1. When the System Fails
As a parent, when our child struggles in school, we often don’t recognize that his or her challenges are part of bigger issues facing the school or the school district. We sometimes blame ourselves, our children, or their teachers.
• Have you ever found yourself uncertain about how to distinguish between a concern or challenge facing your child, and an issue that is the result of a problem with the system?
• What would help you to better understand the difference between a challenge facing your child and a systemic problem?
• How would your actions be different if you understood the problem you are experiencing to be the result of systemic issues with the school or district?
2: Change Takes Time and Requires Trust
Often, the challenges facing our schools and our districts are so huge, and opinions and practices so entrenched that the pace of progress feels slow and the opportunities for long-term change feel bleak. In this section, organizer James Mumm discusses the importance of being able to see growth towards desired goals, even if initially things seem to have fallen short. Both Mumm and Leadership Institute Principal Marta Colon speak to the need to develop relationships of trust and partnership as groups build power and create positive change.
• How has their relationship with a community-organizing group enabled parents and students in the Bronx to create positive change in the district and to form a partnership with the school?
• How would your local school be transformed by such a partnership?
3: Creating Schools Where Parents Feel Welcome
In 2005, Boston Public Schools, responding to the organizing work of the Boston Parent Organizing Project, created a pilot program to establish family and community liaisons in 15 schools. In this section, parent Jurett Weathers and school and district staff share their views on the critical role coordinators play in supporting parents and building their capacity to support their children and partner with the school.
• Do you feel welcome and supported at your child’s school?
• How would the presence of a family and community engagement coordinator, such as those hired in Boston, change the way you interact with staff at your child’s school?
• What characteristics would you want to see in a family and community engagement coordinator? What should their primary responsibilities be?
What’s Next? Taking Action
Identify a number of specific, shared problems in your school / district. Select one or two to work on in this session. Break into small groups to discuss potential solutions to the identified problem, and bring back to larger group. Before concluding the meeting, outline concrete next steps you can take — individually, and/or as a group until the next time you meet. Following meetings should review progress and plan next steps in reaching goal on one issue. Problems identified in first step can be re-visited as progress is made.