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No Child Held Back™ Training Program Graduates 35 parents

Hartford Parent University March 10th held its largest graduation ceremony ever – with 35 parents from the M.D. Fox, Thirman Milner, Simpson-Waverly, and SAND schools completing the Achieve Hartford!-supported No Child Held Back™ program.  This means these parents have taken ownership over their children’s learning, fully understood their role as a partner with the teacher, and built up their skills using personalized learning plans and technology.

For the parents at these four schools completing this program, it also means that now, all parents have a personalized learning plan for their children and a Chromebook tablet for emailing their teachers, checking Powerschool, and accessing online learning resources, along with up to $300 in “solution services” to help their children pursue educational interests or address educational challenges.

Other results from the parents’ participation in the program include:

  • On ability to very confidently support their children’s education, the parent proportion rose from 32 percent before the program to 92 percent after the program;
  • In terms of confidence working with their children’s teachers, parents rating themselves at the top level (being very confident) rose from 28 percent before the program to 96 percent afterwards; and
  • Lastly, the average growth of self-reported knowledge, of what Student Centered Learning is, increased by almost 40 percent for parent participants as a result of this program.

For No Child Held Back Author Yovel Badash, this rite of passage was just the beginning, as it is for all who mark graduation day.  “When you graduate from a university, you start your adult life,” Author Badash told the graduates at The Lyceum.  “So, today is a beginning, not an ending.  From now on, parents can talk with teachers as equal partners.”

Achieve Hartford Executive Director Paul Holzer told the graduates, “This program came together as a result of three organizations coming together – Hartford Parent University, Achieve Hartford! and No Child Held Back™ – and now the ask is of you … to come together with your child and your child’s teachers, because that’s where the magic happens.”

Here is a sampling of views from four of the HPU graduating parents:

  • Samantha Pacheco (SAND) – said the program “has made me a better mother.  Everything I do for my kids is their future – and not only my kids.  All kids.”

 

  • Stacy Figueroa (Milner) – serves as the secretary of the school’s PTO and, through HPU, learned how to use a Chromebook tablet, access the District’s Parent Portal and understand the options for children with special needs.

 

  •  Rodney Morton (Simpson-Waverly) – believes the program has empowered him to be a better father; “I didn’t know I had this much power as a parent.”  Moreover, he has been able to help his 13-year-old pursue the IT career he seeks.

 

  •  Natalie Delgado (M.D. Fox) – appreciates the fact that her program experience has helped her to guide her two daughters with special needs, as “many doors opened” through the experience.  She encouraged all parents to look vigorously for help.

“I see so much growth,” HPU Executive Director Milly Arciniegas told the graduates.  “And now, you’re on a better path.”  But it hasn’t been easy for parents, she noted, stressing that when 10 parents at one school logged into Powerschool, they found academic data missing for their children, and in two other schools, Powerschool was not even set up with the children in the system.  “We know there are many times when a school reports difficulty in communicating with parents, and now we know that there are times, too, when a parent reaches out to make contact and has difficulty.  It’s a process – and forming a partnership takes time,” she said.

Most remarkable, she said, have been the advancements made by her parent coaches, who have become increasingly knowledgeable about the nuances of School Governance Councils, services for English Language Learners, and procedures for obtaining support for children with disabilities.

“The work that the coaches have done has been inspiring for me,” Mr. Badash told the graduates, “because, by teaching you learn, and the coaches have gained the ability to impact so many more parents’ lives throughout Hartford.  For the 35 graduates who worked with the parent coaches, they can now deal with the school system in an effective way.”

Here is the Hartford Parent University No Child Held Back™ graduation information online.


Ever Wonder How Every Student Will Benefit from a Caring Adult?

Some call it a morning huddle; it used to be just a drowsy homeroom check-in.  Now, the platform for student-adult relationships to form in Hartford schools is a daily advisory group meeting.  As this is so crucial to student-centered learning, it was good that Hartford Board of Education members had a chance to experience it firsthand – with a group of Eighth Graders who do it every day.

At this week’s Kinsella Magnet School of the Performing Arts workshop, seven Board members had a chance to see what it means to test wits on their most important values, declare their best character traits, and hear what is important in other people’s lives; to experience what a daily advisory can bring.  It’s that memorable conversation at the coffee pot, on the bus, at the counter; a good daily exercise for everyone.

Environmental Sciences Magnet School at Mary Hooker Spanish Teacher Elizabeth Wilson has been busy, as the school’s advisory coordinator and student representative mentor – not to mention, but also to consider, being a new mom to her own child.  Tuesday evening, she masterfully put the Board members through their paces with some of her Eighth-Grade students, also masterful!

The exercise was very instructive, illuminating a foundational part of the District’s Strategic Operating Plan: Student Success Plans are one of its six high-leverage strategies … and they rely on the caring adults who serve as mentors or conveners of advisory groups.

“Advisory is just one way of connecting with a caring adult,” Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez said Tuesday evening, as she and Board Chair Richard Wareing and Board Members José Colón-Rivas, Robert Cotto, Jr., Tiffany Glanville, Craig Stallings, Beth Taylor, and Karen Taylor came to the tables with Ms. Wilson’s 12-year-olds.

“It’s easy for students to just check out,” Ms. Wilson said in a follow-up interview, by way of shedding light on why the advisories, and the intimacy of their small groups, is so invaluable.  When children get a chance to air their views, they tend to reciprocate later when they have to take on complex tasks, like reading and interpreting complex text.

“It is understood that we are all in this together … it’s an agreement, not a battle,” she explained.  Students get an entrée into speaking up instead of hanging back – but also know they must deliver in the classroom.  Another benefit of the advisory relationship-building exercise: “It kind of gets adults off their high horse!”

Here’s Tuesday’s video, which proves not only that a picture is worth a thousand words, but also that slowing down to think … and have conversations without a device in hand … might not be such a bad thing.

For Eighth Graders, as Ms. Wilson put it, “Their specialty is talking about themselves!”

In advisories, however, growth comes from exposure to a broader spectrum of ideas, rather than simply being confined to one’s own.

It is noteworthy that Tuesday’s Board of Education session – and several other recent workshops – have moved toward person-to-person dialogues, in which Board members and District leaders in small groups probe key issues.

In past years, Board workshop meetings were characterized by lecture-style presentations; this new participatory approach by the District is distinctly different … and a positive development.


Board Members Sworn In; Committee Assignments Reconfigured

As job interviews go, re-appointed Hartford Board of Education Member Richard Wareing and newly appointed Board Members Tiffany Glanville and Karen Taylor nailed it at their City Council vetting February 18.

Especially against the backdrop of the City’s long-term structural deficit, their sound advice and forthright views on school improvement elicited hope that Hartford could be prepared to do the impossible for children and families down the road, that is, actually turn around Hartford’s chronically under-performing schools.

Of course, the Q&As before Council were not actually job interviews, but if they had been, these three appointees were impressive.  In fact, they were unanimously approved by Council and then sworn in at the February 23rdBoard of Education meeting (video here).

Taking the Council to School

Board Member Wareing, who was subsequently re-elected by his colleagues to continue as Board chair, delivered his typically trenchant answers to Council questions February 18th, including a forecast that “a series of very hard tactical battles” will be required to address this year’s severe budget issues:

  •  Hartford cannot continue to run two separate school systems – neighborhood versus magnet, he advised.
  • Small schools, those with 350 students or fewer, are unsustainable – and running schools with fewer than 300 students may even be impossible, he said, commenting that it is time for Hartford to look at school consolidation.  In that scenario, administration and overhead costs would drop – but class sizes governed by collective bargaining agreements would not be in the offing.
  • Asked about proactive measures he might suggest, Chair Wareing reported that the District has done well in reducing central office costs and yet can do more.
  • Consolidating District and City Finance – and perhaps Public Works – efforts might not balance the budget, but it could result in progress.  “It is something that could be done and is already being discussed,” he said.
  • The Hartford legislative delegation will hopefully help the District address the need for stepped-up reimbursements of special education services.
  • While he is “generally a fan” of within-District school choice, children in poor neighborhoods tend to be the worst served, he observed.  “School choice is great as long as there are good choices … really, honestly, choice works if you have quality,” he told the Council.

The two newly appointed Hartford Board of Education members, Tiffany Glanville and Karen Taylor, also had colloquies with the Council. A mother of three children with number four on the way, Ms. Glanville expressed concern about the complications of school choice for the city’s most disadvantaged students and the need for dialog about housing and other issues that impact education quality.

It is a problem when younger children can’t get into the school of their older siblings – and “we don’t have the perception of an equal playing field in many of our high schools,” she said.

For her part, new Board Member Karen Taylor said she will bring a “social class, race, and inequality” focus to her work.  She spoke of “the oddity” of children who attend magnet schools having friends from several towns – but not with kids in their own neighborhood.  In reference to school choice, she emphasized, “It is really important to focus on collaborating on behalf of neighborhood kids, instead of competing for them.”

Speaking as a “narrative changer,” she said, she would like to engage parents in a different way, to interact with schools based on their life circumstances – and to change the narrative to English Language Learner and other populations that have much to contribute.

Here is the link to the February 23rd Hartford Board of Education meeting video, at which the new Board Members and were sworn in and the officers elected. New committee assignments are here.

The Difficult Position a Parent Board Member Is In

There are two factors in particular that put the new parent Board of Education members in a tough position, along with the other parent members serving on the board.

First, the high sense of urgency to improve schools felt at the Board and District often times is not perceived in the community.   In order to combat the cynicism about whether change is possible and to inspire more people to share responsibility for school improvement, the urgency at the District and Board must be felt far and wide.

When you are at the top of the food chain, where policy is created and money is allocated, you have the opportunity and responsibility to think boldly, talk boldly, and act boldly, and the eyes of Hartford parents will be trained more on you, to see if your urgency matches other parents in the community.

The other factor that puts parent Board members in a tough position is the desire for better responsiveness to problems at the school level, for which Hartford parents regularly ask.

When a parent testified at the last regular Board of Education meeting about her First-Grade child being suspended out of school for three days, only to come back to school and get suspended again for two days out of school, the expectation is that this kind of thing would not happen again.  The pressure is now on parent Board members to ensure that these concerns actually get addressd and don’t come back to the Board.

Mayor Bronin committed to appointing parents to the Board and has followed through, even before his fifth and final appointee is announced.  In doing so, a new era of communicating urgency and responsiveness to parent concerns, has just been launched.  We hope.


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