Michael Golia said Columbus Family Academy parents flock to the school’s meetings in part because they are allowed to bring their children, and because dinner is served.
The school’s assistant principal said he and Principal Abie Benitez have developed a strong parent base over the years by ensuring parents know “we’re concerned about what’s happening” and by making basic communication easier.
Parent leaders lauded Columbus as an example of a school with active parent participation at the most recent Citywide Parent Leadership Team meeting — and asked for advice on how to replicate Columbus’s success. Also the school district reported on new citywide efforts to involve parents.
An average of 75 parents, along with 50 children, show up to monthly Columbus PTO meetings, Golia said. School staff send home notices with each child about a week before each meeting. On the day before, parents receive phone notifications in the morning and in the afternoon, he said.
Administrators call parents of honor roll students as well as those having trouble, which helps “develop a rapport” over time, forming a culture of open communication, he said.
Columbus sets a good example, but administrators and parents need to look at methods that work best for individual schools, said Daniel Diaz, newly promoted from the district’s parent advocate to family coordinator.
“Part of my role is to help increase engagement, participation and feedback across the district ... so we can encourage parents to come to our meetings,” he said at Thursday’s meeting.
Parents agreed that a large part of maximizing attendance is maximizing convenience, making it easier for people to show up and participate.
Organizing and publicizing PTO meetings in advance instead of “a day ahead,” as well as allowing parents to choose which days for conferences work with their schedules, would help involve parents who work “two or three jobs,” said Ruth Swanton, who has children at Hooker Middle School and MicroSociety Magnet School.
Megan Ifill, parent advocate and mother of a son at New Haven Academy, proposed that citywide meetings be held at neighborhood schools with after-school programs, allowing parents to attend while their children are focused on other activities.
App-etite For Involvement
The district is also upgrading its technology to make the process of communication easier, said Abbe Smith, the district’s director of communications. The New Haven Public Schools smartphone app was launched last spring and has been downloaded by about 1,000 people, she said.
Ultimately, parents will be able to use the app to receive messages from administrators at specific schools about upcoming events, as well as district-wide information.
East Rock Community Magnet School has been testing that function since March 2014 and has sent out a total of 20 notifications about school holidays or reminders about conferences.
“I use it all the time,” said Daisy Gonzalez, parent of a son at East Rock school and a member of the Board of Education. The notifications go through the app, but also directly to cell phones.
“We can use the app for different events that might not rise to the level of emergency,” Smith said. “It’s another way we get the message out to parents.”