According to The New York Times, at Public School 298 in Brooklyn, where the principal regularly invites parents to visit classrooms each month, on most occasions fewer than 10% of them will actually show up.
And the New Millennium Business Academy Middle School in the Bronx spent most of the summer trying to track down the families of incoming sixth graders in order to invite them to an orientation session. Just over half of the families made an appearance, a figure which the school’s principal classed as a victory.
Meanwhile, over at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, attendance at parent association meetings was so measly that the school started raffling off Thanksgiving turkeys and supermarket gift cards in a bid to entice people to come.
The de Blasio administration said it believed so strongly in its approach that it has injected a million dollars in recent months to train parents in organising techniques and hire people to knock on the doors of some 35,000 premises of parents of students attending struggling schools. The idea is to notify them of the changes and urge them to step up, get more involved and assume a bigger role.
“Bringing families into their child’s education is essential,” noted de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Farina. “Study after study shows that family engagement improves student performance and attendance.”
A hot afternoon in late August saw Tameka Carter, an outreach worker and single mother of four from Brooklyn, going from building to building in the Edenwald housing project in the Bronx, knocking on doors of families with children in Public School 112.
When Ms Carter found the parents listed on her clipboard – typically mothers – they listened as she explained to them what it meant that their child’s school looked set to become a community school.
She asked them to rate, on a scale of one to five, how much they would value potential new programs such as medical services, tutoring or summer activities. One of the questions posed was how they would value “an opportunity for parents to sit at the decision-making table,” a question which left one parent utterly confused.
“Meaning?” 31-year-old mother Maria Pena asked. Ms Carter explained that she could “sit at the table” with P.S. 112’s “community school team,” a group of parents and staff members brought together to decide what programs the school needed. “I would definitely sit,” responded Ms Pena. “The problem is if they would listen…”
De Blasio believes that a key part of the strategy to transform them is to get parents on board and to turn schools into one-stop community centres offering services such as medical and dental clinics, counselling and adult education courses.