by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
How can teachers, administrators, parents, community groups, businesses, faith-based organizations and other interested parties work together to close the achievement gap in schools?
This question was posed by forums held in communities participating in CTA and NEA’s Public Engagement Project, aimed at closing achievement gaps through community conversations and actions.
NEA grants were awarded to hold community outreach programs in Alum Rock (San Jose), Merced and Coachella Valley to discuss ways of closing the achievement gap between poor and minority students and white students. So far, two forums have been held in each community, moderated by CTA staff, leaders and members, who had attended a four-day training program at NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“It’s the first time anything like that has happened in Merced,” says Donnell Jordan, a community outreach consultant for CTA. “All segments of the community were involved, and parents were engaged all the way through the process.”
After the forums, members of the Merced City Teachers Association (MCTA) formed a public engagement program with parents, business people, community residents and others interested in closing the achievement gap.
“We need parent and community support,” says Dora Crane, MCTA president. “Students are more than just test scores. We need to maintain the progress that was made, and build on that.”
In Coachella Valley, meetings were held in both English and Spanish, and parents made a strong case for having “bi-literacy” intervention programs in schools to help close the achievement gap. Parents also requested training in computer technology and how to communicate with their child’s teacher about academic progress. A third meeting is planned, and formal recommendations based on the discussion groups will be presented to the Coachella Valley Unified School District.
There were also discussions about cultural differences between educators and parents. Latino families, for example, may not always understand how important it may be for their child to leave the home and attend college if they receive a scholarship.
In Alum Rock, the participants outlined three areas of concern they would like to see improved: parent involvement and engagement, communication and collaboration, and health and safety conditions at school. Recommendations are now in the works on how to make improvements in these areas, and they will soon be submitted to the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District and Eastside Union High School District boards.
“It’s good for us as an organization to reach out and show the community we are interested in what they have to say,” says Don Dawson, the CTA Board member who represents the area. “A lot of times we may think parents are the enemy when they are actually our friends. It’s a positive way of working together. In light of the attacks on public education, it’s something we need to do.”