In an effort to strengthen the relationship between parents and the schools, the School District has set up programs to increase parental involvement in their children's education and school.
The School District's Office of Family Engagement and Language Equity Services (OFELES) has put forth a number of programs to give parents tools they need to help students flourish in school. Below is an outline of initiatives that support parents as they navigate through the School District.
Parent Volunteers Program
To increase parental presence in schools, the District launched the Parent Volunteers Program (PVP) in January, funded by a $1.7 million Parent Involvement Program grant from the state. A grant renewal allowed the program to continue this year.
The key components of the initiative are Parent Welcome Desks and Parent Patrols. Parent Welcome Desks, formerly called Parent Assistance Desks, involve parents in welcoming guests to schools, distributing information from the District and other agencies, and serving as resources to parents. The School District aims to have a Parent Welcome Desk operating in every school this year.
Parent Patrols bring parents and caregivers in to help monitor areas in and adjacent to schools.
The program has been administered and parent recruitment and trainings conducted through a number of community-based organizations, the largest part being managed by Communities in Schools of Philadelphia.
Some 500 parent volunteers have already been trained and given $250 to $350 stipends. Parents and caregivers volunteer between seven to 10 hours a week over a 10-week period.
Home and School Associations
When the School Reform Commission adopted its Declaration of Education and 2008 goals, one commitment was that “100 percent of schools will have a Home and School Association or School Council.”
Currently, the District is at about 70 percent of that goal of having these school-based, parent-led organizations all across the District. According to Philadelphia Home and School Council President Greg Wade, there are now 194 associations.
The School District has recently boosted its support of the citywide Home and School Council (see “Citywide parent group has a new leader and new support from the District”).
Of late, there has been less District focus on School Councils, created at many schools in the 1990s as a site-based decision-making body. Councils are composed of various numbers of parents, teachers, other school staff, the principal – and sometimes a community representative – with District personnel constituting a majority.
Home and School Association members often sit on the School Council and help to organize and monitor elections for School Council members.
“At present, there is a bit of a debate as to the number and quality of School Councils in operation,” acknowledged Jim Scott, the District's director of community relations and faith-based initiatives, who just recently assumed the responsibility for parent programs in the District. He said he hopes to have a better idea of how many functioning School Councils there are by early 2007.
Scott said his office plans to review the role of School Councils with representatives of the Home and School Council and the Parent Leadership Academy.
Title I District-wide Parent Advisory Committee (PAC)
Title I PAC is composed of representatives of the Philadelphia Home and School Council, Parent Leadership Academy and the Archdiocesan parochial schools.
“The Title I PAC advises the District on its implementation of the parent involvement regulations in the No Child Left Behind law,” said Mary Yee, director of OFELES, of the group that meets monthly.
Yee notes that their recent focus has not only been to enlarge and diversify their membership, but “on how to increase parent participation in school improvement planning,” as required by NCLB.
Parent Education Classes
Multilingual parenting workshops are offered in 12 schools and have served over 250 parents whose first language is not English.
Workshops have addressed issues such as discipline, homework, communications within the family, and resilience. The workshops are given in English and then interpreted into Spanish, Khmer, Vietnamese, and Chinese by a bilingual staff member.
These workshops are directed towards non-English speaking parents and usually hosted in the morning at their child's school.
Attendance for these workshops can range anywhere from six attendees to 32 attendees. District officials say the response has been favorable.
Getting and keeping parents and community involved in the schools is the everyday job of Community Builders. As employees of OFELES, they work to connect administrative staff with the realities of the schools.
“The number one goal, overall, is to develop community support for education,” says Glenn McCurdy, community builder for the East Regional Office.
McCurdy looks at his position as a Community Builder as helping parents reconnect with what's happening in the schools, whether that's providing educational materials at the Parent Welcome Desk or answering questions from the parents.
Bora M. Harrell, community builder for the Northwest Regional Office describes herself as a “liaison between the community, school, and faith organizations,” and draws on her prior experience as a Home and School Council officer to help get parents involved.
Parent Leadership Academy
Offering classes and activities that develop parent leadership and advocacy and increase parent empowerment is the aim of the Parent Leadership Academy (see “Academy offers classes, events at three sites”).
The School District introduced FamilyNet last spring, to provide parents with access to data via the Internet concerning their student's school progress. There are almost 10,000 parents now registered on FamilyNet – still less than 10 percent of District families.
FamilyNet is accessible online to parents who provide a valid email address and their child's student identification number, which appears on report cards and on the “Parent Location Card.”
Presentations in schools provide parents with information on how to use FamilyNet. So far, about 50 workshops have been held in the schools.
On FamilyNet, parents can access a student's entire academic history, including report cards, scores and analysis for both benchmark and standardized tests, and other academic resources.
The District offers parents the chance to receive discount computers. According to Family Technology Manager Jay Cohen, about 2,000 families have purchased computers through the three computer refurbishers that are working with the District.
Parent Truant Officers
In an effort to raise attendance at schools via parent involvement, School Reform Commission CEO Paul Vallas set up the Attendance and Truancy Intervention and Prevention Support (ATIPS) system in 2002 in 220 schools, hiring parents to fill 260 Parent Truant Officer (PTO) positions to help keep children in school.
PTOs are hired by community-based organizations. But over the past four years, funding for this program has decreased, leaving only 82 schools and 86 parent officers in the program last school year. The program received even less funding this school year.
But now that will change. Mayor John F. Street, noting that there's a big problem when there are 32,000 students absent a day, has committed $3 million in city funding to increase the number of Parent Truant Officers to 500.
Street said, “Children must go to school. Making children go to school needs to be top [priority].”
A District study found that of the schools with consistent enrollment in ATIPS, there has been an 11 percent decrease in the number of illegal absences. However, schools without ATIPS or inconsistent ATIPS service have experienced a significant increase in illegal absences.