Kids are not the only ones going to school.
On Feb. 10, Barnard Environmental Magnet School held a series of workshops in cooperation with Parent University New Haven, a free parent-support initiative launched in 2012 to help parents bolster their children’s education. Roughly 15 parents of Barnard school students attended workshops, followed by a speech and a question-and-answer session from Superintendent of New Haven Public Schools Garth Harries ’95. The workshops focused on helping parents learn to better engage with their children’s educations.
“We want to help parents help their children to succeed academically and socially,” said Daniel Diaz, the coordinator of parent engagement for NHPS. The workshops touched on many aspects of education, inside and outside the classroom.
At one workshop, led by Latrice Hampton, assistant to the director of communications for NHPS, parents learned about NHPS’s new mobile app, which combines a grading portal, school-specific calendars, a suggestion box and other services into one app. Hampton said the app is meant to accommodate parents who might not always have access to a computer during the day. She added that the app, released last year, has been downloaded by over 1,500 of NHPS’s 21,500-plus parents.
At another workshop, Karen Lombardi, a literacy coach at Barnard, helped parents learn how to develop their children’s reading skills. She walked the attendees through the foundational skills of language and how they might apply them to helping their kids read.
Lombardi, who was leading the workshop for the first time, said parents seemed to embrace the material.
“It would be great if we could get more parents to come,” Lombardi said, speculating that the weather was to blame for the relatively low turnout.
After dinner was served by PUNH, Harries had every parent and teacher in the room introduce themselves, and then spoke to them about the goals and achievements of NHPS. He noted that NHPS’s high school graduation rates have increased by 17 percent over the past five years, in line with district’s five-year graduation goals.
Harries then outlined the district’s priorities, the first of which, he said, is to “make sure kids start and stay on the right path.” In support of this goal, Harries cited NHPS’s unusually stringent reading requirements — whereas most districts require students to read by third grade, NHPS requires students to read by first grade.
“We want to be the best urban district in the nation,” Harries said, adding that in order to reach that goal, the district should also look to hire the best staff. “We want the best administrators, the best teachers, the best bus drivers … and I think we have all that in New Haven.”
During the question-and-answer session, Harries clarified parental concerns. In response to a parent who raised concerns about new charter schools in New Haven taking money away from other public schools, Harries responded that charter school funds come from the state, not the city.
Another parent asked what Harries is doing to improve school security. Although Harries recognized a shortage of security guards at NHPS, he emphasized that there are a number of steps that schools can take on their own to improve security, such as keeping track of keys and locking doors.
Keysha Kelly, a parent of a third grader at Barnard, said this was her first year attending the workshops, which she found to be informative and helpful. Barnard as a whole, she said, is very active with outreach to parents. The reading workshop gave her a basic knowledge of how to improve her daughter’s reading, she said, adding that Harries’ remarks were well informed.
“He did all he could while being politically correct,” she said. “It’s tricky with all those parents and teachers there.”