Three years after state lawmakers voted for parent training in New York City, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the city will finally open its “Parent Academy.”
The project, to be administrated by Long Island University, will give training to parents, teachers, principals and other school staffers to help them create school-family partnerships.
“When you are involved and support the important work going on in the classroom, your children are more likely to succeed,” the chancellor told a few dozen parent leaders at the High School of Fashion Industries in Manhattan during Parents as Partners week.
The academy will cost approximately $1.5 million for three years, to be funded by an equal combination of city tax dollars and Title 1 grant funding.
The chancellor said 100 schools have already volunteered for training sessions and that the academy will eventually work with all schools. A total of 15 workshops will also be held this academic year, three in each borough, to train at least 2000 families. The D.O.E. will get out the word in all 10 of its official languages.
The first training will take place on November 10 at L.I.U.’s Brooklyn campus, with the goal of helping families get the most out of parent-teacher conferences this fall.
In 2009, the state legislature renewed the mayor’s control over the public schools with conditions, including a parent training center at CUNY. But it never got off the ground, largely because of a lack of funding. Walcott pledged last year to create a parent academy for the fall of 2012. The teachers union started its own training program earlier this year.
The Parent Academy will be directed by L.I.U. Associate Professor of Education, Dr. Evelyn Castro, whose career spanned several decades in the D.O.E. as a superintendent and principal. Several parent leaders in the auditorium for the chancellor’s announcement had fond memories of Castro’s work in Brooklyn and Manhattan and praised her appointment.
Elender Foxe, a member of the Community Education Council for District 4 in East Harlem, said Castro was “fantastic” on parent involvement when she was a superintendent.
“I think this initiative is something that may be helpful to parents because there’s been a large disconnect,” she said. “There’s a lot talked about when it comes to education and parents being involved but a lot of that falls on deaf ears.”
Dr. Kathleen Feeley, Associate Professor of Education at L.I.U.’s C.W. Post campus, will oversee development of the academy’s curriculum.
The D.O.E.’s Division of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) has appointed Varleton McDonald, a former network Leader and principal, as the Parent Academy’s senior director.
Long Island University students from the undergraduate to doctoral levels, at both the Brooklyn and Brookville campuses, will also be involved in the academy. The D.O.E. said they will help identify and research resources, assist with the development of online resources, and assist at the borough-wide events.
However, these training sessions aren’t likely to satisfy concerns by city parents who feel shut out of key decisions such as opening and closing new schools. Few parents even bothered to vote in the last elections for their local community education councils, or C.E.C.’s, which play an advisory role in such decisions. The 2011 elections had to be rescheduled after parents claimed the city bungled the process and made it too difficult for some candidates to even get onto the ballots.
Walcott reached out to these critics by acknowledging that last year’s C.E.C. elections were a “disappointment.”
“We heard you loud and clear: the process needs to change,” he said, adding that the city will provide more information well in advance of next year’s elections.
The chancellor also urged parents to take advantage of a new mobile texting system that started this fall, to alert them about exams and holidays. Parents can sign up by texting the word “nycschools” to 877-877. They can also get the service now in Spanish by texting “escuela” to the same number.
Walcott said he will hold his first webinar for parents on October 22 to discuss the Common Core Learning Standards which require students to read more challenging texts and to solve more complex math problems.
The city will also launch professional development activities for parent coordinators this month.