see what types of classes parents wanted to see and they were questioned on whether Parent University was something they would like to continue. The feedback was outstanding, as we received a lot of good information that we took back to Committee to prepare for the next year. We felt like we were making headway and really looked forward to the next year. Little did we know, that the following year would be the last for Hinton, Fischer, Culbertson and Burke.

Parent involvement - Lathan Administration
Today, the Parent Involvement Committee is but a shell of what it once was. We have lost momentum at the time when our students need us the most. The Committe has lost some parents who were really looking forward to helping make a difference. At the present, I am the only parent/person on the Committee who is not a part to the District bureaucracy - the only constant parent volunteer since the Hinton Administration.

For the last two years, we have been capitulating on the cell phone/discipline policy and the dress code. It is difficult to move forward without the necessary folks from Administration to assist. While the Hinton Administration Title 1 Administrator attended every meeting and shared her expertise, the current Title 1 Administrator (LaToy Kennedy) is not accessible to the Committee. There has been little to no input from the current District Parent Liaison (York Powers) on what the current parent advisory groups are doing, or even if they exist. Groups no longer meet at specific intervals to discuss issues of importance to parents and as a result, parents voices have been diminished.

The Committee wasn't advised that the hubs for where the Parent Universities would be held had been changed; we didn't know that Carl Cannon would be brought in to institute the dress code; we didn't know that speakers were being brought in for the Parent University; nor were we advised of the dates of the Parent Universities until after the fact. Keep in mind, that 2 -3 School Board members sit on this Committee at all times, with Martha Ross as the Chair.

In my opinion, the District's parental involvement out reach plateaued the last year of the Hinton Administration. The gains that were made, are all but lost and parent involvement in District 150 schools is the worse that I have seen in the last six years and is need of vast improvement.

Many would like to blame parents for their lack of involvement, however, I offer you this... about two years ago, District 150 had a group of parents engaged and ready to do whatever they were called upon to do. They were meeting regularly in their schools and every semester at Valeska Hinton and they were working hard to learn about going back to their schools and growing parental involvement.

The Joyce Epstein Model
One of the parent involvement models widely used by researchers and practitioners is that of Joyce Epstein (1987, 1995). The model divides parent involvement into six typologies:

1) The first type of involvement is parenting. Here schools help parents to establish home environments that are conducive to their student's life.

2) The second type of involvement is communication. Schools are strongly encouraged to design and implement effective school-home, home-school communication practices about school programs and children's progress.

3) Third, parents can be recruited as volunteers in school activities. Epstein calls this type of involvement volunteering.

4) In addition, schools can ask parents to help their children with their homework in parent involvement type four of learning at home.

5) Fifth, schools should include parents in schools decision making.

6) Parent involvement type six is collaboration with the community where schools identify and integrate community resources to strengthen school programs, family practices and student learning and development.

The second typology-communication permeates other typologies like volunteering, parent contribution in decision making and school collaboration with the community.

Schools need to make parents aware and welcome for them to be able to make the decision to be involved. This awareness can only be created through communication and the open sharing of information. It is imperative therefore that teachers and school managers invest in improving their communication skills and practices if they hope to involve parents and inevitably improve performance.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Before we start blaming parents - let's make sure that the District is doing what they are required to do to include them...

Board Policy 8:96 Community Relations - Parental Involvement adopted Aug 18, 2008
In order to insure collaborative relationships between students' families and the Board of Education and District personnel, and to enable parent(s)/guardian(s) to become active partners in education, the Superintendent shall develop administrative procedures to:

1. Keep parent(s)/guardian(s) thoroughly informed about their child's school and education (09/18/08) School Board Proceedings 45

2. Encourage involvement in their child's school and education.

3. Establish effective two-way communication between all families and Board of Education and District personnel.

4. Seek input from parent(s)/guardian(s) on significant school-related issues.

5. Inform parents/guardians on how they can assist their children's learning.

6. Train district staff to work with and accept input from diverse groups of parents/guardians. The superintendent shall periodically report to the Board on the implementation of this policy.

District Parent Involvement
1. District 150's district plan, its parental involvement policies and the district's process for reviewing its district plan must all be jointly developed by and agreed upon with the parents of the district's participating children, including parents of participating children enrolled in private schools.

2. The District will inform all Administrators, staff and parents of District 150's Parent Involvement Policy, changes to that policy and opportunities to participate in the eduction of children.

3. District 150 must submit any parental comments with the District's plan when it is submitted to the State if the plan is not satisfactory to the parents of participating children.

4. District 150 shall establish a District Parental Involvement Committee comprised of representatives for all District programs, including preschool, along with representatives from groups such as Even Start and Head Start. This committee shall meet at least one time per semester.

5. Each District 150 school Principal shall establish a parental advisory committee consisting of parents, teachers, staff and administrators. This committee shall be involved in decisions regarding how the District uses funds to increase parental involvement.

6. Each District 150 school shall develop a plan for building strong parental involvement programs. This plan shall be included with the school's overall SIP plan.

7. Each District 150 school will actively promote appropriate professional development programs for teachers,parents,pupil services personnel, administrators, and other staff in order to raise the academic standards and performance of the students.

8. The District 150 administration will provide technical assistance and materials to the schools as they support district parents to help promote learning at home.

9. Each District 150 school shall require parents of participating children to provide necessary feedback and suggestions for planning, developing and implementing effective programs. The responsibilities of the school and parents as partners in education will be outlined in a signed school/parent compact.

10. The District 150 administration will provide regularly scheduled conferences for teachers to communicate actively with parents and actively involve the parents in the school curriculum.

11. The District 150 administration will coordinate the district program and collaborate with other agencies providing services to children, youth and families including health and social services.

12. The District 150 staff will provide services to eligible children in private schools and hold timely and meaningful consultations with private school officials and the parents of participating schools.

13. The District 150 administration will be responsible for verifying that the district carries out parental involvement requirements as mandated by law.

14. District 150 Schools will annually measure the progress that students are making towards meeting State student performance standards through the use of high quality student assessments and report the information to parents, students and teachers.

15. The District 150 Parent Involvement Advisory Committee will annually evaluate the effectiveness of the district's parental involvement policy.

16. The District 150 administration will use the evaluation findings in designing strategies for school improvement and in existing parental involvement policies at the District and school levels.

CROSS REF: 6.250 (Community Resource Persons and Volunteers), 8.90 (Parent Organisations) ADOPTED: August 18, 2008 On roll call, 6 ayes. Motion carried.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Four more years of Us vs. Them? For the sake of the children in this District, I hope not...

"Meet me half-way, but don't use hate to criticize. 
If you're going to criticize be constructive about it, but don't use hate to do that."

I don't think it's a stretch to say that many teachers and members of the Peoria community are saddened by the fact that last night, the Board  of Education (BOE), extended the contract for Superintendent Grenita Lathan for four (4) more years.

I'm thinking that this BOE must be privy to some pretty interesting data about progress, if they made this decision. You people in comments who keep talking about not making AYP, this move by the BOE would indicate that we will be seeing improvement (because we know they already have preliminary scores).


Citizens should be able to expect that the BOE reviewed their employee and acted in the best interest of their constituents when making this decision.

It sometimes seems as though the BOE and Administration is caught up in a bubble (or some may say ivory tower), the Us vs. Them bubble and as a result, doing what's best for the children gets lost. I know people (especially on blogs), say mean things about them, but that kind of goes along with the territory of being a change agent, doesn't it? They just seem to be a little too busy being defiant, you can see it on their faces and in their posture.


Surely they know that every citizen in Peoria is not against them, but that doesn't stop them from constantly using fighting words and double entendres to hit at certain people, every single time the camera is in their face. It's just not nice, it's not good customer service and for the money we are paying, we deserve better.


We have seen in the Ungurait deposition allegations of the mean spirit that permeates through the District. When the Superintendent gets awarded a very nice contract, (thanks to the taxes of citizens of Peoria) did she step up and smile and say anything nice? No, she didn't; instead she came across very defiant, almost (dare I say), angry. I really expected better. It's past time to rise above the drama - that interview could have been a new start. Unfortunately, it seemed like a promise of more of the same (with just a hint of...  or, you can kiss my ***).


The Superintendent says that she would like to receive constructive criticism that is not riddled with hate, that's a reasonable request. I hope that in reviewing her, extending her contract and then giving her a raise, that her employers (the BOE) asked her to at least give her employees and citizens of this community the same respect.


However, judging from the most recent television interview, I doubt that discussing the issue of civility with the Superintendent was a part of the BOE's decision.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

This is an open letter to the D150 Board of Education.

TEACHER said...

I am an elementary teacher at an "inner city" school. I have had 22 students come and go during this past school year. I started with 23, ended with 18, and had only 12 of my original students from the beginning of the year. The teachers were told at the beginning of the year that we would receive a "guide" for teaching reading/language arts. This guide was, in a word ridiculous. Trying to "follow" it was like Hansel and Gretel dropping bread crumbs.

I do hold a Master's Degree in Reading and truly couldn't believe this MESS that I was handed. So, I decided to do what was best for my students. I taught Open Court (with fidelity) and Michael Haggerty(daily). My students learned life-long reading strategies and all left my classroom as readers, able to decode most words.

Now, I have a peer who taught at another D150 school. She felt she had to teach the MESS that was handed to her by the district. Having taught with her, I know how hard she works with her students and does not take her responsibility to her students lightly.

She lamented the last week of school to me that almost half of her students could not read, their decoding skills were almost nonexistent, and there were several strategies, ie, letter sounds, that were not even included in the "curriculum" that was to be taught. She said this was by far the worst year she has ever taught, feeling that she had failed her students, yet did what Dr. Lathan et al. told her to do.

I spoke with a past school board member recently who told me that during the interview process Dr. Lathan said she thought Open Court was an excellent reading program. This board member was SHOCKED that Dr. Lathan would take it away considering how she thought it was wonderful that regardless of what school a child was transferred to, they would be teaching the same thing.

So, you see, what you all have been told and what is really happening is different. Our Science curriculum was only 3 years old, the spines on the books barely cracked, when Dr. Lathan thought it a high priority to replace it. At this point, as teachers, we do not know what to use for reading/language arts. The people Dr. Lathan brought with her don't seem to have much of a clue either.

Before you approve her contract for 4 more years, please wait for ISAT, PSAE scores to come out. I believe they ALL are lower than EVER before. So, to extend her contract, give her a bonus, and continue to allow her to BULLY the employees of this district, WAIT. Please wait until next Spring, which would be a logical solution (my thoughts are that no school district is going to be fighting over her).

Thank you for listening. As you know, I am fearful of retaliation so I will just sign myself as....TEACHER.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Controversy over the origin of the District 150 Reading Buddies Program

From today's comments:
"There seems to be a minunderstanding regarding the "Reading Buddies" program! Dr. Lathan did not create that program. I did. 
I created that program as a reading coach at Blaine Sumner. I wrote the grant to receive the necessary books and materials. Mr. Lobdell (principal) permitted me to clean out an old storage place. My husband and several students helped me wash walls, scrub floors, create bulletin boards, and find furniture to create a "Reading Buddy" reading lab (named by the students who helped me). I then did an analysis of ISAT data over a 2 year period and set up a schedule for students to be tutored throughout the school day.  
Once I had students in place I set up a schedule of when pulling could take place. The first item on the agenda was to find tutors. That is where Jim Stowell came into the picture. He too claimed the program for political gain. He was a part of the church group that helped Blaine Sumner with special activites. He took MY program to his church and requested volunteers. That is when Mrs. Hoerr jumped into the role of volunteer gathering.  
It was Mrs. Hoerr that gathered about 25 tutors and we were off and running. I spent an entire day training the tutors and setting up a schedule for the tutoring to fit the tutors schdeules, and tutoring started a week later. Thank goodness for the grant because it funded all the leveled libraries and materials necessary for tutoring to be fruitful.  
The program was so successful that when Blaine closed it was transferred to Trewyn. That is when I saw Jim Stowell taking credit for creating the program (on the front page of the PJ star)and now I have to see it again? I told my husband enough. Now I am speaking out. Dr. Lathan>  
That program was created by me and approved by Felix Lobdell and named by my students! The grant I wrote provided me the ability to make it work. This is just an example of why there is a conflict between Administration and teachers. When teachers do something does something that is successful the Adminstration does not recognize it. 
I recognize that it's my job to make Adminstration and the students of the district succeed, but I find it troubling and unprofessional for someone to take credit for my hard work." Sharon Dodds 
District 150 Introducing "Reading Buddies" to Third Graders
District 150 and the Heartland Foundation/CEO Roundtable — a regional business leadership organization consisting of 40-45 CEOs that was designed to lead the charge to advance major projects in the greater Peoria area — recently launched the Third Grade Reading Buddies program that allows business leaders in the region to tutor third grade students in the district who need help developing their reading skills.

In April, at the request of District 150 Superintendent Grenita Lathan, the Heartland Foundation/CEO Roundtable agreed to recruit business leaders in the region who could volunteer their services for the program.

“Dr. Lathan’s goal was to get all the third graders reading at grade level,” said Roberta Parks, the president of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and a volunteer in the Third Grade Reading Buddies program. “As Dr. Lathan reminded us, up to third grade, you learn to read, and after third grade, you read to learn.”

click on image to enlarge
“This is of importance and interest to the business community because District 150 is our largest school district in the region, so logic just tells you that these are our future employees,” said Parks. “So we want to make sure that the students who are going through the schools are being as successful as they can while they’re in school because that will make them better future employees for all of our companies.”

Currently, each member of a team spends about an hour every month tutoring three students. Every Monday, while school is in session, a member of a team will spend about 15-20 minutes tutoring each of the three students that were assigned to their team at the primary school that those students attend. “We spend about 15-20 minutes with each child (every week),” said Parks. “So you work with three kids during your 45-minute-to-an-hour time period with them. So there’s one team member there working the same kids, one day each week.” During their 15-20 minute sessions, volunteers teach students how to read with phonics, according to the methods outlined in the book “Teach Your Child How To Read in 100 Easy Lessons.”

“All the ‘Reading Buddies’ are reading a book with the title ‘Teach Your Child How To Read in 100 Easy Lessons,’” said Parks. “It’s a book that’s been around for some time. It’s based on phonics. It’s a very structured program. It’s actually not a difficult program for volunteers to learn.”

Parks is optimistic that Third Grad Reading Buddies will become an annual program. “Obviously, we will do some evaluation of it at the end of the school year, but my assumption is we will do this again next year and hopefully get more people (to volunteer),” said Parks. Source