School Dist. U46 says family ‘engagement’ increasing
By Emily McFarlan firstname.lastname@example.org May 22, 2012 9:00AM
Updated: July 2, 2012 8:05AM
ELGIN — Parents and community members often get involved in the School District U46 Citizens’ Advisory Council because “they have something heavy on their hearts,” CAC member Natalie Olsen said.
“They come to CAC to get some resolution on that or get some input to the board. They don’t always know how to go about getting some resolution on that,” Olsen said.
That’s why one of three recommendations the CAC Family & Community Engagement Committee made to the U46 board Monday night was to promote its Guidelines for Addressing Concerns, Questions and Suggestions.
The committee also suggested providing paper copies of those guidelines at schools and publishing them in student handbooks, according to the presentation by Olsen.
Already, survey results from Destination 2015 — district’s five-year accountability plan — show family and community engagement is improving, according to the committee presentation. The benchmark set by the plan is 95 percent positive responses from parents and community members by 2015.
Positive responses jumped from 69 percent in spring 2011 to 84 percent in the fall, Olsen said. Not only that, but the number of surveys returned this year was up to 5,800 from 2,600 in spring 2011, she said.
Family engagement is the extent to which a parent or family member feels welcome at the schools and reports effective communication with schools, opportunities and information to support their children’s learning and opportunities for leadership and active participation with the district or school, among other key indicators, according to Destination 2015. Those indicators are based on U46’s Six Components of Family and Community Engagement and the National PTA Standards.
From those survey results, the committee identified “increasing opportunities and advocating for all students” and “sharing decision-making with all shareholders” as two areas schools need the most support to develop, she said.
Other recommendations included posting a “Family & Community Engagement” resources tab on the U46 website and updating the existing “School Board & Community” tab to include more information about what the board does and how it interacts with the community.
“When people don’t feel like there is a process or they don’t know what the process is, they get frustrated. That’s when things escalate,” she said.
Things had escalated earlier in Monday night’s otherwise noncontroversial board meeting when public comments became personal.
Rick Newton of Wayne, who often speaks critically of the district during public comments, called out a comment he said had been made by board member Traci O’Neal Ellis at a previous meeting.
Ellis had said the school board authors the agenda for its meetings but that agenda should be set by the taxpayers who elect school board members, according to Newton.
He prefaced those statements by calling the board member “a strong-willed liberal who probably never met a government program you didn’t like.”
Ellis interrupted, “I’m not going to take it anymore. It’s become a personal vendetta with me.”
She left the board room after U46 Chief Legal Counsel Miguel Rodriguez allowed Newton to finish his comments, and she returned after public comments had concluded.
“Mrs. Ellis may feel attacked,” Newton said. “I feel attacked every time I come here because I feel I am underrepresented.”