Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell was the keynote speaker for the Ohio Parent Forum program at Bowsher High School. She is the director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in Washington, D.C.
Believing that an active parent group can do more to improve conditions at a school than any reform, Toledo officials said they hope a forum Saturday at Bowsher High School will help boost parents’ involvement in the district.
Toledo Public Schools was host to the first Ohio Parent Forum, where parents, school officials, and representatives from the Ohio Department of Education, U.S. Department of Education, TPS Parent Congress, and the University of Toledo gathered to talk. Participants discussed the question of what’s important to parents, ways to build relationships between parents and schools, and training available to parents and school officials.
U.S. Education Department officials have held similar events in other states, but this was the first time Ohio had a parent forum had, said Ann Bohman, a parental involvement consultant for the Ohio Department of Education.
Several dozen parents rotated among breakout sessions that focused on bullying, special education, college and career readiness, and early childhood education. Each session was hosted by representatives from an Ohio district: Dayton, Youngstown, South-Western City Schools (Columbus area), and Athens. Those districts will hold follow-up sessions later this year, when recommendations for action by parents, such as a handbook with bullying prevention strategies, will be given to state education officials to possibly adopt.
“We hope that there will be a call to action [by parents],” Ms. Bohman said.
The forum was organized when Chris Varwig, former Parent Congress president, met this year with state education department officials in Columbus. Ms. Varwig said the Parent Congress wants to increase TPS schools with active parent organizations and band together with other parent groups in northwest Ohio to give them a louder voice in education decisions on state and federal levels.
Bonnie Hermann, Parent Congress president, said she thinks the forum will have an impact in Toledo as parents become more empowered in their child’s school. Though disappointed by the turnout, Ms. Hermann said those there learned valuable information. “Everyone that walks out of the building today will think it was a day well spent,” she said.
Federal education officials were invited by state officials to work on parental involvement in Ohio when Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, toured the state last year.
Parents become engaged in schools where they feel welcomed, said the Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the U.S. Education Department’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the keynote speaker for the forum. Parents and school officials can get frustrated with each other and may not always feel they have time to build trust, but they should, she said.
“I think it comes down to a willingness to collaborate and build partnerships,” she said.
Sandy Wiley-Steward, who has two children at Beverly Elementary and a third who graduated from TPS, said she was humbled by the knowledge possessed by officials at the forum. A TPS supporter, Ms. Wiley-Steward said the district and parents still can improve on how they work with each other. “TPS really needs to focus on how they welcome families into schools,” she said.
Brenda Hill, Toledo Board of Education vice president, said she learned a valuable lesson during the district’s levy campaign this year when district officials asked for support from community groups. Many had questions about the district, she said, but felt they had no way to get them answered. Ms. Hill said TPS officials must continue outreach even after the November vote.
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