Now that school districts are in the home stretch of the yearly budget process, it’s a good time to reiterate the importance of parent involvement. Parents are their children’s best advocates, but you can’t be effective unless you are informed. Here are the Top 10 things you need to know to help you navigate the budget process in your school district.
- Know your school district’s budget calendar, which will give you a list of meetings and topics. Attend these meetings if you are available.
- Be sure to check your district’s website for information, and read budget brochures that are mailed to your home. Read the fine print so you will understand if your children’s school experience will be impacted.
- Keep up with media reports of budget meetings. Local newspapers and the Patch offer different perspectives, which may not be covered in official school district information.
- Know when PTA meetings are held. Your PTA president should have the latest budget information.
- Know when and where Board of Education meetings are held, attend them, and feel free to voice your opinion during the public participation part of the meeting. You must sign up to speak before the meeting. This is the time when you can join together with other parents to protest proposed reductions that you oppose, such as full-day kindergarten, or increased class size.
- Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Board of Education members and the District Clerk. In public school districts, trustees are elected by the residents and should be responsive to their constituents’ opinions and problems.
- If you are upset by a proposed cut, you may circulate petitions to the board, discuss the topic at PTA meetings, write letters to the board and to the newspapers, and come to board meetings en masse. Impassioned and organized efforts sometimes have the desired results.
- Make sure you register to vote. Check with the District Clerk for procedures and deadlines if you are not sure if you are registered.
- Remember to vote. There is a uniform voting date for all school districts in New York State, which this year is Tuesday, May 21. If you live in another state, check with your district for the date of this year’s budget vote.
- If you will be out of town you may request an absentee ballot. Check with the District Clerk for information about absentee ballots, polling places and voting hours.
A new national study shows that the use of smartphones among teens has increased during the past year. The news is hardly shocking to parents and educators – but it does give us an opportunity to reflect on the role of technology in our kids’ lives – and also in our own.
The study, conducted by the Pew Research Center, indicates that one in four teenagers use their cellphones to access the Internet, compared to 15 percent of adults. Seventy-eight percent of 12 to 17 year olds have a cell phone, and 37 percent have a smartphone, an increase from 23 percent in 2011, according to the study, Teens and Technology, 2013.
We are well aware of the escalating challenges and benefits of cellphone ownership and use. The benefit of cellphones is that it creates a safety net for teens and gives parents the ability to stay connected with their kids at all times. There are even tracking devices, such as Sprint Family Locator and AT&T’s FamilyMap.
But the challenges are many. Previous generations of teenagers used the landline to connect with their peers. Teens may have tied up the family phone for hours, but parents were well aware of their activities. In fact, parents were usually able to vet potential dates and friends simply by answering the phone or observing their kids’ phone activity. Those days are long gone. The privacy and portability afforded kids by cellphones makes it increasingly difficult for parents to monitor their teens’ behavior. Texting, sexting, taking and sending inappropriate pictures, and cyberbullying are all serious concerns, as is the potential of smartphone addiction.
The incident this week in northern New Jersey is an example of how comfortable a group of teenage girls became with their cellphone camera, taking nude photos of themselves and sharing it through a device that erases the pictures a few seconds later. But some boys to whom the pictures were sent took screen shots of the photos before they were deleted and then shared them with others.
The superintendent of the Ridgewood school district sent a letter to parents informing them that police are now investigating the matter and urging them to have their children delete the photos. He said it is a crime to create, transmit or possess child pornography. Police say they will charge any student caught with the pictures after 7 a.m. Monday.
How many adults sleep with their smartphones next to their beds? Do you really want your teen to model your behavior? Hanging out with friends at the mall is one thing, but virtually hanging out 24/7 with a cellphone not only interferes with sleep, but intensifies the peer pressure that is part and parcel of adolescence.
According to Mashable, another study by TextPlus found that half of the teens they polled said they “couldn’t live without their mobile devices for a week, while 36 percent said they weren’t able to go 10 minutes without checking their phones.”
On the other hand, smartphones can be powerful learning tools, instantly connecting users to information and visuals. But kids also need to know that everything on the Internet is not necessarily true – such as the Tweets someone sent this week claiming to be Pope Francis. Young people need also to develop critical thinking skills. And there are concerns that texting may hamper the development of communication skills, such as writing and speaking.
Our parents and grandparents decried the use of the car, telephone, television, and portable radios by teens. In every generation, parents have had to cope with emerging technology. There is no shortage of lists to tell parents how to police their kids’ activities online, how to talk to them about cellphone use, and how to set rules and insist on responsible behavior.
But beyond that, we all should take a step back and see whether we are controlling the technology we use or whether technology is controlling us. That is the ageless question.
Parenting solutions are timeless too. There is nothing more powerful for parents to do than being present for kids, creating quality family time, sharing real life experiences, communicating face-to-face, inculcating values, and modeling appropriate behavior.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably aware that there is a flu epidemic this year — both in the United States and elsewhere. The flu has been around for a long time, and there’s no need for parents to panic. Here are some resources to help parents and children make sensible health decisions.
The New York Times Learning Network offers a number of ideas about teaching students about the flu virus. Included are lessons about how flu attacks the body, how to control its spread, how vaccines work, the history of the disease and how epidemiologists work.
Flu.gov has valuable information on children and the flu, such as: how to protect your children; how to care for them, and even what to do about your pets! And of course, remember to “keep your child at home and away from healthy people for at least 24 hours after his or her fever is gone. Fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.”
For an alternative position on flu vaccines, an article in The Daily Beast points out: “Though the CDC did guess well with most of the strains circulating this year, even CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden acknowledges that the venerable flu shot is only 62 percent effective in reducing symptoms of the disease. In other words, for every 100 people who get the flu shot, 38 of them will get the flu anyway.”
Schools are hotbeds of germs. It’s important for children to know to wash their hands often and to cover their mouths when they sneeze. Recently, some schools have been teaching students to sneeze into the crook of their elbows. The children in this kid-friendly Public Service Video from the Virginia Department of Health describe this method.
During flu season and always, encourage your child to exercise good hygiene, eat nutritious foods, and get plenty of sleep. Don’t send your child to school if he or she is not feeling well. Have a contingency plan for your work if your child is home sick. If you don’t, the school nurse is likely to call before the day is over asking you to take your child home.
Breaking News – it’s now official. Parents are a more significant force in the education of their children than schools! As reported by Michele Molnar in Education Week , a new study indicates that parents who are engaged and involved are more influential in the education of their children than the schools themselves!
The study based its findings on data from the National Education Longitudinal Study, which measured the achievement of a group of 10,000 high school seniors in math, reading, science and history.
The study found that students were more successful if they came from families with high social capital – the connection between parents and children. Although school social capital is important, students succeeded even if their schools had low social capital (teacher morale, positive learning environment, addressing needs of children). This means that the more parents engaged in their children’s education, the more successful their children were.
“The effort that parents are putting in at home in terms of checking homework, reinforcing the importance of school, and stressing the importance of academic achievement is ultimately very important to their children’s academic achievement,” Dr. Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., and a co-author of the study, told Education Week.
Teachers, administrators, and family engagement advocates have long been making this point. When parents are engaged in their children’s education, kids get the message that they think school is important and that they value education.
Talk to your children about school, stay on top of their classwork and homework, and communicate with your child’s teacher. And don’t be shy. Take a look at the list of your rights I have compiled — and use them!
Parents’ Bill of Rights
- You have the right to be your children’s best advocate and expect that their unique and special needs are met by the schools in a safe and supportive learning environment in each grade in each school year.
- You have the right to communicate with your children’s teachers, principal, and school nurse as often as you see fit.
- You have the right to easily access and understand information about your children’s schools, school district, teachers, administrators, facilities, policies, procedures, and programs.
- You have the right to have access to your children’s educational records, information regarding services offered by the schools, and expectations about your children’s instructional programs, grading criteria, attendance and behavior.
- You have the right to be treated with respect, fairness, and understanding, free of discrimination and prejudice, by all staff, faculty, and administration in your children’s schools and school district.
- You have the right to attend all public meetings, including PTA, Board of Education, and committee meetings.
- You have the right to complain, without fear of retaliation, to teachers, building and district administrators, and Board of Education.
- You have the right to attend Board of Education meetings and address the board during the public audience part of the meeting.
- You have the right to know official complaint procedures within the school, school district, and outside agencies, and pursue them if necessary, without fear of retaliation.
- You have the right to ensure that your children are learning in safe, healthy, and caring schools, free of discrimination, prejudice, bullying and harassment, and that their physical, emotional, social, academic and special needs are met on a daily basis.
It’s the time of year when parents who have school-age children are in back-to-school mode. But not only should we be thinking about preparing our children for a new school year, we should also think how we can best plan our own schedule.
As a fervent supporter of parent engagement in education, it’s very easy for me to say that all parents should be actively involved in their children’s schools, become active members of PTA, and attend board of education meetings regularly. We know that doesn’t happen. In fact, I have attended meetings where fewer than 10 parents were present – out of a potential 20,000!
Today’s parents are stressed and scheduled to the limit. Parents who work long hours are not available during the day, and may not be inclined to leave home in the evening. So what’s a concerned parent to do?
Cindy Krischer Goodman, a columnist for the Miami Herald, recently interviewed teachers to get advice about how working parents can remain engaged in their children’s education.
Here are some of their suggestions for the overburdened parent:
- Communicating with your child’s teacher via email or phone.
- Making every effort to attend parent/teacher conferences.
- Setting aside one day or evening to be present, such as chaperoning a field trip or attending an evening program.
- Checking your child’s work folder on a regular basis.
- Reading with your child.
- Reviewing your child’s homework every night.
- Monitoring middle school students’ agendas and teachers’ websites.
- Checking high school students’ electronic grade books regularly, and communicating with teachers if there’s a problem.
Additionally, Goodman offers tips that have worked for her on her Work/Life Balancing Act blog. Here are some of them:
- Merge the school calendar into your work calendar so you can plan ahead for days off and half-days.
- Take your vacations during school holidays and use personal days for special events at school.
- Stock up on extra school supplies at the start of the school year so you won’t have to make emergency shopping visits after a hard day on the job.
- Get rid of the clutter as soon as it comes into the house.
- Establish a simple system by the door to assist you in remembering what is needed for each day, e.g., musical instrument for lessons, sneakers for gym. Have a receptacle there so you can leave the items you need in plain sight.
To be engaged, working parents also need to know what’s going on in the school and in the district. Here is my list:
- Become intimately familiar with your school, school district and PTA Websites.
- PTA Websites should give you the names of the PTA officers, meeting and event information, and issues for which the PTA is advocating.
- PTA presidents are a great source of information, so keep in touch with them if you can’t attend meetings.
- School and district websites should give you the names and contact information of all the important players from teachers to board members. You should be able to find important dates, time schedules, meeting information and minutes, policies, procedures and news.
- If you want to find out about the burning issues and controversies in your district with all sides represented, learn whether there are local weekly newspapers or online media outlets such as The Patch that cover your schools. They generally send a reporter to every board meeting and write about it.
Summer vacation is around the corner – and that means that both parents and kids get a break from the rigors of the school year. If your children are enrolled in day camp or other summer programs, they’ll likely get plenty of fresh air, exercise, and exploration. But the weak economy has taken its toll on families across the board. Fewer parents have the means to afford camps, tutors, and other summer programs that can enrich learning during the summer. And school budget cuts have also reduced free summer educational programs that existed in the recent past.
The bad news is that when students return to school after summer vacation, they’ve often lost one to three months of learning. Research indicates that math skills are most in jeopardy. Elementary students at all socio-economic levels typically lose math skills, while middle class students often make slight gains in reading.
The good news is that there are a number of strategies that you can use to ensure that your child doesn’t lose learning and skills over the summer. In the June/July issue of Long Island Parent, I offer 10 suggestions to help parents continue their children’s learning during the summer months. To read the whole article, go to:
Here are a few of the tips:
- Encourage reading by providing your children with plenty of books that interest them. Use school summer reading lists and library grade-level reading suggestions. Visit the library often and check out special summer events. Read with your children, and discuss the books they are reading with them. If you are really ambitious, organize a book club with a few of your child’s friends.
- Understand that any topic of interest to your child can be a source of learning. For example, if your child is interested in baseball, surround him or her with baseball books and magazines. Watching a baseball game and keeping score or cataloguing baseball cards can be a lesson in statistics, i.e., RBI, ERA.
- Car trips can evolve into math or geography lessons. Instead of the perennial kid question: “Are we there yet,” ask your children to estimate and calculate the travel time to a destination. Encourage your kids to recognize different state license plates, and talk about those states with them, fostering their geography skills.
- For social studies learning, make day trips to local historical sites, such as Teddy Roosevelt’s home at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, or FDR’s home in Hyde Park, NY. Overnight trips to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and Boston, offer a wealth of information about our nation’s history. And for science skills, don’t overlook children’s science museums and zoos, as well as outdoor natural wonders to explore, such as caves, beaches, and parks.
- Don’t overlook the kitchen as a wonderful learning lab. Involve your children in cooking and preparing meals, and they will exercise their reading, math and science skills. For example, have them read recipes, measure ingredients, and observe how the combination of different ingredients leads to the creation of something amazing. For advanced learning, ask questions, such as how many pints are in a quart, or what made the dough rise?
Remember to keep learning fun. You want your children to return to school in September with improved skills and a renewed love of learning!
In the first New York State budget vote since a 2 percent tax cap was mandated, 92.7 percent of Long Island school budgets passed last week. Of the Island’s 124 districts, 115 had their budgets approved; nine were defeated.
Of the nine that were defeated, seven had opted to exceed the 2 percent tax cap in the hope that voters would approve the increase anyway. But those school administrators bet wrong because under the new rules, they needed to convince at least 60 percent of their voters to approve their spending plan — and they didn’t. Districts whose budgets were defeated may submit the same or a new budget to voters next month.
The tax cap ushers in a new era in New York State. It demonstrates that the majority of districts were able to make deep cuts, and most taxpayers accepted the reductions despite outcries in numerous districts that cuts were hurting students. Across the Island, a number of schools were closed, teachers were excessed, class size was increased, and educational programs were reduced.
The dilemma is that taxpayers want to keep tax increases down at the same time that they want their schools to be outstanding. It remains to be seen whether parents will accept this state of affairs in coming years.
High School Senior Elected to School Board
High School senior Joshua Lafazan did the unimaginable last week! Just 18-years-old and the president of his senior class, he won a seat on the Syosset Board of Education – in a landslide!
Voters gave Lafazan an overwhelming mandate despite the district’s launching of a robo-call to parents accusing his father of taking the district’s list of absentee voters. He said his win was a backlash against what he characterized as a “smear campaign” by district officials.
“The people of Syosset have sent a mandate that we need open government and transparency in this town, and Josh Lafazan will deliver,” he told Newsday after he learned he had won.
During the campaign, Lafazan had been critical of the salary and benefits of Superintendent Carole Hankin, who is the highest paid superintendent in New York State and earns $541,000 in salary and benefits.
It’s interesting that while taxpayers and parents have decried administrative salaries and benefits in many districts, it took a student to make this a centerpiece of his campaign.
Could this be a harbinger of school board elections of the future? Will parents and taxpayers in other districts take on entrenched administrators? Calling for transparency is a familiar theme among critics of school boards. But most critics never step up to the plate by running for office. How many adults have the courage of this young man? If more did, it could substantially change the dynamics of school district politics.
Education news has been breaking at such a fast and furious pace that I’m calling your attention to a few important stories you may have missed.
New Organization to Engage Families in Education
First, I’m delighted that my good friend Myrdin Thompson of Louisville, Ky., has been named regional director for the central states in the newly formed National Family Engagement Alliance (NFEA). The organization was unveiled this week as part of Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress Conference in Washington, DC. Gwen Samuel of Meriden, Conn., was appointed as regional director for the eastern and southeast regions and has been an advocate for disenfranchised families.
The organization will provide resources, education and support to engage families, individuals and organizations in schools for the benefit of children. Both women have been recognized for their advocacy and training of parents and education professionals in effective family engagement in education.
While Myrdin was in Washington this week, she was honored as a White House Champion of Change and met with President Barack Obama. He characterized her as “awesome,” which is exactly what she is. Myrdin and I are both part of the blogging team at ParentNet Unplugged, a great group of people dedicated to parent engagement in education.
A few months ago, I featured Myrdin in two consecutive Your Education Doctor blogs because one just wasn’t enough. I called her a Parent Advocate Par Excellence, and I’m thrilled that she will be bringing her experience and expertise to our shared passion of parent engagement in education! To read more about Myrdin, here are my blogs:
A Letter to the President from School Boards Leader
Standardized tests have recently been on the minds of both parents and children. Last week, Mary Broderick, president of the National School Boards Association, wrote to President Obama urging him to begin a national dialogue on education – not among politicians but educators. She asked him to wear his “parent hat” to the endeavor of finding a new direction for public education.
Your daughters, she wrote, “like all of our children and all of our teachers, don’t need more tests designed to identify weaknesses. They need excited, motivated, passionate teachers who feel challenged, supported, and encouraged to try new approaches, who share with their students a learning environment that is limitless. …”
She also decried the focus on standardized testing, saying: “Strict quantitative accountability has never worked for any organization, and it has not worked with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. … Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it more difficult to share a love of learning with their students.” Here is the full text of her remarks.
Resolution to Reduce Standardized Testing
Finally, the National Education Association (NEA) has thrown its support behind a resolution calling on federal and state policymakers to reduce standardized test mandates, and to base school accountability on multiple forms of evaluation that will support students and improve schools.
Other supporters include: Parents Across America, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The resolution’s signers have joined with public education advocates Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier to call upon state officials to “reexamine school accountability,” and to develop an evaluation system that reflects the “broad range” of how students learn rather than mandating extensive standardized testing. Click here for the full text of the resolution.
Three separate school bus accidents on Monday – in Indiana, Washington State, andOhio — have left a student and a bus driver dead, and scores of students injured, some critically. The three crashes have fueled concerns about school bus safety.
In the Indiana accident, the bus was mangled when the driver hit an overpass without braking. In Washington, the bus rolled over after it veered off the road. In Ohio, the bus tipped and then rolled over onto its right side into a ditch.
None of the buses were equipped with passenger seatbelts, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not require in larger school buses. But those accidents have now renewed calls for passenger seat belts on all school buses.
Federal law requires seat belts on school buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds, but 80 percent of the nation’s school buses do not fall into this category. Six states – New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Texas and Louisiana – have laws requiring seat belts on all school buses. But just because seat belts are installed, doesn’t guarantee they will be used.
For example, New York leaves the decision of whether the seat belts will be used to local school boards. On the contrary, the Texas law calls for disciplinary action against students who do not use them. California and Florida laws, while requiring seat belts in school buses, state that employees of school districts are not responsible for requiring students to buckle up.
The debate about seat belts on school buses has been going on for years. Despite increasingly strict requirements about helmets for bikers, seat and lap belts, and car and booster seats for children in passenger vehicles, school bus safety has not kept pace. In an ABC News interview, NHTSA spokesperson Lynda Tran said of school buses: “They are safer than their parents’ cars.” But Dr. Phyllis Agran, a pediatrician, told ABC that about 17,000 children are treated in emergency rooms each year from injuries sustained in school bus injuries.
Defenders of the status quo regarding school bus safety contend that statistics are on the side of the 24 million children who take a bus to school each day. But statistics fly out the window if it is your child who is involved in an accident.
Two of my three children were involved in school bus accidents and I have to tell you that although they were minor, it was a chilling experience to be notified that your child has been in a school bus accident. Parents have a right to expect that when they put their children on the school bus in the morning, they will get to and from school safely. They certainly don’t expect serious injuries or worse.
Seat belts have become a hot topic, but I can tell you as a former school administrator that they are not the only bus safety issues. Buses tend to be a “no man’s land” when it comes to supervision. It’s difficult for drivers to steer the bus while at the same time police kids’ behavior. Because there is no adult supervision on the bus other than the driver, school buses are fertile fields for bullying, profanity, fistfights, and other dangerous behavior, such as walking around while the bus is in motion and throwing things.
If the bus driver reports misbehavior to the school, it will be handled with an appropriate consequence. But not all bus drivers take the trouble to write a report. If your child tells you about misbehavior on the bus, take it seriously and report it to your principal or assistant principal. It’s not just annoying – it’s potentially dangerous. Be sure to inquire what steps the school takes to emphasize school bus safety. And make sure you reinforce them at home.
You may also inquire about the supervision of bus drivers. If the school district owns a fleet of buses and the drivers are district employees, they are usually better screened, supervised, and monitored than if the district contracts with a private company for their buses and drivers. If you have reason to believe a bus driver is engaging in dangerous or suspicious behavior, be sure to report it to your school district immediately.
The following bus rules should be emphasized by the school and reinforced by you with your child at home.
- Kids should go directly to their seats. They should remain seated and facing forward for the entire ride.
- Children should speak quietly and make every effort not to distract the driver.
- Students should not throw things on the bus or out the windows, or play with the emergency exits.
- The aisles of the bus should be clear at all times. That means no walking around or placing objects that may cause someone to trip.
- In an emergency, children must listen to the driver and follow instructions.
- Students should never put head, arms or hands out of the window.
- At their stop, children should wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before getting up. They should then walk, not run, to the front door and then exit using the handrail.