Family members told Dayton Public Schools leaders on Thursday that better communication, a more welcoming attitude and addressing old failures would help create the parent engagement district leadership thinks is a key to success.
The district has much work to do, as there were more district employees than parents at the town hall meeting at Kiser School. One parent said through a translator that only one of his children’s teachers speaks Spanish, and if he can’t reach her, he has no way to communicate.
School board member Jocelyn Rhynard, who moderated the meeting, said it’s important to consider both the expectations that should be put on parents, and those that should be put on the district.
“The biggest takeaway I heard tonight was the fact that a lot of parents don’t feel welcomed in (our) schools,” she said. “That’s something that the district needs to address. We need to make sure that teachers and administrators and secretaries do everything they can to welcome parents into the building.”
When Rhynard asked parents how they got engaged in their kids’ education, the answers ranged from emailing teachers, to attending school family nights and conferences, as well as volunteering.
DPS parent Dion Sampson said first of all, families need to be “co-educators in their students’ lives,” checking in with the children on what they’re doing in school. But Sampson said schools need to reach out and make sure parents know how they can help, rather than just assuming they know.
Will Smith, father of two DPS students, said the district should be aware that many current parents were DPS students. Smith said many of them had bad experiences, so they don’t reach out, assuming that any problem-solving they try with the district will go poorly.
School board President William Harris said many current DPS students don’t have the structured home life that gets them off to a good start – from simply getting regular meals, to having parents reinforce the importance of homework or getting enough sleep.
Karen Young said for single mothers, the simple challenges of life – giving their children meals and a home – can make them lose focus on other issues like school, when in fact, the school can serve as a resource center for parents as well as students.
“What I wanted from the staff and teachers that I met was to be met with respect and be reminded to encourage myself to build respect in my home and all across my life,” Young said. “A lot of the young women I work with have lost the ability to feel respected.”
Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said new hires will help a fully staffed public information office communicate with families, and school principals will work to open their buildings to families.
“We’re going to continue working on that. It’s not going to be an overnight fix,” Lolli said. “But hopefully within the next couple of years people are going to say Dayton Public Schools welcome parents, they have their arms open no matter if you’re the guardian, parent, grandparent, and these are the things we do to support the education of the children.”