Citywide parent group has a new leader and new support from the District
by Sheila Simmons
Greg Wade has been an active Home and School Association member since his wife “dragged” him to a meeting when their sons, now 14 and 15, were students at Greenberg Elementary in Northeast Philadelphia.
The fall of 2006 brought an even bigger role for him. With the long-time leadership of the citywide organization departing, Wade rose from a regional officer to become president of the citywide Philadelphia Home and School Council. In the unpaid position, Wade puts in five days a week.
The School District has upped its support. For years, the District has provided Home and School with an office and part-time secretarial staff and covered some basic office expenses, but this year for the first time the District has allocated $100,000 for the organization's administrative, outreach, and educational expenses, and has upgraded the secretarial position to full-time.
The Home and School office at the School District can be reached at 215-400-4080.
What's your background?
I'm retired from the garment industry. I worked designs for organizations like Calvin Klein and Christian Dior. I used to design wedding gowns.
What are your priorities for Home and School?
For parents to realize they can make a difference if they get involved.
It's an organization that gets politically involved and into things going on in the school. We went into a school this summer. Shallcross used to be one of the privately managed schools. It is only supposed to be open one year – it's where they're putting kids who were bussed to Rush [now closed]. It was a mess. There was no phone. Railings were coming off. We went in there in July, and we were like, “You kidding me?” I fired off an email to Paul [Vallas] and said, “You need to go out there. And when you do, I want you to answer this question, 'Would you send your child to this school?'” The answer was no. And in six weeks the school was in such good condition people asked if they could keep it open.
There's a change of attitude [between Home and School and school administrations], and I think the change is working.... The attitude is not adversarial. We're both in this for the same reason.... We don't just go in and complain, but go in with some solutions. Paul doesn't always accept them, but at least we get the conversation started.
Another one of my main goals is to get fathers involved.
What should a good Home and School be doing?
They should be supporting the school and making sure that they are working hand in hand with the principal, with the school climate control team, with school management – just making sure things are going right and kids are getting the best education they can possibly get out of that school.
Regarding the goal of getting 100 percent of schools to create active Home and School Associations, how do you achieve that?
The Declaration of Education gives us until 2008; we're hoping to reach it by the end of this year. We're very close – 194 out of 279 schools, not including some recent members.
We're promoting [Home and School] a lot more. We go into schools and talk to parents and explain what Home and School is also about. We also try to make it more fun. It used to be a lot of long, boring meetings. We try to keep upbeat. We've provided entertainment like the GAMP choir. Our first meeting was at Dave & Buster's.
What's your standard for an “active” Home and School Association?
They're involved in the school. They've paid dues. They've had elections. It doesn't mean they have to come downtown to all our meetings. [We have a general membership meeting once a month], but they are up and running in their schools.
What advice or direction do you offer to the Home and School Associations at schools?
I tell them to try to work with the principal. The principal does have final say in what goes on. Show them you're not there as a troublemaker.... Tell them you're in this to make a difference for the kids.
You stress how Home and School is about more than fundraising. What are some of the other activities of the Home and School councils?
We try to teach them what it's about to advocate in the system. We teach them about Title I (and its allowance of 1 percent for parent involvement). We've had budget trainings there, where [District officials] give parents their school budgets and actually help them figure it out. That way, they can see what principals are up against.
What are some of the obstacles to getting more parental involvement?
It really is hard, because we have so many single-family homes, and parents (who must struggle to attend). Even when there are two parents, both of them often usually have to work.
Unfortunately, in the School District, as a parent you don't always feel welcome. That's an obstacle. I can walk into Paul Vallas's office, but sometimes I feel uncomfortable in some principals' offices.
Is there anything else you would like parents and schools to know?
We're here. We're accessible, and hopefully, parents will realize that and can work together to make sure the schools are the best they can be.