Parents in training to help solve school problems

Program teaches parents how to work effectively with people who hold opposing views
By: | April 20, 2016

Several Connecticut communities are training parents to take more active roles in the success of their districts. Parents Supporting Educational Excellence (Parents SEE) encourages parents to learn about how their districts work and to get involved to help solve problems.

The 12-week, education-focused leadership program was developed by the nonprofit Connecticut Center for School Change, in cooperation with the state’s Commission on Children.

How to speak, work together

The program teaches parents how to work effectively with people who hold opposing views, and how to best partner with district leaders—such as by running for school board, joining the PTA or volunteering in classrooms. They also learn how to better judge school and administrator effectiveness, and how to analyze data, from the academic to the financial, to determine if their schools are hitting benchmarks.

Finally, parents practice skills needed to effect change, says Patrice Nelson, Parents SEE program coordinator for Connecticut Center for School Change. For example, they practice speaking skills and presenting to board members so they can more confidently and effectively communicate their concerns to district leaders.

The program, which launched in 2008 in nine communities, now has more than 750 parent graduates from 22 communities statewide. It is hosted by early childhood collaboratives, town agencies, regional community centers and/or school districts.

Each community sets its own goals. For example, the town of Stratford’s program recruited parents of pre-K through grade 3 students by reaching out to community organizations, school PTAs and local social media groups.

Each community also determines its own budget. The program can include transportation for participants, two facilitators, food, on-site childcare and class materials. Top funding sources include grants from Connecticut’s Parent Trust Fund (a statewide program that supports parent leadership training), Title I, and financial support from community organizations, businesses, private foundations and nonprofit organizations.

One Parent SEE graduate says the program in Stratford inspired parents to join their school board and community organizations focused on early childhood and equity.

“It also helped us figure where our added value and interests were—whether it was speaking up at meetings, being on the PTA, volunteering for commissions or starting projects” says Jennifer Falotico, who became a state PTA board member.