Part of the district's efforts to respond to complaints from the Office of Civil Rights involved a series of focus groups conducted by consultant, Daniel Baron. The quotes from students and families shared at a board meeting and covered in this paper reveal two important factors we need to consider as we improve equity in the district: 1) Many of the problems and their solutions are not academic; and 2) low-income and minority families aren't the only ones who could use help in negotiating the system on behalf of their children.
The problems of disenfranchisement do not occur only in the classroom; they are much deeper. Families feel excluded when class parents make assumptions about which parents can afford to contribute to a teacher's gift or be eligible for a field trip. It happens when there is no late bus for children whose parents are unavailable to pick them up following after-school activities. It happens when a parent is shy or intimidated and their lack of involvement is interpreted as indifference or child neglect. A position of Special Assistant for Community Relations, strongly recommended by consultant, Daniel Baron would help address these deeper problems. It is now clear that the board has no intention of heeding the recommendation.
The tragedy of this decision is that support of this kind is available to families whose children are in Pre-Kindergarten and we know how effective it has been. Port Washington School District has been blessed to have had the services of Ann Coady for the past 20 years. She has worked as a district employee in the Outreach Program of the Parent Resource Center and as Community Services Liaison in the Pre-Kindergarten program helping parents navigate their way through the school system, interpreting for non-English speaking families, and offering parent education and social service referrals. Families continue to rely on Ann long after their children enter elementary school, seeking guidance and support - and sometimes intervention- in their efforts to work in partnership with teachers and the district on their children's behalf. Ann has provided this ongoing support without compensation from the district.
A position of Special Assistant for Community Relations will not only help minority and low-income families, but it also will make a difference to all families in Port who do not feel welcomed at school or left out of decisions about their child's education. In a district that talks about "partnership" and the "power of parents," we have a long way to go to overcome the disenfranchisement that too many parents --of all races and income categories - feel in this district. We hope the administration and board reconsider their decision so that we can hold onto Ann Coady, one of the best-kept secrets in town, and pursue the kind of holistic, parent-friendly school system that we profess to have.
Dana E. Friedman, Ed.D.
Chair, Port Washington Child Care Partnership
A coalition of community groups dedicated to improving services for young children.