Jeana Preston

JEANA PRESTON:

All right, my name is Jeana Preston.  That’s Jeana Preston.  I am the program manager for the Parent Involvement Department and I am in San Diego City schools, San Diego, California.

Hum, the programs and practices that have made the biggest difference in our district, I---I think I’d like to start with policy, because that was at district level.  And I think that it is absolutely essential that a district have a board of education policy that clearly lays out the expectations for the roles of parents and their children and teachers in out district.  And San Diego does have a policy, it includes a number of---of things that you would expect it to.  Um, it does speak to parent’s roles on---in governance at school sites.  It speaks to, uh, the relationships between school staff and parents in terms of two-way communication, in terms of offering parents opportunities to volunteer and to be active at the school, um, and also to expect a good level of information about services that might be available in the school community.  So I think that’s one of the essential things because based on the policy you then have, usually, funding set aside to do certain practices within the district or at school site level.  Um, I think there are a number of things.  Some of them are informal and some of them are---are very formal structures.  In our district some of the particular, uh, programs that have been very, very successful, the first I’d mention is a matching grant program.  And this is a program that is funded at district level, however funds are matched at the school site level.  It’s not an equal match; it’s 20% from the school site and the rest, 80%, through the district.  But any school can apply and this requires teams of parents and school staff to work together and they actually have to come up with a good idea or, in our case, in our district, they can apply for a package grant.  We have set up a couple of packages based on our experience.  The first year we said, do anything you’d like to do, that you can think of, that you believe is going to support student achievement that will allow staff and parents to work together.  And that was terrific, although what we found was that not every school site, not every team, was ready to do that kind of organization.  They really didn’t know where to start.  So we backed that bus up and we decided to offer a ‘getting started’ grant.  So that the team could come together, examine where the school was in it’s relationship with parents and it’s school community, and kind of plan from there.  And some schools took us up on that.  Others wanted to know from us what worked; you know, out of different schools, other districts, what’s working.  So we set up some grants and first was a literacy bag grant, these are at elementary level, um, which allows a school money to pull together bags.  The teachers plan the literacy bags so that there are really some wonderful hands-on materials in them.   They’re not just literacy, they also have math activities in them.  But these are loaner bags.  The parents check them out and they come in and kind of get in serviced on how to use it with their child.  The kids love them because there are new things in the bag that they don’t have at home and those have been phenomenally successful.  Um, another one was parent-teacher communication grant.  This was a grant that was set up to pay teachers to actually stay after school hours and talk to parents.  So that was another grant structure.  Uh, there have been a number of them.  There’s a grant to work with community organizations.  If there’s a parent-training course that you want to bring to your campus and that’s what the parents want and the teachers want then perhaps you would contract with that group to come on the campus.  So those are some of the programs we’ve done.  In the area of governance, decision-making, and this would be at district level, we have put together something called a Parent Congress, and the superintendent convenes it.  The, uh, Chancellor of Instruction attends; all of the superintendent’s top cabinet people are present.  We call that listening at high levels.  We think that’s very important.  And we assign, uh, the superintendent’s top staff to tables.  We have a parent delegate from every school in the district and they have asked to be seated, actually, by elementary level and secondary level.  So that they can kind of talk together too, about, uh, concerns that might go across school levels.  So we do that quarterly.  We’ve done it this year.  Next year we expect to do it six times, but these have been wonderful listening opportunities for district staff.  We are a district that is really, um; we’re doing a lot of school reform, which means a lot of changes.  And it’s really difficult to do if you don’t bring parents and community along with you.  So that’s a big opportunity for parents and top-level district staff and principal to talk together about how things are going.

OK.  Did Bea do a lot of talking with you about Parent University?  She probably did---did she not?

OK.  Um, one of the things that is always a question for us, uh---as schools staff, is how can we reach out to parents who may have not a lot of formal education or who may not be English-speaking, they may be English learners and how can we help them understand the school system, how it works, what their role can be in supporting their child?  Um, that is a multifaceted question because it depends on, certainly, your community and---and who you need to reach out to.  Um, one of the things that I think is most successful is to provide training for those parents who really do want to take a larger role at the school.  We have a good number of parents who---who will come to the school if you have an activity that involves their own child or if it’s a parent-teacher conference.  We have a whole other level of parent who will not only do that, but will be available for volunteering and so on.  And then if you think of it as a pyramid, at the very top of the pyramid you have a small percentage of parents, it’s usually between 5-9% of your parent population at a school, that is actually interested in a governance role.  They really want to know about the decision-making, they want to know how to help.  Parents at this level typically can separate out their own child’s issue from the issues of children in general.  And these are the kinds of parents who---who really are very, very helpful in---on those governance teams or school site councils.  I think it’s helpful to have training for them that is separate from the team.  I think the teams need training, certainly, to do a good job.  But parents need to know what their role is and from my perspective their role is to ask the right question.  It is really essential that as we as school staff are making decisions and talking about what’s best for children, that we have people in the room who can ask very direct questions about what does this mean for students, you know, what does the data say?  Uh, why are we making these decisions?  They need to be asking good questions.  And this usually puts parents mind at ease if you say that’s their role because some of them don’t feel like they’re experts in budget.  They don’t know about curriculum areas but they have a lot to offer so they need to be reassured at every point.  That they have a contribution to make, that the school staff needs to hear the point of view of the community when they’re making decisions and---and then it’s vital that they be there.  And we---a---you know, I hear some people say, ‘it’s really the same old parents that are involved, you know, it’s the same ones.’  And I say, ‘Thank God for the same old parents.’  That they do stay with us, that they have the energy and the time to give and they’re going to be there.  Because it really is not a role that appeals to every parent, but it’s an essential one.

I think it’s really essential that a district involve itself with its school community and not just the parents who have children in the school, but the larger community, because we certainly have an obligation to our community at large to education children and to do a very good job of it. And if you believe that education is everybody’s business, which I do, then you would certainly invite the opinions of people in the broader community.  Uh, in our community in San Diego, for instance, the majority of people in our community do not have children in our school system but they support the school system.  So they have every right to be there and talk with us and it is our obligation to make that possible.  Not only at school board meetings, where they certainly have a right to be heard, but also in committees, and as we move forward at---with reform it is very essential to have, uh, to hear from all segments of the community, whether they agree with us or not.  It’s incredibly important to have ongoing, sustainable, civil conversations with people in the community.  And I think you will not be successful as---as a person who wants to make things better for children in a school district if you do not allow that to happen and if you don’t build structures through which it will happen in a very natural way.

Yeah.  I think particularly, if you work in the area of parent involvement, that one of the things that---that you want to have happen is not only that you want to hear parent voices, but you also want to have connections with those parent---those---excuse me, those people in the community who are also serving families.  Because you basically are working with the same people so you have the same interests and those interests should intersect.  Um, one of the ways that we do that is through---uh---well we have a number of different groups.  One, for instance, is called the Parent Involvement Task Force.  And while it sound like it might simply be parents from schools, it’s not.  It’s a---a more complex group than that.  We do have parents who are just interested from schools and they find out about it or are interested and they come on board, but it really is parent leaders.  We have a number of parent advisory groups in the district and also PTA.  So the heads of all those advisor groups plus the president of PTA council, which is a large group that oversees PTAs in all the schools, sits on this task force.  And in addition, people from the community who provide services, uh, there are several groups within the community who tr---give parent trainings.  There are groups that provide services, social services.  Uh, there is a religious community.  There are people who are interested in providing tutoring programs for our children.  So they sit on this broad group and this group meets monthly with me and it serves as an advisory group to me and also to the board.  On occasion there is a---an item that comes up that they really want to speak directly to the board of education about, so they will discuss it within the group, among themselves, come up with a position and choose somebody who will then present it at a board meeting and that happens on an ongoing basis.  And that is one way that the discussion occurs so everybody knows, because there’s so many things happening for children and families.  Everybody is aware of meetings that are happening, conferences that are happening, services available, and it get spread through the different groups in that way.  So we meet on a regular basis to do that.

Something that I’d like everybody (mmhmm in background) to understand about parent involvement that I think is so critical, uh, actually comes from the research.  And this is what drives our work in San Diego.  And it’s the fact that, you know, thanks to James Colman and a number of researchers, we understand that you can predict how children are going to do in school often, if you look at family characteristics and SES, Socio-Economic-Status.  One of the things that, to me, is very striking, that parents can---can do, um, actually can mitigate the effects of socio-economic status.  And---it’s a---actually it’s not one thing; it’s three, if I were to break it down.  And I would characterize those things this way.  The first is, that parents can create a home environment to supports learning, and that covers a lot of things.  From monitoring TV to making homework gets done, uh, to paying attention to---to grades, to reading with your child.  The second thing is to hold high expectations for your child.  That’s not ‘if you go to college,’ that’s a conversation about ‘when you go to college,’ and ‘what I’d like for you in your life.’  And---and why education is important and transferring those educational values that you hold as a parent to the child.  The third thing is school connection.  Staying connected to the school.  And if a parent can do those three things they can actually mitigate the impact of---of SES as a predictor of how well a child will do.  And that is to say, no matter the background, the income level of the parent, whether the parent is a married or single parent, whether the parent is educated or not educated, if they can do those three things at a---at a good level, then their child can be very successful in school.  And this is something that I’m not sure everybody understands, but this is a reason to do the kind of work we do.  A reason to say to---to teachers, it’s really important that you reach out to parents, particularly parents who are low-income, who don’t have a lot resources.  And if you do that we have every reason to believe that their children can excel.  So this is very important.

Yeah.  When I think about a school that embraces partnerships, um, one of the schools in San Diego scho---city schools district would be Caesar Chavez Elementary.  And they are participating in a program called, ‘Family Friday.’  And Family Friday occurs once a month, on a Friday, the first hour of the school day.  They have invited every parent to come to the school and read with their children.  And it’s a wonderful program.  The first 30 minutes the parents fan out across the campus, the schools partners in---at---the---partners in education fan out across the campus.  Uh, we might have firefighters, we might have Marines, they’re all there to read to the children.  They do that the first 30 minutes in all the classrooms.  Second 30 minutes a---a bell rings, the parents go to the auditorium, they have coffee, they have doughnuts, they talk about their experience.  They talk together in pairs about what happened in the classroom then they share out in the whole group.  And after they do that and after they’re welcomed by the principal and so on, what happens next is, what we call a value-added piece which is, a person gets up, usually it’s the principal or the parent academic liaison, and talks about a strategy that the parent can do at home with his or her child to increase the child’s reading skill.  And it’s usually something very simple, or, if it’s not a strategy like that it might be how to choose a ‘just right’ book for your child so that you can work with them on reading. And it’s wonderful.  We started, uh, Chavez with about a hundred parents the first Friday, which we were really thrilled with, and they had 500 parents.  So it’s wonderful.  And we expect we’re going to have all parents participate.  I think it works because it’s low stress for teachers, they don’t have to do a lot of preparation, they just have to welcome people in.  It’s very low stress for parents, nobody’s going to call on them, nobody’s going to ask them to do anything they can’t do and it’s friendly and it opens the campus to them.  And we believe that parents who do this are going to keep coming to the campus.  One of the really wonderful things is how many fathers we’ve had come.  We think because it’s early morning, first hour of the day, only once a month, the fathers are willing, I mean, obviously they’re willing to make arrangement at their workplace or their schedules and---and just come and be there with their children.  Anyway, it’s been wonderful.  But the big bulletin board of the fathers reading to their children and we videoed it, it’s just terrific.  The parents love watching other parents there on campus reading to their kids.  It’s been wonderful.