Meeting with new FACE Director at CPS
I met with Philip Hampton and Amy Sue Mertens of the office of Family and Community and Engagement Friday. They are both new to the office, and the goal was to find out what they are working on and make some suggestions on how to improve the process of parent and community engagement next year at CPS. I received a lot of good feedback from RYH members on suggestions to offer and while many parents are skeptical about this office every working to truly positively impact real engagement, my personal view is it’s better to try and offer feedback and see if it’s taken than to not engage at all with CPS. It’s also important to know the limitations of the office –they don’t set policy at CPS.
This year was beyond frustrating for many parents at CPS, so many who felt shut out of a process of policy making that they wanted to be part of on different levels and concerns. Those of us who were invited to be part of the process even felt shut out. We felt that our concerns and ideas were not really listened to, that CPS had an agenda set before they ever scheduled their first meeting with the community –f or example on school closings and the extended/longer/full day.
So how to improve this? Can we improve this? I think we can improve minor things – like providing basic access to information for all parents. I suggested that CPS put information out in every backpack on the first day of school explaining the resources that exist that many parents don’t know about. For example, what are the different parent groups that exist – LSCS, CACS, PACS, etc. How does a parent get involved and where can they get information about the function of each of these groups? CPS has departments that are supposed to work to serve these groups that very few parents even know about. Many parents don’t have access to a computer to look up these departments on the CPS website – why not hand out a flyer with all of this info? Why not hand out a list of community groups that might be able to help parents get the support they need?
I was told my Mr. Hampton and Ms. Mertens that CPS has Parent Support Centers where parents can call in with specific questions on issues they are having at the school level, such as how to get an IEP for their child, how to report a problem they are having with a school, etc. They are then issued a ticket to ensure their question is followed up and resolved. These centers were established in February of this year. I am a pretty active CPS parent and I have never heard of these support centers. What is the point of creating these different supports if no one knows about them? There may at times be a breakdown in how information is disseminated from central office to the school level, but there is no reason why information that could actually help parents is not considered a priority for dissemination. If getting helpful and not political information to parents was a priority, a flyer on these Parent Support Centers would have gone out. We all got our flyers on the Longer Day, right? CPS can do a better job on this kind of thing and I'm hoping that these new folks who lead the FACE department will find a way to make some changes that are actually effective to improve parent engagement.
In addition, why not have a flyer on a bulletin board in each school listing important information for parents? Basic info on what an LSC is, what is a PAC, etc. Here's how to get involved. Here is some info for parent support groups in the area. Here are some community groups in the area. Some would say CPS doesn't want real parent engagement and it's by design that they don't share things. I am not sure if this is true or that it's just general bureaucratic incompetency and the effect of a system so large they don't know how to manage things well, or some combination.
Other quick info:
I was told Oliver Sicat of the Portfolio Department is going to be attending CAC meetings next year. Too bad this didn’t start last year. Many parents and teachers told us that school closings were determined this year way too quickly and without any real community feedback. CPS MUST DO BETTER WITH THIS PROCESS. THEY HAVE NO BUSINESS MAKING DETERMINATIONS ABOUT SCHOOL ACTIONS WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THEIR SCHOOLS AND SPENDING TIME IN THEM. Do something different – get the community involved to make decisions in partnership. It might work if you actually listen to real stakeholders and find solutions together. This takes trust and respect, something often lacking in the dynamics between CPS and the communities they “serve”.
CPS is considering changing the process for signing up for Board meetings. Hurray for this. This has to change. They may allow people to register the day before over the computer or phone so people don’t have to wait in line at 5:30am and sit around for 7 hours to get their two minutes to speak. I couldn’t emphasize enough how much this process needs to change.
We talked about having a parent advisory council. How do we ever know if any information is moving up the ladder to anyone who makes actual decisions? We don’t. Every school has a FACE manager, and they report to their Area Network Officer. I am still a little unclear on what FACE managers are supposed to do even after this meeting. I think I was told they could help parents advocate. For what? I am pretty sure we saw them this year holding places in line at Board meetings for parents who were there to speak on behalf of the CPS agenda. Do they help parents advocate no matter what the issue? I would love to hear some examples of how FACE managers impartially helped CPS’ parents, so if anyone has any examples please share –firstname.lastname@example.org. I am not sure if these folks function in political roles only or they do more than that. Either way, Mr. Hampton didn’t think CPS was ready for an advisory council.
We know that RYH parents have excellent recommendations all the time. We don't know if CPS will follow any of them, but we might as well try to offer the suggestions we think can help.