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John Monfredo: Keeping Families in the Public School System

Saturday, December 01, 2012

 

During the Presidential debates more and more attention was centered on Middle Class families and how they could be assisted over the next four years. That debate has been going on for years within all school districts across the country. Better educated and more affluent middle class families want to send their children to schools ready to learn, and public schools are attempting to remain their school of choice. 

A good school system must meet the needs of all of its students and keep a strong middle class make-up in its schools. That is essential for many of the parents also serving as the public schools' most enthusiastic volunteers, advocates and fundraisers.

Families now have many choices: Charter schools, private schools and the traditional public school.   

According to research, Americans still strongly support public schools as witnessed in Worcester with  82% of the school aged children attending public schools.  However, the public vs. private school debate continues to accelerate. In talking to middle class parents there is a concern that public education is about teaching to the test and meeting the needs of at-risk learners, while their child’s needs are not being met. Though these topics are critical goals to achieve, school leaders need to assure parents that it’s the overall accomplishments of the school that is important.

Public Schools cannot take for granted that public education will continue to be the school of choice for all parents.  To attract middle class parents, school leaders need to talk more about the successes they are having in their district and talk about the arts, programs that will accelerate learning such as more AP courses in the curriculum and the opportunity for students to take college courses. Information through a good public relations effort needs to be made, for it’s essential that schools inform the public of the many accomplishments.

Even though it’s important that the district lead the way in touting the systems accomplishment, it is also essential that individual schools get the word out about the successes taking place.

Keep in mind that all parents from all socioeconomic groups share middle class aspirations, for all view education as the gateway to the American Dream.  Therefore, the message needs to be about opportunities, hard work, and achievement. Schools are a key ingredient in the success of a city. A good school system will keep the middle class in the public schools. 

According to research middle class families want what all families want... a better life for their children.  The major concerns for families are the following:

•Good test scores … Test scores serve as an indicator for parents when shopping for a school do turn to test scores to see how the school is performing.

•Basic skills … Are essential to parents, for they want to be sure that their child can read, write, spell and do math.  They are concerned about the rigor in the curriculum and the opportunities their child has to learn more.

•Safety, Discipline and Personal Responsibility… Safety is always a concern for school shoppers for a safe school is essential for every parent.  Parents are concerned about bullies making their child’s life unhappy and about acts of violence.

•After School Activities … Parents want to see additional opportunities for their child, and with more parents working, there is a need to extend the day at school for their child.   Parents would like to see tutoring sessions, music opportunities and an extension of the curriculum taking place after school.

•Advanced opportunities for the brightest … Opportunities must exist for all students with rigorous programs in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate diplomas giving their child an advantage in college admissions. In addition, parents would like to see free SAT/ACT or college essay prep classes taking place.

•Good Citizenship … Most parents recognize that good citizenship and values such as honesty, respect, and responsibility need reinforcement at school so service learning projects and various club opportunities are needed.

•Good Communication … Parents want to be part of the learning process and want to work with the schools in planning, assisting, being informed, and learning how they can help their child to do well in school.  Parents would like to hear good news about their child and would appreciate it if teachers communicated with them more often.  Parents would also like to be greeted at the office door with a smile, a kind word and feel that they are welcomed at the school.

All school districts are under scrutiny, therefore they need to promote positive news, have more outreach to parents and defend against the negative.  Schools need to understand that parents want good customer service and they need to reach out and work with all parents. A positive atmosphere needs to exist in all schools and parents need to feel that they are partners in the success of the school.  In addition, all school districts should conduct customer service audits that review everything from the physical environment to how parents are greeted in person, via e-mail, or on the telephone. Then use the survey to make the necessary changes.

Just as important as public relations is bringing parents to the school door, but only strong teachers, high expectations, and a caring environment will keep them there.
 

 

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