Improving Our School Report Card

The somber statistics illustrate the tremendous needs in the Allendale County school district. We didn’t arrive in this position overnight, and it will be no easy task to claw our way out. But, thanks to the diligent efforts of many staff and leaders, things have been improving. (Even last night at the school board meeting, I heard that reading scores have improved by 20% since last year.)

But we cannot rest here. We have to keep improving. And before we can improve, we have to understand the core problems.

Exactly what is the issue depends on who you ask. Here are the percentages of Parents, Teachers, and Students (respectively) that are satisfied with:

  • School Learning Environment:  76 / 60 / 81
  • School-Home Relations:  57 / 70 / 72

Parents say the school environment is the problem, and the teachers say that parents aren’t engaged enough. So, which is it? Both probably. (And the students are the most optimistic in either case.)

There is more work to be done, and this burden must be shared by many — parents, teachers, future leaders, and the community

Parents

I’m tough on parents. When I was a children’s pastor, I knew and communicated that in order to disciple children, we have to first reach and disciple parents. When there was an issue with a child in our program, I first looked to the parents.

Because of different cultural and family dynamics in this area, some of the practical applications will not be the same, but basic parenting principles are timeless and cross-cultural. After all, kids are not that different.

Here are three things we need parents to do:

  1. Be present.  Parents have to stick around, so that they can have a positive influence. With 77% of births to single moms, we have too many Disconnected Dads, and I’m also seeing more and more situations with Moms who are not in the picture.
  2. Be equipped.  For the last few months, I’ve been wondering how we can help teach basic parenting principles, especially to reach parents of young children.
  3. Be involved.  Parents cannot shrug off the burden of educational responsibility on the schools. For example, parents need to do things like reduce the amount of screen time their children get. Parents must be involved; after all, studies show that teachers have less than a 20% impact on student achievement.

Teachers

Though parents play a majority role, teachers need to do their part. They must . . .

  1. Keep inviting parents.  In Allendale, here is a marked drop-off in parent involvement from 1st to 6th grade. Most parents of the younger kids attend parent-teacher meetings, and they participate in parent lunch days at the schools. But by middle school, less than 20% of the parents come to the school to get report cards and speak with the teachers. Teachers (especially in mid- to late-elementary grades) need to continually remind parents to be involved.
  2. Bring good tidings.  Don’t call or send a note home only when the child misbehaves. If you keep doing this, the parent will dread talking to you, and avoid you — hurting your chances to invite them in. Be sure to speak about the good progress and successes the child is making.
  3. Get help.  Do you have a list of how someone could help you in your day? Do you need an assistant in math time, or someone to read to a child? Do you need help organizing, or a once-per-month cupcake party? What would energize and encourage you? All these needs may not be able to be met immediately, but you need to have thought this through. Then, when someone does say, “What can I do to help?” you should be able to rattle off 3-4 ideas.

Future Leaders

If you are or want to be in education, there is a huge opportunity for you to have an impact. Teachers and other leaders are needed here. If this is something you want to be involved in, you need to:

  1. Get equipped.  Get your education, as much as you can and need. The more training you get, the better use you can be.
  2. Get here.  Simple enough, but you need to make a conscious decision to be here. For now, come down and visit. Meet teachers and administrators. (And let me know if I can help.)
  3. Get settled.  When you do move here to start teaching or working in some other capacity, plan on being in Allendale for a long-term. Many teachers and administrators don’t live in the community, with many living an hour or more away. To have an impact, I think you need to be a part of the community, and not just for a trial run. Commit for 3-4 years at least, and 5-6 is even better.

Community

The schools are the only thing that this county has in common, the only common entity in the area. The schools need the community to be more than spectators. If you live in the Allendale area, you need to . . .

  1. Encourage.  Let the teachers know that you appreciate what they do. Tell them, and show them. For example, one church is going to provide cookies and appreciation notes for a school, monthly.
  2. Understand.  Instead of being quick to voice your opinions, make an effort to seek out other perspectives and to listen. Go to the school board meetings. Be a part of the conversation, but more so to learn instead of vent.
  3. Serve.  Get involved hands on. It could be helping with math in the class, or reading to kindergarteners. It could be organizing materials for a teacher, or serving at a special event. Call one of the schools and ask to be involved. (Or, if you want, let me know, and I’d be glad to help make the connection for you.)

Without a doubt, it will be a team effort that will have a long-term effort. It won’t be easy, but there is hope.

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5 responses to “Improving Our School Report Card”

  1. Loren Pinilis says :

    I love how you’ve laid our really practical tips that everyone can do to improve your school’s situation. I appreciate your leadership in this area in leading the way to tackle a difficult problem. It’s easy to play the blame game or to react emotionally, but you’re a testament to how we can get to work.

    • joeyespinosa says :

      I appreciate the encouragement. I guess the main “blame game” that I think should happen is everyone take their share of it. 🙂 We definitely need to look for the long-term solutions, and they won’t be easy.

  2. Karen Heath Allen says :

    Great ideas Joey! I’ve enjoyed reading your blogs and please feel free to direct anyone interested in helping to me. I will happily put folks to work assisting with PBIS – positive behavior interventions and supports. It is so much fun too, you get to look for kids displaying good behavior and reward them…. So much better than nagging and yelling at kids for behavioral errors!

    Glad to have you on our team in Allendale! We will get there, inch by inch, day by day.

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