Patricia Ortiz

PATRICIA ORTIZ

My name is Patricia Ortiz.  Um, I work for the Louisiana Department of Education.  I’m the Title I Family Involvement Coordinator.

State education leaders I think have a fundamental role in um reaching out to districts and then ultimately schools in um the area of school, family, and community partnerships.  They do this by providing uh policy and direction.  Uh, they also provide this by um providing funds.

Right.  Um, our – our role um at Louisiana Department of Education is that we are a partner with the national network of partnership schools, which is um a type of affiliation beyond just compliance with the federal standards.  Obviously there are federal standards and guidelines um that require us to – to be talking with districts and schools in compliance with compacts and with parental involvement policies.  However, um getting involved with something like the partnership has been very beneficial for um states in providing leadership to districts.

Yeah, again it’s really um – the important of schools reaching out effectively to families is probably the biggest message that I’d like to bring to schools.  Um, there’s a variety of practices utilizing a template of 6 types of parental involvement is – is um very beneficial and helpful for districts and schools in doing effective outreach to their families so that connectiveness occurs.  Basically communication between children, and their parents, and their families, significant people in their lives and bringing schools, and families, and community partners together in order to support a child’s education will ultimately – um, well we found in the research, does boost – provides an incremental boost to that um student’s academic achievement.

Ultimately states need to be able to um provide to districts essentially the research that supports um school community um partnerships and how that does link up with student academic achievement.  In this um period of time of academic accountability, um student test scores, we have a tendency – sort of have a tendency to focus um simply on teaching and we need to also be able to really institute a lot of the practices um that will support the teaching and learning in our schools and that really is – that missing link really is families.  Um, all the research shows that um the majority of time students – they’ll only spend something like 15% of their time in the classroom.  So given the rest of that time that they’re outside of the classroom we need to be able to support families and communities in um being able to assist in students’ um education.

Um, again it really has to be a – really down – I say the responsibility really going down the line in the sense that um districts have a lot of um impetus that they need to – to coordinate with schools in providing professional development training at the teacher level.  Um, they need to be able to um talk to their – their families.  Well, to really get instituted within the context of schools um types of mechanisms that will result in increased and sustained – probably the – the aspect of sustained family involvement is very important because what – what happens is there’s a variety of – of – of practices that occur at the school site level.  However, what happens is there’s no oversight as to what’s – what’s been effective and what hasn’t been effective.  And something like the national network of partnership schools is a very nice collaborative action team approach.  It provides lots of um, uh types of templates for schools to be able to monitor and know what kinds of practices have been effective at their particular school site.  Um, their (interruption) On – regarding school practices, because we’re sort of going – just with school practices, again, under the 6 types we need to develop obviously more – we have – we have parents who come in who will get into our schools – we put up barbed wire that’s 5 to 8% of those parents, and we need to be able to effectively make them school leaders and not simply keep them at a point where people are just Xeroxing.  They have to become a part of the decision-making process within the context of a democratic type of school.  And another aspect (unintelligible) we’re pulling to be able to create decision makers for our schools.  On the other hand, there’s a lot of parents who are working 2 jobs.  It’s very difficult for them to physically come to the school site.  In those cases and those instances we need to be able to understand that family involvement occurs in multi levels and that its imperative upon the role of schools and districts to be able to get out regular information to our families on a variety of subjects um to support their parenting, to support homework, to support um communication between themselves and their children. 

Well, a – again, my – my role, unfortunately, is I don’t have the opportunities to spend a lot of time in schools.  I work uh primarily with district personnel and all over a state entity.  However, I do provide um lots of trainings in the – in the instances of conferences and actually district trainings and that type of thing.  Probably the most significant thing that I – that – I’m not sure if this is what you’re really talking about, but what I found was um – there was a comment from – I – I gave a training for uh the reading summit and this was for REA schools during that period of REA and this was geared – it was a teacher training in order to be able to effectively reach to the – uh, outreach to their families with an interactive homework.  So their – their – again, it’s a – it’s a real teacher training trying to be able – look at your units, break down some of those concepts, and create fun activities around them that’s going to create interactive types of um situations between your students and their – and a significant adult in their life.  And as I was doing this training, um there was some comments regarding parents or families that are not necessarily um responsive.  I – I – the teachers I think are very frustrated with um and sometimes it can get very frustrating working with very difficult families at times and their feeling – really feeling a sense of, you know, they don’t really care.  Um, I – the – I’m blowing this story.  (Interruption)  Yeah.  No, actually the – the point is, um is um (Interruption) 

Uh, last year I did a lot regarding the National Network of Partnership Schools model.  Well, I’m – I’m having to – to couch it to some extent because people are interested in middle schools, particular practices regarding middle school students and how to effectively reach out to families of middle school students because there’s a precipitate drop that occurs after the 4th grade level.  And um interactive homework is a real uh issue or a real area where fam – where parents – or where teachers need to be able to start.  You’re not going to be able to provide homework necessarily where the parent or the family member can assist the student.  Sometimes its beyond the – the level of education that that adult at home has – has achieved.  However, we have the – the availability – or the ability to be able to provide homework or interactions that’s going to create communication where the child or the student presents the concept to review the concept orally with that parent and then there’s some types of, you know, very simple questions as to “Did you understand how?”  So again, you’re – you’re sort of re-emphasizing, you know, oral skills communication on the part of the student to be able to explain this particular concept for – for the parent.  There’s lots of different ways.  I had um students – or actually teachers develop uh economics classes where they’re go – where the student is going and getting um consumer information from their families regarding um their consumer choices and they’re taking this back and creating different types of graphs.  These are real simple where you’re – where you’re not expecting – the expectation isn’t on – the (unintelligible) responsibility is not on the family to understand um your units or your course content, but to foster communication about the education process.  Also in middle school and high school practices, parents and families want to know about college – college preparation.  They want to know the transition.  What kinds of classes do their – do their child need to – to um know in order to successfully transfer into college and I think that’s a very big responsibility for the part of middle and high school um, um settings to be taking.  Another aspect in that – in that particular realm is also adolescent development.  Schools need to be providing um information regarding the development.  What’s normal development for adolescents?  And the importance of communication.

Again, when we’re – I – I hate to limit the scope so – so narrowly to volunteering because again, volunteering can – volunteering can occur at a number of different levels.  Um, family, school, community partnerships I think is very – all the research has shown – many of the models – when we’re looking at educational models it’s – we’re now – we’re really – we don’t want to go forward with any kind of major uh educational initiative in any type of school setting without having that stake holdership.  And the broader you can make that group, um the more effective whatever implementation of, you know, your school improvement plans, or what direction and goal that – that school has set out for itself, it will be much more successful.  And you – and you get together as a group um in order to be able to support each other and plan specific activities and specific practices, and it also leads – this is something that’s written down, and then you have something to evaluate at the end of an academic school year, and to see which – which practices have been successful, which didn’t work out, which – what – what do we want to initiate?  Do we have more of a – a literacy focus?  Do we want to be able to expand more in understanding science and mathematics and how we can extend some of these practices or how we do specifically extend this ideas of education to be able to inform our families about what we’re doing in our school, what we’re doing in our school districts.

Again, I think – what do you say?  Um, for teachers they uh – you have your students – I mean you have to love your students.  I mean there’s that connectiveness in terms of being an educator, um the willingness to be able to – to educate everybody equally and well having high expectations in your classroom, and having um – and wanting your students to be successful.  If you are a – an educator in that type of environment you want to bring in the best types of uh materials that you can in order to effectively reach your families.  If your families are limited English proficient, you need to provide information that is in their own language that uh – that helps them to be able to understand what it is to – to go to a school in the United States.  What it is, uh what parent teacher conference is – consist of.  To be able to feel somewhat more comfortable and not look at school as an institution that’s a barrier for them that they simply send their children to but have no intercourse or discourse with.  Um, and actually U.S. pubs have lots of nice brochures and nice uh materials actually.  Also, you know, even taking it further for teachers.  Um, you want to – there’s – there’s lots of bilingual types of materials that again extend that student, family connection uh where you have workbooks in – in Spanish language with a child and the – and a mother or, you know, somebody in their family works with them on and that – that again really supports the notion of how to be able to, you know, look at information together, to use books, to read together whether its not in necessarily the English language, but um it really fosters good literacy skills.  So again, with – if you’re in that type of classroom and not necessarily from that particular culture, in any kind of multi-ethnic classroom, you need to be very sensitive to the cultures of – of the students that you’re working with, and again, attempt to find those materials that are out there.  Contact your district resources, look at U.S. pubs, look at – you know other national organizations usually have very, very good um literature in supporting materials and education.

Well, that whole notion of, you know, you send your kids here and that’s it and – and there’s lots of, you know, problems on the other side in terms of teachers really feeling “Well, you know, if they only sent them disciplined or – or, you know, a little bit more well mannered then I could do my job better.”  No, really the whole notion of family, school, community partnerships is that we all come together in order to support that child in the center and we all have to contribute to that.  Um, family friendly school climate is a major issue in our society today.  Again, when we know that we have a fam – uh, a family friendly school climate that’s welcoming to our families we have seen in the research that it does provide an incremental boost to all of the academic achievement that occurs in that particular schools.  How do we achieve that?  There’s particular practices, fundamental regular practices that have to – to have to happen.  You need to provide communication back and forth in a form of a newsletter that really talks about the people at the school.  We want to know about Miss Jones and her 5th grade class.  We want to see pictures of the children.  We want to be able to – to know what – what – what students are academically successful.  We want to know what kids are on the chess club, are on the – on the baseball team, and those are the kinds of newsletters that go home and that parents come in and they want 5 or 6 copies because its going to go to Grandma and its going to go to, you know, Cousin Willy, and every body else.  Though that’s – that’s a real simple type of, you know, easy practice, but again, it has to be based on information that’s coming from that particular school.  Families want to know what’s going on in their child’s classroom; they want to know what’s going on in their child’s school.

Yes, I agree.  I think that’s probably one of the biggest challenges that we have in terms of schools.  I mean initially uh some of the basic challenges are – are where the district – you know, states and districts are saying, “Okay, now let’s come together and have the school community partnerships.”  And I think in many instances what happens is that community link is – is always sort of queasy out there.  It could be a business entity, but when the business entity sort of comes in they’re thinking you just want money from them.  It has to be a real quality type of partnership where they’re assisting with their expertise and their resources, but also their expertise um in feeling connected with that particular school and school community.  Um, myself, you know, at that state level I work with a lot of different agencies um in different types of initiatives in order to support schools and families and even though I feel a level of frustration there, I’ll go to a luncheon or a meeting and hope that it will result in something and initially, I think, we’re um – that’s a developing field.  I really feel it’s a developing field.  There are – I – I put a lot of responsibility on the districts and the schools – or at least (unintelligible) but direction and say, “Reach out to the people who are closest to you.  To your recreation center, to your church, to your um – the things that are closest to you and invite them in,” and let’s start that dialog.  If we never take that first step in terms of invitation um that – that initial step is very important.  It’s nice to be able to have some kind of plan or some kind of body that they can sit upon and be apart of.  Again, a collaborative action team that’s – that’s there for the support of school, family, community partnerships as a nice venue.  It’s something that meets regularly.  It also is uh assisting in being able to plan something that’s real substitutive.  Um, I think the – business and com – and community agencies don’t want to just go to meetings and not being able to see maybe some of the progress.  I mean I think they have a little bit less um – anyway.

Again, you know, I’m – we’re – I’m a partner with the National Network of Partnership schools and so it’s a – it provides a lot of the guidance and the tools for a collaborative action team type of approach for uh family, school, community partnerships.  Um, there are other collaborative action teams’ types of instruments that are out there.  RMC puts out a nice family, school partnership.  It’s a much bigger book, but it provides guidelines and templates as to the work that this group will get together.  And again, when you’re looking at a collaborative action team, you’re looking at a group of stakeholders.  It’s going to include administrators, it will include support staff at your school, teachers, community members who are interested, parents.  Um, you want to get this group – it needs to be a manageable group, let’s say 12 to 15 people more or less, that make a commitment to meeting within an uh – an academic school year, maybe 8 to 10 times in a given.  In a given semester let’s say, you know, 4 to 5 times, um, that this group is going to meet and their going to utilize some of the templates.  One of the first templates is called “Starting Points”, but there’s also a reading program starting – or early childhood education problem – program called “Starting Points” – but essentially what that is – is an evaluation type of sheet in terms of determining what kinds of family involvement practices are you currently doing in your school.  And it’s broken down according to the 6 types of family involvement.  So it allows the group to be able to really understand “What are we currently doing?”  Now in many instances, particularly in our state, um we have um school improvement teams and school in uh – well, district assistance teams for school improvement teams and they – they come out with school improvement plans.  What you want to do is you want to dovetail your school improvement plan with that collaborative action team for family, school, community partnerships so that they’re not working in 2 distinct areas, but they’re working according to the same identified school improvement goals.  And now with those school improvement goals you want to be able to start looking at your family involvement activities that you already are doing, maybe add a few more in order to be able to really look at the 6 types.  Where do we need some additional, um, and how do they dovetail and work in conjunction with our um – with our particular goals at – at this particular school site?

Decision making in the part of families is a real – would be real fundamental.  What I’m looking at as a state coordinator um is really the different types of leadership um training programs that are available out there where in many instances districts and schools do provide programs for families, but a lot of it is in the area of parenting.  We – it makes – it’s making a real shift when we’re talking about taking a lot of those very involved fam – parents and um essentially putting them through a type of training so they understand the role of – of um the Department of Education.  They understand the role of districts.  They understand their school.  They understand budgets to some extent.  They’re able to um talk and liaison with other um – other parents.  They’re able to create, and um organize, and actually implement meetings, and um that can be a very, very powerful tool and really democratizing lots of aspects about our – our schools.  In many – when – when I always talk about decision making for parents one of the things I always say we need to be able to make our – our parents decision makers beyond deciding the colors of our school uniforms.  They need to be intricately involved.  Parents are very interested in the area of curriculum and the types of curriculum that – that a school um decides on.  They’re also very interested in after school programs and extended day programs and the integration of humanities, art, and music in – in school programs.  How – they’re interested in having it happen, but they’re interested in also um contributing to it happening.  They can be a very, very powerful group if we as schools and school districts open up more to the possibilities and also um assist our families in becoming good uh leaders.

I – I – I agree with you.  Well, I – I agree with the notion that families do have a lot to say regarding their children and do you really feel um that stakeholdership um in the area of schools and education?  And um I think that’s probably um expressed in terms of across the board, across the United States, when we’re talking about one of the biggest issues that people um feel concerned about is in the realm of education and not simply because um you have a student that’s a part of the process, uh, you know, still in school per say.  We realize as a country that education is vitally important and as – as a nation we know that we need to uh excel further in the areas of mathematics and science and just generally.  We know that this is – this is a good thing for our country.  Um, how do we take bureaucratic entities essentially uh and say um how – yes, I probably am very open to the notion that we need to open up.  It’s – yes, fundamentally it’s our job in the – in the school to teach.  That is our job.  That’s the realm of our – of our scope and at district level – yes, the district level needs to be able to run uh a school – school district and at the state level, yes, we need to be able to run the education of systems within the context of our state.  However, how can we more engage that other stakeholdership?  And now I think it’s going to require us to be able to open up and provide more information and open up more venues at all 3 levels and uh – and it’s probably a classic power struggle.

No, professional development is vital in our – in our profession.  I mean obviously there’s – there’s an aspect of burnt outness with – if you’re really feeling like “I don’t want any – you know, I don’t want any discourse with any of my – my students’ families.”  That’s – there’s – that’s problematic in the – in the sense that as – as – as a teacher you really get a lot of information from families in order to – again, to assist your – assist your students and bringing in a variety of – of teaching context to them so there – there can be really utilized as a vital resource.  Also um if its not one – most actually to be very honest, in my experience most teachers who have been uh teaching for uh, uh, you know, over 10 year are – are very good teachers and have dedicated themselves to the profession in the sense that they decided that they are going to be educators.  Most of where our attrition occurs is in the first, you know, first or second year.  You’re making – you make a decision, and a lot of it is really classroom management.  So – but – but there’s very few teachers who’ve been teaching over 5 years who have that as a problem any longer because you would have been driven out of the profession by that time.  (Unintelligible)  Uh, so because of that there is really that commitment there, that depth.  Um teachers who have been teaching for, you know, over 10 years are very valuable to us.  They have lots of expertise to be able to give to new teachers.  If you’re feeling burnt out about your profession in the sense that you – you’re in the same classroom or the same grade, I know, you know, talking to other teachers that actually just switching a grade brings a whole new freshness to the profession again because it does – it requires that, you know, you need to be able to get your curriculum together.  You know, you’re able to – to spot another curriculum and align it with the state standards, but also you know that you need to bring in those extra cognitive types of, you know, um special activities.  I think what I’m asking now or what’s probably coming again more to the forefront because the research is coming out more deliberately now, the research of family involvement is relatively young and new and there’s not necessarily a whole lot of research um in this area per say, but it’s increasing every year and – which is very exciting to me in the sense that we know that this is a vital part.  I think um teachers – the best teachers have always somewhat reached out to their families.  Positive notes to the families – most – and particularly if you have hard students or low income students or students who have had some – some major problems, that first intersection with that family member needs to be positive.  You need to think of something about that child that’s very special and very unique because that family member knows that about that person too and it – it starts a conference off – you need to start off in that positive – people want good feedback about their students.

I think that probably the biggest uh – I – I’m – when – sometimes when I talk or I’ll do trainings or that type of things – and I think that – to be very honest, training is one of the areas that we must do.  It’s – it’s a form of communication and I – I hate that sort of, you know, top down kind of training.  I mean I think that all of our roles is to be able to support education and it really does occur at the school side level, but I think that probably I get labeled with really caring about families and advocating for them in the sense that um they do have a voice.  It’s not – they’re not out there uncaring and un um – and uninvolved in their children’s education.  They’re very involved.  They care – they’re very concerned about their child’s grades.  They’re very concerned about their success and – in education.  They want to assist and I really feel its imperative upon educators to be able to start to provide those pathways to provide that assistance for families to be more connected with their child’s education and also to be in – involved in the whole education process.

Oh, well my own personal interest and my mom – my mom was a – I was born and raised in Los Angeles and my mother is Latina.  She was a secretary.  She had – not immigrated, but she was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, and so actually the whole half of the family came over um probably in the 40’s and 50’s um to Los Angeles.  So yeah, I was born and raised in East Los Angeles and went to quite a few of the schools in that area and probably when I – when I was very young, maybe 2nd – 1st or 2nd grade, I was always very proud of my mother coming to school because again, she was working for the state and she was working in the capacity of a secretary and so she always came looking very nice.  I was very proud of her when she came and visited um at my school.

I guess.  Um – um I wasn’t – um I didn’t – actually I didn’t go to school uh – I didn’t go to college until after my children were born.  I was probably about 25 or 26.  I graduated from UCLA when I was 31 so I mean I have uh – I have a very checkered (interruption) Oh, oh yes.  I think with my mom – actually um in – in San Antonio they were – they were born and raised in the projects.  They lived in the projects and she was unable to complete her high school so she had dropped out and um actually she met my uh father at an adult education class in terms of – in the process of completing her high school diploma.  I later – this is Roosevelt High School.  I later taught at that school in adult education for a little bit.  Um, uh yes.  I – I – I don’t know my mother was necessarily very explicit about the notion of high expectations uh for my education, but on the other hand, I guess there was sort of um this undercurrent that “Yes, it’s important to be successful in school.  Education is important.”  Um, maybe that feeling of uh “Yeah, you definitely have to graduate from high school.  There’s not going to be any there’s not graduating from high school.”  I think the – the level of expectation in terms of actually going to college or even um graduating from a university like UCLA um was somewhat unexpected in the sense that I was really the only college graduate in my family.