The Citywide Parent Team — a coalition of several dozen New Haven Public Schools parents dedicated to providing feedback to the district — met Thursday to discuss the importance of parental engagement in improving the learning environment and school climate across NHPS.
CPT co-hosted the monthly meeting with Educators 4 Excellence-Connecticut, the state’s branch of a nationwide teacher-led organization that elevates teachers’ voices in education policy discussions. Roughly 50 NHPS parents and Elm City community members joined NHPS Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 and E4E-CT teacher representatives at Wilbur Cross High School to offer feedback on the best methods for improving communication among the school district’s administrators, teachers and families. Attendees at the meeting broke up into small groups led by E4E-CT teachers to discuss methods that could increase parent engagement in schools.
“The research has shown that the more involved the parent is, the better the child does as a student — to the best of their potential,” CPT steering committee member Ruth Swanton said.
E4E-CT held more than 120 focus groups, school visits and individual conversations with New Haven educators and surveyed over 100 teachers from diverse backgrounds since it began its collaboration with CPT last year. Following the organization’s research last year, it made several policy recommendations that broke down to increasing support for teachers, students and parents.
One recommendation E4E-CT offered based on its initial research was that schools should be more flexible when scheduling parent-teacher conferences, especially to discuss students’ report cards, Swanton said.
“The current systems in place do not support and encourage educators and parents to work together efficiently and effectively,” E4E-CT teacher Keeler Otero, a science teacher at New Haven’s Christopher Columbus Family Academy, said in a statement. “Students should not slip through the cracks, but be caught by the safety net that is provided by faculty, staff, administrators and parents.”
Swanton, a Sound School parent who joined CPT when former Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and former Superintendent Reginald Mayo founded it in 2009, said parents across different socioeconomic backgrounds struggle to engage with their children’s education due to conflicts with work.
During her small-group discussion, Swanton said E4E-CT representatives encouraged parents to more effectively use Parentlink, a smartphone application that connects NHPS parents to news and events in the school district. She noted that Elm City parents tend to prefer phone communication to email, adding that some low-income parents in New Haven do not have access to computers at home. Swanton said she encourages parents who do not have personal computers to use those provided by public libraries.
While communication between parents and schools was the focal point of Thursday’s meeting, Swanton said embattled Board of Education member Daisy Gonzalez — widely regarded as the voice of NHPS parents — serves as a critical liaison between CPT and the BOE. Harries affirmed that the BOE is backing Gonzalez, a former CPT steering committee member.
The Board of Alders voted to remove Gonzalez from the BOE on Dec. 21 because her continued membership violated the terms of the New Haven City Charter, which calls for a seven-member BOE. Gonzalez, the most recent appointed member approved by the Board of Alders, brings the total number of voting members to eight.
The alders filed a lawsuit against the BOE and Gonzalez on Jan. 26, despite appeals from the CPT to resolve the issue through mediation. Swanton noted that the lawsuit will cost the BOE around $20,000 in legal fees — money she said would be better spent in classrooms.
Swanton said CPT has been collecting signatures from NHPS parents to keep Gonzalez on the BOE. She added that after Thursday’s meeting, the signatory count stands between 400 and 500.
The CPT will hold its next meeting on March 3.