Director of Black Alliance for Educational Options Talks Parent Involvement

Newark schools are struggling to regain control from the state. The district has a 70 percent graduation rate. Nearly half of all students are chronically absent. PARCC tests demonstrate that less than 20 percent are proficient in math. But there’s special instruction to improve those statistics, not for students, but for their parents. Taught by the city’s Black Alliance for Educational Options. Its New Jersey State Director is Lavar Young.¬†He spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.

Williams: Thank you for being here.

Young: Thanks for having me.

Williams: What do parents learn in the six week long Parent Advocacy Leadership program?

Young: Well, it’s a host of issues. Mostly around their children’s learning style. Talking about school curriculums. Identifying qualities of what a high quality school looks like. Each child learns differently. So, we want parents to understand learning styles, curriculum, school budgets. Everything that has to do with education of their children.

Williams: Why is it important that parents get involved with their children’s learning?

Young: Well, I think some of the statistics you just talked about are important reasons why parents should be engaged and involved. For us at BAEO, it’s important for parents to really, not only just know their child’s teacher, but really know what’s happening with their child day-to-day throughout the day or the career of a child. So, you know parents have a voice. For us, it’s important to raise the profile of parents because things shouldn’t just happen. Parents should have a say so in what’s happening in the lives of their children. Specifically, around education.

Williams: How do you reach parents who are maybe working multiple jobs and just don’t have the time to get there? Are there other ways to reach them?

Young: So, for us it’s a lot of recruitment. We do our Parent Advocacy Leadership courses in the evening, when most parents are off of work. We do during the day. We try to work around the parent’s schedule to kind of meet them where they are. We do understand that circumstances prevent sometimes them to be totally engaged, but we want to give them quick, easy, accessible tools to be able to connect with the school in important ways.

Williams: How do you measure  success?

Young: Really by the outcomes that you talked about. How do we raise some of the PARCC scores? How do we raise engagement? How do we lower the rate of chronic absenteeism in schools? How do we raise the profiles of parents to go to school board meetings and be vocal about what their needs are and some of the things happening in schools? So really it’s a host of things but really I think the outcomes of test scores, attendance rates and just the involvement overall of community and families with parents.

Williams: And parents can be involved in that. They can make sure the kids get to school with their homework done.

Young: Definitely, definitely.

Williams: The former state appointed school Superintendent Cami Anderson had a contentious relationship with the community. Are things better under the current state appointed Superintendent Chris Cerf?

Young: Things are getting better. It’s a process. To Superintendent Cerf’s credit, he has gone out of his way to connect to parents in meaningful ways. For example, he’s come to our PAL classes for every cohort that we’ve had. He’s been there to answer questions directly. I’ve seen him much more engaged in the community than his predecessor. So I would say in my opinion he’s doing a good job of connecting in a meaningful way with our community.

Williams: You’ve just graduated your ninth cohort of parents. What’s their takeaway?

Young: So for them it’s really about finding their voice when it comes to education. A lot of parents don’t know what to look for when it comes to their children’s schools. They don’t necessarily know how to probe certain topics that a child may have difficulty with. For us, we have a lot of parents that have students with special educational needs. So, it’s about informing them about their rights and some of their advocacy lanes that they can travel in when it comes to special education. So, just helping parents become aware of what’s available and how to access that through the district.

Williams: OK, thank you very much for being with us, Lavar Young.

Young: Thanks for having me.