On Thursday, 4/26, over 100 parents, teachers and community members from schools in Oakland’s low-income communities of color – including Reach Academy, East Oakland Pride Elementary and Skyline High School – gathered for Parent Leadership Action Network’s (PLAN) first-ever Oakland Parent-Teacher Summit. They came with the goal of building more positive and productive relationships between parents and teachers to improve learning for Oakland’s most at-risk students.
“The debate around education reform so often shuts out those who are closest to the students – parents and teachers,” said Melia Franklin, Executive Director of PLAN. “We wanted to bring the conversation down to where the work of education actually happens – in our schools.”
With the aid of interpreters in three different languages, parents, teachers, principals and community members met in a “café-style” setting at International Community School in the Fruitvale neighborhood and talked about how to motivate parents to be more involved, ways to support teachers to engage with family members and ideas to foster collaboration to boost student achievement.
“Teachers in public schools are usually overwhelmed and that makes building relationships difficult,. Parents have to speak out – be the ‘squeaky wheel’ – for people to listen.”
– Monica Scott Green, PLAN parent leader
By the end of the evening, dialogue progressed to concrete action steps, which will be the focus of a May 7th follow-up meeting. Priorities included:
- Giving teachers more time and training to work with families, individually and in groups. For example, some Oakland schools have teachers with hours allocated to communicate with parents.
- Minimizing language barriers that keep many immigrant families from communicating with teachers and getting involved in their children’s schools by expanding translation services at school sites.
- Organizing to change the culture at school sites from the dominant view of parents needing “help” to seeing parents as valued partners and contributors to the classroom and school community as a whole
“I take the initiative to start conversations with my children’s teachers. The result is that my sons are at the top of their class. Their teachers even give them leadership roles within the classroom helping other students with their work.”
– PLAN parent leader Laura Zamora
One thing everyone agreed on was that parent involvement is critical to producing successful students. Decades of research shows that student outcomes improve when parents are engaged. Turner was optimistic about outcomes of the summit: “With all the years I’ve been at the district, I have never seen anything like this summit happen. Hopefully, it is an avenue for addressing the blocks to communication between parents and teachers.”