Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The District's dismal Reading scores are inexcusable

I have been a “reading buddy” in District 150 schools for at least five of the last seven years. Nobody taught me how to do it; it wasn’t part of any coordinated effort. I talked to a teacher about her needs, signed up with the Principal, and sat down and started wherever the child indicated they needed to start.

While all of the AYP news is disappointing, I am most disappointed to see that Reading scores have gone down. I was hopeful that the Reading Buddy Program, which Grenita Lathan rolled out would make real impact. One would have expected the reading scores at the very least to stagnate – not go down.

Most astounding are the scores at Calvin Coolidge Middle School. Coolidge made AYP two years in a row prior to the 2011-12 school years. School officials have attributed the decline in Coolidge's reading scores, to an influx of students from Columbia Middle School (which closed in 2011 and re-opened in 2012 as Quest Charter Academy).

Reading Buddies is a volunteer program; it has nothing to do with what is happening with the District’s budget. How could such a program, with such a huge group of trained, ready and willing community volunteers, NOT be successful? How will the Reading Buddy Program address the continuing drop in reading scores going forward? Hopefully, volunteers won't be discouraged by the scores. From the District's website:
Volunteer "Reading Buddies" Excited to Work With Students
Following approximately one month of various training dates, more than 350 volunteers from throughout the Peoria community and local businesses completed a two-hour training session on the District's reading curriculum and working with students on phonics-based reading instruction.

Following the orientations at each school, each volunteer will work with three students assigned to that volunteer's group of five once a week, allowing each volunteer to make a commitment of only one day per month.

“As a supplemental instructional strategy, each volunteer group is meeting with three students over the course of one hour (20 minutes with each student) a week,” said Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan. “I believe this community investment will pay off significantly not only in increasing student achievement, but showing our students that our community supports education and each student's future.”

With the help of the CEO Roundtable, the District set out to find 500 adults to work with 300 students in the District. Students are chosen based on classroom and school assessments given throughout the school year.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Reading Buddies for students-Parent Mentors for parents

Parent-to-parent mentoring programs in the Rio Grande Valley are helping parents play a more meaningful role in their children's education. Developed by The University of Texas, the programs are based on the concept of parents helping other parents play a proactive role in ensuring that their children get the most out of their education.

Many parents who comment on this blog, have attested to having times when they or another parent they have contact with have been befuddled by what to do when it comes to dealing with matters of their child’s education.

In just the past two months, I have had three (3) parents whose children have Individual Education Plans (IEPs) reach out to me, in hopes of finding answers. When they went to the school, the answers they got were reactionary and in all cases invited more questions that parent didn’t feel equipped to ask.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of parents with students who have IEPs are uninformed as to exactly what the IEP means to their student’s future. In almost all cases, it will mean that their child will be able to graduate with sub-par reading, writing and arithmetic skills. The student begins to see what it means to their future, as they begin to become angry at teachers and suffer from feelings of being less and feel ashamed. As a result, they may begin to act out.

From Peoria Story regarding class size.
For the 2011 school year, 21% of students in District 150 had an IEP, which is actually a legal contract between the parent and the school. IEPs, that teachers through no fault of their own, simply do not have the time to review, implement, or update until required to do so. Consider the size of the class, factor in the number of IEPs and the fact that the teachers don't get a chance to review the IEPs before the class is fully stocked, it's an equation for disruption.

In some school districts, they have Parent Mentors that are specifically for students who have IEPs. The majority of parents in the inner city are not so fortunate as to have a parent who participated in the PTO, or who may be savvy in dealing with schools. As a result, some parents will need to be empowered to advocate. Another parent could do that for them.

Montgomery County Public Schools, Rockville, Maryland
Parents also need Mentors to help deal with issues of gifted education and other matters of programming. Teaching and accepting parents who advocate for their student will be a learning process for all involved, as schools will need to realize that a parent who advocates for their child should not be viewed as an adversary, but as a part of the team.

There are some parents who understand how to grow a thirsty student, I am fortunate enough to be able to learn from some of them. However, at this juncture, we need to share our knowledge and an organized effort to mentor parents is warranted.

If the District can't/won't implement a Parent Mentor program, at the very least, they should consider an Ombudsman to assist parents.

A Parent Mentor:
  • Listens and provides support to families and educators on an individual basis.
  • Guides families through the special education process, including rights and responsibilities.
  • Provides information and resources to families on such subjects as education laws and community resources.
  • Attends meetings at the request of parents or staff. These meetings include Individual Educational Program (IEP) meetings, Multi-Factored Evaluation Team meetings (MFE), Intervention Assistance Team (IAT) meetings, Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) team meetings, and more.
  • Organizes and conducts information sessions or workshops based on the needs of families and professionals in the community.
  • Helps build collaborative partnerships between families, schools, and community to benefit students with disabilities.
Reasons to call the Parent Mentor can include situations like these:
  • I'm worried about my child moving from one school to the next.
  • I feel alone and wish I could talk to another parent who understands my concerns. 
  • I feel no one is listening to my concerns about my child.
  • I have questions about my child's education, and I forgot to ask them at the school meeting.
  • I'm worried about my child's progress and am not sure what to do.
  • I would like to have someone attend and support me at an IEP meeting or another meeting at school.
  • I'm not sure if I have all the information I need and would like to speak with someone who can provide information in a "parent-friendly" way.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

1st Parent University of the 2012-2013 school year - tonight

Dr. Steve Perry is the keynote speaker at District 150's first Parent University kick-off event that is scheduled for 5:00 - 8:00 this evening. Dr. Perry also spoke at this morning's kick-off breakfast, that was held at the Civic Center Bradley University’s Renaissance Center. From what I have heard, he cussed up a storm and rattled some folks.

In the video above Dr. Perry appears to be talking to a somewhat upscale group of volunteers, teachers and community leaders. The message he delivers to them is good.

The thing is, even the most educated among us have struggles understanding the school system. Some of us  (parents, community leaders, volunteers) can do research and know somebody to ask questions to firm up our understanding about certain aspects of education. Unfortunately, there isn't a huge pool of folks out there with the right answers, or any answer for that matter. Many simply don't have the resources to get answers and therefore we remain silent or go along with the "hired experts," hoping for the best, afraid to stand firm and demand quality in education.

Parent University should be about teaching parents HOW to help their children. It does not matter how dynamic the speaker is, or how well he can relate to folks, if parents are not taught how to ask for what they need to help their child learn - or how to advocate for their child, nothing will change. Browbeating has never been known to be a motivator.

Dr. Perry is currently an Education Contributor for CNN and his speaking fees are in the range of $10,000 -$20,000. For that price, tonight should be a pretty good show, let's hope parents show up.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Where do good teachers come from? UPDATED

At Monday’s school board meeting, local activist, Terry Knapp raised the issue of the District hiring more African-American teachers…
Superintendent Lathan responded to Knapp's suggestion to hire more minority teachers by saying she would begin by recruiting more from North Carolina. That state's numerous historically black colleges offer a pool of potential applicants. Lathan also took issue with tallies of the number of people she has hired from North Carolina already. "It's getting old," she said, pointing out the North Carolina transplants were now living in Peoria and paying taxes. Source
Personally, I like the thought of our students getting the opportunity to learn from teachers from historically black colleges (HBCUs). North Carolina is certainly not the only state with HBCUs, but they sure got some good ones and this whole issue makes me curious about which HBCUs the ever growing NC contingent may have attended.

Curious, because my niece is an experienced teacher, educated at Bradley University, who recently left the area to work on the East Coast. I know what her experiences are and what the folks on the East Coast liked about her. So for comparison, I took a quick look at the Vite’ of one of the District’s most recent hires from NC, Cenithia Tice, Assistant Principal at Irving and Lincoln; and sure enough she came from an HBCU:

Natural Hair Stylist at Studio Evolutions
Event Planner at Fields of Enticing Events
Teacher at Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools

Gardner-Webb University
Rowan Cabarrus Community College
North Carolina A&T State University

North Carolina A&T State University is impressive. However, I refuse to believe that the District's current hiring practice is that teachers (African-American or otherwise) who are from the area and locally educated at Bradley, Western, ISU, etc., are not good at what they do, or that Illinois colleges are not turning out teachers who are just as capable as teachers from North Carolina. I would encourage locals who are looking to work with the District to go ahead and apply, the District just might have you.

UPDATED with some Facebook response...

Related article: Is there still a stigma to going to school in the South?