October 19, 2012
New Orleans — Whether a parent needs help navigating the enrollment process, holding effective parent/teacher conferences or searching for employment opportunities for themselves, the Recovery School District and Urban League of Greater New Orleans have joined forces to better provide families with the resources they need to support successful students.
The largest of the three RSD “Family Resource Centers” celebrated its grand opening last week at Lawrence D. Crocker Arts and Technology School in Uptown New Orleans, after relocating from nearby Walter L. Cohen High School.
The centers seek to clarify what Urban League Executive Vice President Erika McConduit acknowledged is a “confusing landscape,’’ with multiple types of schools in multiple districts.
The other centers are located at Sarah T. Reed High School in eastern New Orleans and L.B. Landry High School on the West Bank. In November, the center at Reed will be relocated to the Mary D. Coghill Elementary School in the Pontchartrain Park neighborhood.
While the centers were available last year to ease enrollment hassles, the centers this year provide much more, including workshops for parents on school choice, standardized testing and college application, job skills, parenting techniques and financial literacy.
By focusing on the well-being of parents as well as students, “Our goal is to uplift the entire family,” McConduit said.
Leading up to the initial creation of the family resource centers, Maria Montoya, director of student and family services for the office of enrollment, said that the loudest complaint from parents at focus groups was always about having to go to multiple locations and often not getting questions answered. Montoya gave the example of a mother who moved from Arizona to New Orleans for a job in health care and was spending most of her time driving from location to location in order to get her six children enrolled in almost as many different schools.
Located in geographically strategic locations, the resource centers are intended as a hub for the entire community, extending far beyond the schools that host the centers, RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard said.
Dobard described the creation and expansion of the centers as an “organic process,” in which feedback is constantly being taken in while creative ideas are generated to increase accessibility and widen the scope of the centers’ offerings.
For some of the younger parents, Dobard said, they are working on utilizing technology, such as sending text message blasts about what is happening at the centers, thus “bringing the resource centers to the parents.”
Dobard repeatedly stressed the importance of educating parents on all of the available options for their children’s education.
“We believe in parent choice,” McConduit confirmed. “We never want to tell parents what they should do.” Instead, McConduit said, the centers act as a neutral place where parents can better understand all options available and have their decisions respected. “At the end of the day it’s up to them to decide what is best for their families,” she said.
McConduit said that the information provided to parents at the centers is unbiased. “We are not endorsing any particular school model,” she said.
The centers are staffed with patient, knowledgeable employees who are trained to address problems and answer questions, or, if needed, to direct parents to the appropriate venue to address their needs, McConduit said.
For example, McConduit said, if a parent comes into a center because a family is losing its housing, the staff at the center can access databases that cover various social services and walk parents through the necessary steps. In terms of their children’s educations, “We want to eliminate as many challenges as possible,” McConduit said.
“When you empower and uplift families,” McConduit said, “it has a positive impact on students.”
The model is only in its first year, and RSD officials want to expand and replicate it, Dobard said.
Dobard said he hopes to bring in more community partners and expand “wraparound services.” With many services cut in recent years, Dobard said, the district hopes to reach the students most in need of additional assistance.
It is often said that parents need to be more involved, McConduit said, “But a step that gets overlooked is providing parents with tools to effectively participate.”
By teaming up with the Urban League, the RSD has a partner that already has resources in place, he said. Dobard said that the Urban League provides assets that the RSD cannot, and vice versa. “It’s a really healthy partnership,” he said.
McConduit said the RSD “holds us to a high standard,” and Dobard said that the Urban League helps the RSD better serve the community. Together they are able to more comprehensively meet the needs of families, McConduit said.
While public education may be thought of as a “traditional” system, Dobard said, the centers are an example of creative and innovative thinking — “creating models we haven’t seen before.”
Crocker principal Anna Charmaine Roberston said that she is very happy to be hosting a family resource center at her school, and she is always working to find ways to make the school a “welcoming place where parents feel comfortable.”
Robertson said she hopes the centers will ease frustrations by having a centralized place where parents can go to get accurate answers to their questions.
Robertson said she is surveying parents to find out what services they would like to see offered at the schools. It is easy to say that the parents aren’t going to schools enough, Robertson said, but schools need to do more to encourage participation and provide parents with information and outlets for becoming more involved.
“Sometimes were don’t advocate enough for the parents,” she said.