LA Leaders Discuss Growing ‘Parent Engagement’

By Elyse Galles, EGP Staff Writer

When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was in high school, the dropout rate was 75 percent. During an Aug. 11 forum discussion hosted by Families in Schools on the importance of parent participation, the mayor attributed his success, and that of his siblings — a judge, an investment banker, and an employee at a non-profit organization — at beating the statistics to his mother, a single parent who he said would go “the extra mile” and volunteer at his school after work and attend parent teacher conferences to make sure her children were taking the right classes.

LAUSD Chief of School, Family and Parent/Community Services Maria Casillas said educators must move away from a culture of compliance in order to better engage parents. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Families in Schools, founded in 2000, is a nonprofit organization committed to the involvement of parents in the education of their children through alliance with schools and other community programs. The organization is working to create a welcoming environment in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to encourage teacher and parent partnerships. The forum was attended by a mixed group of educators and community organizations, as well as parents.

“It’s our goal to help poor, immigrant parents to act like upper-class parents and be involved [in their child’s education] in a substantive way,” said Virgil Roberts, Families in Schools board chair.

For every 100 California students who entered 9th grade in 2008, only 65 will graduate from high school, 25 will complete the A-G (college admission) requirements, and only 5 will enroll at a University of California school, according to a 2010 report from the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access.

To groups like Families in Schools, those numbers are far from good enough, and while recent increases in student test scores are an accomplishment, there is a sense that the gains are too small and too slow in coming. The National Education Association has shown that parents who encourage learning are more important to student achievement than “income, education level, or cultural background.” Families in Schools recognizes that parent involvement in education, both in the home and on school campuses, is necessary for LAUSD students to make any significant strides forward.

But the issue of parental engagement is not a new one, as Families in Schools President Oscar Cruz pointed out. He said discussions such as the one they held that day are meant to solicit ideas for improving communication between parents and teachers as a way to help students be more successful. Not an easy task by any measure, but one which might be gaining wider acceptance.
“I think we are at an opportune moment in the history of this school district… I do believe that there is an alignment of forces today very different from almost any time in our city’s recent history. And I do think there is an environment that understands the importance of parent engagement and the need for parent engagement to drive success and reform in improving our schools,” said Villaraigosa, who tempered his remarks by adding that there are “still a great number of parents who do not participate.”

“I don’t want to romanticize parent engagement here,” said the mayor. My mom was accountable; she knew she had a responsibility. She didn’t say ‘I don’t have a car, I sometimes work two jobs.’ She got to school…[But] It’s voluntary, we can’t force people to do it, but we want to create a culture where with the rights come roles and responsibilities…When parents start seeing other parents involved, they see they have a responsibility.”

Families in Schools wants LAUSD School Report Cards to obtain better feed back from parents in principles and teachers in order to improve accountability. If parents are better informed about how their school is doing, and how their child’s teacher is doing, they might see the need to get more involved and feel more confident about speaking up.

Many educators, including retired LAUSD Assistant Superintendent Evangelina Stockwell who spoke at the discussion, make involving parents a priority and in the past have struggled against staff and school boards to do so. There are still teachers, however, who do not welcome a parent’s input, according to one of the parents at the meeting.

“Although teachers say—and I respect teachers—that they respect your opinions [as parents] and want you to interact with them, [after] I went to talk to my son’s teacher, he went to my son and said ‘you’re a cry baby,’ look your mom just came over to talk to me,” said Maria Rosales, a mother of three who represented LAUSD parents in the discussion.

“School Report Cards” could be used to help structure teacher training, and could serve as a valuable tool to help ensure that parent engagement is no longer an afterthought, but institutionalized in the educational system.

Villaraigosa said that when his term is up, he hopes to have created “a paradigm where the next mayor has no choice but to support this partnership,” which includes Families in Schools and other nonprofit groups, as well as LAUSD officials.

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August 18, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


2 Responses to “LA Leaders Discuss Growing ‘Parent Engagement’”

  1. Maria Casillas on August 22nd, 2011 1:53 pm

    Pelase clarify that what I stated is that we need to move away from a culture of compliance if we are to engage parents in a more productive and effective manner.

    Thank you.

    Maria Casillas

  2. YJ Draiman for Mayor of LA on March 13th, 2012 9:13 pm

    Good evening ladies and gentlemen my name is YJ Draiman and I am a candidate for Mayor of Los Angeles.

    I am not a politician. My experience has been in Real estate development, energy conservation – sustainability and utility efficiency.

    Tonight’s forum should not be about politics or who is a better politician. This forum should be about the many critical issues confronting the good people of Los Angeles, and how to resolve those issues.

    I believe in Democracy, and in a government by the people, FOR the people. The present administration DOES NOT serve the best interest of the people of Los Angeles. I am running for Mayor because now is the time for change; now is the time to stop letting career politicians use the city of Los Angeles as a stepping-stone to further their careers. It is time to restore honesty, integrity, accountability and transparency in government. It is time to put our differences aside, and put an end to special interests which only serve the few. It is time for city hall to serve the best interests of the people of this once great city.

    Today’s economic crisis is of utmost concern for all Americans. In these hard economic times, we must unify as a cohesive force to address the need for more jobs, better housing, a healthcare system which works for all; and most importantly, to stop the deterioration of the educational system which is depriving our children of the necessary tools for their, and our future.

    Education will rebuild Los Angeles economic sustainability!

    I have three words to say to you. EDCATION… EDUCATION… EDUCATION… You want to get ahead in life, you must have education. You want to compete in today’s economy you must have education. You want to provide for you family you must have education.

    Education, vocational/trade schools and energy efficiency will be the spearhead to our economic recovery and economic sustainability.
    Education will lead to economic progress, bring about innovation and…

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