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State to parents: Get on your job!

Gov. Bill Haslam this week signed into law the first of two bills crafted to urge parents to get involved and stay engaged in their children’s school and education.

by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Gov. Bill Haslam this week signed into law the first of two bills crafted to urge parents to get involved and stay engaged in their children’s school and education.

Dubbed the “Parental Contract,” the new law encourages school districts to create contracts. The terms include the parents assuring that they are committed to getting their children to school on time, making certain homework is done, attending parent-teacher conferences regularly and generally guiding their children in what it takes to obtain a real education.

A second measure – “The Parental Report Card Bill” – is headed for legislative review. It would create a parental report card similar to a system used by many charter schools. The point is to link parents and their children in a mutually accountable process to further bolster family support for education.

The new law calls for a process that has been in place in Michigan since 2001. It is designed to inspire parents – and not scare them.

 Rep. Antonio Parkinson
Neither the new law nor the pending bill extends any right to state or local authorities to sanction, fine or penalize parents in any way, said the bill’s creator, Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-98).

“It’s simply to give the parents a basis to gauge their own behavior and realize what they need to do more of to help their kids do well in school,” said Parkinson. “It’s a voluntary effort, but I think it’s something we need to create that ‘wraparound effect’ that too many kids are missing.”

 Statistics show that students who wind up in the pipeline to penal institutions or human services divisions tend to come from schools where parents are not involved enough, said Parkinson. “This is just one measure aimed at reversing that as much as we can.”

If it becomes law, The Parental Report Card Bill would be for Frayser Elementary and Corning Elementary schools, which are both under the Achievement Schools District operating plan because of subpar performance, said Parkinson.

 “The schools will publish their expectations of what they need from the parents. The parents will receive a blank report card, which they can grade themselves in certain areas to see what they can improve on,” he said. “What we want that to do is to give the parents clear guidelines for better performance by increasing better communication.”

The pending measure reflects bi-partisanship in that the idea originated with Germantown Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-31), Parkinson said.

“We had been tossing around ideas for more than year that could help address some of the stresses parents have in today’s world. We wanted to come up with something that would help all kids shore up their educational support system in today’s fast paced world.”

Think three-legged stool

Parkinson said envisioning a three-legged stool helps bring the objective behind the measures into focus.

 “(We) aimed it at Pre-K to third grade. After they leave those foundation years, a lot of kids start to fall behind because of the lack of a well-rounded support system. We know that when that pattern begins it too often leads them into the penal system or being taken care of by state or federal government sources.”

A second benefit could be the improvement of overall school performance, he said.

“Tenure for teachers is based on what is called Value Added Growth. Let’s say a child comes in reading on a first grade level but leaves on a third grade reading level. That’s an improvement for the child, the teacher and the school. And on the flip side, with the report card, if you have a parent that is not cooperating, it reflects on the teacher’s tenure. This provides a third level of support that will assist everyone,” Parkinson said.

“Children must be taught early that their education is their number one priority. It’s very difficult to reclaim them after their formative years. Parents being diligent to assist their kids and having a way to measure the level and commitment of their assistance will help many more of them shore up their children’s educations.”

Ground-level view

Over at Booker T. Washington High School on Wednesday, Principal Alisha Kiner and crew were gearing up for Thursday’s (April 19) visit by U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, who will host a town hall as part of a series of conversations the Department of Education is having with students and families on college affordability. (The forum will begin at 2:30 p.m. and will be held in the library at the high school.)

“I have to study it in detail,” Principal Alisha Kiner said of the new law. “I’m concerned if there is any punitive structure involved. But overall, anything that will help us do our jobs to prepare these kids is great.

“Here, we operate with the ‘it takes a village’ strategy and constantly reach out to keep the lines of communication open with our parents. And we don’t automatically assume that those who do not make it in are deadbeats, they’re probably working just like us,” said Kiner.

“I have a teenager and I’ve missed a couple of parent-teacher conferences because I have to work, but it doesn’t mean I don’t care about her education. We’re just going to continue to reach out to our  parents.”

BTW, still beaming from winning last year’s Presidential Race To The Top competition,  has a Parents Center that is open daily to parents. It helps parents with various support from basic computer skills to job training and searching. Manned by the teachers, Kiner says there is a goal of how many parents “we want to get involved each month.”

Of course, she said, “ It’s easier during basketball and football seasons...but what’s wrong with parents supporting sports. Another thing we do that is very successful is have parents in for such things as Literacy Night, where we have fun and good food. Whatever it takes to make the village work.”

Kiner introduced Tymika White, 35, described by Kiner as one of the schools “star parents.” White is the mother of three kids in the city schools.

“We have an 11th grader here, whom I have no problems with,” said White. “Wherever I have to go and wherever my child needs me, I’m there. I go to games, work concession stands, do whatever I’m called upon, and I’ve been doing it since she was in kindergarten, and I do it with all my kids.”

White said the new law is definitely needed.

“And I think that DHS (Department of Human Services) needs to be involved. They can require parents to volunteer in the classrooms or other things like that.”

Kriner said the job of educating kids is tough, regardless.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s an inner city school or not. Every parent has a tough job because everybody has issues,” she said.

“It’s not about location because I think that kids are kids are kids. I tell my staff, the parents send us the best kids they have. We just have to take up the gauntlet.”

Half a block away from BTW at the Martin Luther King student transition academy, a school for kids needing a bit more corrective behavior, the staff was getting some sun after supervising the student body’s exit for the day. They could not comment for this story, but a permanent billboard above them carries a daily reminder from the book of Proverbs of what can happen when parents are not on their job.

The message: Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it.



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