Friday, September 25, 2009

State Representative Jehan Gordon - Racing to the Top

State Representative, Jehan Gordon sits on the Race to the Top Committee and is working with the Illinois State Board of Education to ensure that Peoria schools are not overlooked. To follow is a short statement from Representative Gordon regarding her commitment to RT3:

As you probably know, Race To The Top (RTTT) is a federal initiative that has been provided by the American Recovery Reinvestment Act that was passed by Congress earlier this year. The Obama administration has created an opportunity through this legislation for many states to change the paradigm of the way that education has traditionally been looked at for the last four or five decades.

The State of Illinois was granted this stimulus money that each individual District must compete for. There will only be 20 districts in the state that will receive RTTT funds and I am going to do everything in my power to ensure that our district gets this opportunity. I have been involved in RTTT since day one and I am extremely excited about what it could do for our educational system.

A strategic team has been put in place for RTTT. This money will flow through the Illinois State Board of Education and as a State Representative, I will be in constant contact with that agency and utilize every resource that I have in Springfield to best position our community for this phenomenal opportunity. This is a team effort and it will require hard work on behalf of many people to get this done. I am up for the challenge because the reward--our children receiving the kind of education that we all can be proud of--is the ultimate prize!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What is the impact of school closings on students?

Chicago Public Schools (“CPS”) have been dealing with school closings for years now. In 1988, when parents saw that sweeping changes were needed to improve their schools, they began to meet and formed school reform groups. Today they are organized as Parents United for Responsible Education (“PURE”) and they continue to advocate on behalf of schools; their parents; and teachers. PURE has been instrumental in the development of the CPS School Closings Policy and are now looking for the data to show what impact the closings are having on their students.

As District 150 has been closing schools for several years now, they too should have a wealth of data available about the impact of school closings on our students. Here is the data PURE is requesting from CPS:

•How many students dropped out instead of going to their receiving school?
•Did any students lose academic ground as a result of their transition to a different school?
•Did any students experience bullying or other acts of violence, or report feeling less safe in their receiving school?
•Did students in the receiving schools experience problems?
•What are the demographics?

If District 150 is not tracking this information – now would be the perfect time to begin.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The PTO at Whittier School is very active. Comments made by the Whittier PTO President, Chris Setti, over at EmergePeoria, proves just how parents who volunteer for sports teams can make all the difference in a primary school having a sports program or not.

What I found really special in Mr. Setti’s comments was the outreach effort being made to include parents who live outside of the neighborhood school boundries. Take note:

At Whittier we have had soccer for at least three years (that's how long I have been a coach). It is led by an all-volunteer coaching staff and last year we transformed it into the West Bluff Indoor Soccer Club.

Last year, we fielded 6 teams: A Pre-K/K team, 3 1st/2nd grade teams and 2 3rd/4th grade teams. We play at the Soccer Centre in Peoria Heights from Oct thru April. Whittier allows us to use their gym to practice, but otherwise all costs are borne by parents and donations (last year, Haddads, AMT, John Biehl and Avantis).

Whittier also offered martial arts as an after-school program and may also have had a basketball team. We don't work magic at Whittier, but we are blessed by great parents, great teachers and staff, and great kids. I wish I knew how to duplicate what we do for other schools, but the formula is pretty simple.

Last I checked, we had about 65% of our kids from low-income families, so our success is not the same as Kellar, Charter Oak or Dunlap schools. I imagine that poverty % will go up this year because we've had an influx of former Tyng kids. We are excited about welcoming these new families and children and hope to show that whatever it is we do at Whittier works for everyone.

From a parental involvement stand point (I'm the president of the PTO), our policy is to just invite people to get involved. We are trying to make that easier this year by having a second PTO meeting during the day each month and also holding some of our meetings at the Proctor Center, which is closer to many of our new families.

We have a long way to go, but we are headed in the right direction. I reject the notion that many of our parents are unconcerned about their children's education. When the Tyng boundaries were redrawn, we saw Southside families (the ones usually saddled with that incorrect and unfortunate label) move into the new Whittier boundaries. If that doesn't mean they are paying attention, I don't know what is.

I can see how a PTO can look and feel like a clique. We do our best at Whittier to reach out, but it is usually the same 20 people over and over again. That's why we dropped the $5 membership fee this year (it only really served as a barrier) and are trying out the second meeting at Proctor Center.

That said, we also make it very clear that there are lots of volunteer opportunities that are not PTO-related. The PTO couldn't possibly create and control every parent-classroom opportunity. Even at Whittier the PTO emphasis is on fundraising (a huge need) and then on larger group activities. We have become more advocacy oriented and were successful in retaining our librarian (in concert with other schools and parents) and getting an extra 2nd Grade teacher this year (our class sizes have exploded).

I would love to see the PTO do more, and I am working with our members to make it more of a resource. But the PTO should only ever be one mechanism for involvement and not seek to be all powerful.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

50 Ways Parents Can Help Schools

The Center for School Change (n.d.) lists the following ways that parents can become involved in schools:

1. Share information with a student or class about a hobby.
2. Share information with a student or a class about a career.
3. Share information with students about a country you visited or lived in.
4. Tutor one or a small group of students in reading, math, or other area.
5. Help coach an athletic team.
6. Help check a student's written work.
7. Help put out a school or classroom newsletter (can also be done at home).
8. Help sew or paint a display.
9. Help build something (such as a loft in a classroom or new playground).
10. Help students work on a finalexhibition or project (can also be done at home or workplace).
11. Help answer the schools' phone.
12. Help plan a new playground for the school.*
13. Help plan a theme-based presentation for students.*
14. Help present a theme-based program for students.*
15. Demonstrate cooking from a particular country or culture to students.*
16. Share a particular expertise with faculty (such as use of computers, dealing with disruptive students).
17. Help students plan and build an outdoor garden or other project to beautify the outside of the school.
18. Help coach students competing in an academic competition (such as Odyssey of the Mind, Future Problem Solving, Math Masters).
19. Help bring senior citizens to school to watch a student production.

1. Help set up an internship or apprenticeship for a student at your business, organization, or agency.*
2. Host a one-day 'shadow study' for one or a small group of students about your career in business or some other organization.
3. Go on a local field trip with a teacher and a group of students.
4. Go on an extended (3-5 day) cross-country field trip with a teacher & students.*
5. Contact a particular local business or organization regarding possible cooperation.*
6. Help to create a natural area outside the building where students can learn.
Serve on an advisory or decision-making committee.
7. Serve on the school-wide site council.
8. Serve on a school committee that reports to the site council.
9. Serve on a district committee representing the school.
10. Serve as an officer in the school's PTA.
11. Help organize a parent organization for the school.
12. Help design a parent and or student survey for the school.
13. Help conduct and or tabulate results of a parent survey regarding the school.

14. Serve as a member of a 'telephone tree' to distribute information quickly.
15. Write a letter to legislators about the school.
16. Write a letter to school board members about the school.
17. Go to a school board meeting to advocate for the school.
18. Go to another school to provide information about this school.
19. Help design a brochure or booklet about the school.
20. Help translate information from the school into a language other than English.
21. Help translate at a parent-teacher conference for people who don't speak English well.
22. Provide transportation to a parent-teacher conference for a parent who needs a ride.
23. Write an article for publication in a magazine about the school's activities.
24. Help arrange for a political leader (mayor, city council, state representative, member of Congress) to visit the school.
Increase financial resources available to the school.
25. Help write a proposal that would bring new resources to the school.
26. Donate materials to the school.
27. Arrange for a business or other organization to donate materials to the school.
28. Help with a fundraiser for the school.
Help other parents develop their parenting skills.
29. Help teach a class for parents on ways they can be stronger parents.
30. Help produce a videotape for parents on ways they can be more effective parents.
31. Help write, publish, and distribute a list of parenting tips."