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Elgin High ‘breaking down barriers’ with parent-teacher conferences

JessicVaillancourt (left) Marilyn Matlei both teachers ElgHigh School collaborate about an EHS student during open-house-style parent teacher conferences held EHS

Jessica Vaillancourt, (left) and Marilyn Matlei, both teachers at Elgin High School, collaborate about an EHS student during the open-house-style parent teacher conferences, held in the EHS fieldhouse on November 20, 2012. | Michele du Vair~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 24, 2012 6:44AM

ELGIN — By the time they reach high school, students are pretty good at playing home against school, according to Elgin High School Principal Jerry Cook.

But parental involvement in students’ schoolwork is “huge,” Cook said. In fact, he said, the more involved parents are, the more likely their children will succeed in high school.

That’s why Elgin High made it even easier for parents to connect with their children’s teachers this week during open-house-style parent-teacher conferences in the school field house.

“We’re really breaking down the barriers between home and school right now,” Cook said.

Every teacher was available for parent-teacher conferences, no appointment necessary, from 1 to 8 p.m. Monday and 8 to 10 a.m. Tuesday before dismissing for Thanksgiving break.

That meant parents didn’t need to coordinate schedules with six different teachers — more, if they have more than one student at the school. They could even meet with teachers they wouldn’t normally schedule appointments with, such as physical education teachers.

That’s different from the appointment-only conferences that Laurie Carrigan of Elgin remembered setting up when her daughter Megan Lino, now a junior, had been in elementary school, she said.

Now, Carrigan said, “There’s no reason you can’t take 10 minutes to come here.”

Elgin High School moved to the open house format about three years ago after Assistant Principal Al Flota saw something similar in another school district, Cook said.

Last school year, about 600 parents — about a quarter of all the parents at the school — came to the parent-teacher conferences, according to the principal. And it saw significant growth in students’ reading and math scores on standardized tests for the same year, he added.

It’s hard to draw a direct link between the two, he said, “but it can’t hurt.”

Parent connection

On Tuesday morning , Cook said the school likely would see even more parents this year than it had last year at the conferences.

One of the teachers sitting behind laptops at maroon-skirted tables, lined up alphabetically in the field house, was Ross Marshall, who teaches English and is on the school’s PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program) team. He said the three things every parent wants to know are: How is my student doing? Is my student coming to class? Is my student being respectful?

This year, he said, he hasn’t heard that first question as much. That’s because Elgin School District U46 also rolled out its new Infinite Campus system, which allows parents and students to see those grades online, he said.

He has one parent, he said, who checks his student’s grades online, then emails the teacher with questions. “They really have access to everything I do about their students,” he said.

But, Marshall said, all that access, all these news ways to get involved with students’ schoolwork, that’s not a replacement for face-to-face contact with teachers and buildings, such as at conferences. After all, he said, he also likes to point out to parents what their students are doing well, in addition to what they can improve.

And, he said, “Even a kid getting an ‘A’ has something they can do to improve.”

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