As an educator at the college level for more than 20 years, and the parent of two children in the Port Washington schools, I'm greatly concerned with the quality of education in the district. There are two key issues related to the district's response to the Office of Civil Rights citation which were not included in the front page article "Progress on Equity in School ..." in the June 28 edition of the Port Washington News.
At the May 22 School Board Meeting Mr. Baron said, "If nothing else is done," the position of "Special Assistant for Community Relations" should be created and funded. It is very important that the Port Washington community know more about: 1) the educational and social necessity of creating this position, and 2) the history of the administration's treatment of a highly respected and beloved member of the district staff who has been providing many of the outreach services related to such a position for many years, with no public acknowledgment of her committed work with under-served children and families in this community.
As the Parent Resource Center's outreach coordinator and community services liaison for the district's pre-kindergarten program, Ann Coady has performed parent education, language interpretation, counseling, referral and advocacy for services such as health care for a period of almost two decades for the families in the pre-kindergarten population. It is very important to note that she has also often provided these services to families of children in the elementary school population in response to requests from district administrators and staff. Even before the OCR citation, it was clear to many in the district that Ann's work needed to be expanded formally to children above the pre-K level. In December of 1999 Mrs. Coady wrote a proposal for the creation of a position of community and family resources coordinator for the Port Washington elementary schools. This is a position that has been created in many school districts across the country and provides the support to parents/families that is necessary for all children in the school district to realize their full educational potential.
The community and family resources coordinator works with parents whose educational background or English language capacity is limited to become more active and appropriate participants in their children's educational experience. The need for this kind of family support service was identified and expressed by the elementary school principals in the Port Washington School District. This proposal was discussed with school administrators during the 1999-2000 school year with no resolution. In the fall of 2000 Mrs. Coady was told about the OCR citation, that the coordinator position would probably be proposed as part of the effort to answer the OCR citation. The district offered Mrs. Coady a stipend to expand her work with families in the district into the after-school hours in response to her unwillingness to continue working without a professional salary commensurate with her training and the extensive hours that she had been devoting to her work. She accepted this arrangement for a year. In March 2001, the superintendent asked Mrs. Coady to resubmit a proposal to him to be considered as part of the district's action plan in response to the OCR citation. In April, Mrs. Coady was asked to explore grant funding for this proposal. As cited in your news story, Mr. Daniel Baron's report very strongly recommended the implementation of Ann's proposal. In other public meetings that I attended Mr. Baron cited Ann's work in the district as the core of what needed to be done in this district. With the implementation of statewide educational standards as well as the district's OCR citation, the work that Ann has been doing, and its expansion becomes even more crucial to the district.
Studies have shown that children's school success is highly correlated with parental knowledge of and involvement in their school activities. The creation of the position of "Special Assistant for Community Relations" is a cost effective strategy for overcoming the cultural and linguistic barriers encountered by some parents in the district in their efforts to support their children in school. This would be a very crucial first step to give the opportunity to every child in the district to reach his or her full potential, not just the children of parents who themselves are highly educated and thus already have the skills with which to support their children in the educational process.
This position must be created and Ann Coady must be celebrated for her contributions to our community. A real, rather than rhetorical commitment to equity requires both actions.
Alice Sardell, Ph.D.