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.
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.
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.