San Jose school districts need to foster parent involvement
San Jose Unified School District trustees and officials discussing increased chronic absenteeism rates at a Sept. 29, 2022 board meeting. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    San Jose school districts should encourage more parents to attend board meetings and become involved in the work they do, community advocates said.

    School board members are responsible for hundreds of thousands of students across Santa Clara County school districts. They’re in charge of allocating millions in funding, from federal stimulus monies to bond measure dollars. They also make decisions on school safety, mental health and curriculum. Yet advocates said when it comes to communication and engagement with the families they serve, outreach and access fall short.

    Catalyze SV Community Engagement Manager Rocio Molina said school districts can implement numerous measures to increase board meeting attendance, especially for parents who don’t feel comfortable at meetings that include jargon and procedures. These changes can range from language translation to making captions available during Zoom meetings, she added.

    “These little things can really go a long way in including people from various communities during these public participation meetings,” Molina told San José Spotlight.

    Sergio, a parent at Anne Darling Elementary in the San Jose Unified School District, who did not want to provide his last name citing privacy issues, said he’s concerned about his daughter’s progress in third grade. He said it’s difficult to attend school board meetings and wishes there was more communication between schools and parents. San Jose Unified School District only holds in-person meetings and posts audio recordings afterward.

    “Primarily, the reason I don’t attend is because of my work schedule,” Sergio told San José Spotlight. “(Meetings) are on the weekdays and I work Monday through Fridays, and I’m off at 5.”

    Pandemic efforts 

    Santa Clara County school districts pivoted to virtual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic and many continue to offer online options post-pandemic.

    Jocelyn Merz, president of the Alum Rock Educators Association, said virtual options allow flexibility for parents who can’t attend due to tight schedules or illnesses. Alum Rock Union Elementary School District currently hosts online meetings, where board members can meet-in person but residents attend virtually. The meetings are broadcast live and made available on the district’s Youtube channel afterward.

    “(Board members are) the decision-makers, but hopefully their decisions are based on the input that they get from the community,” Merz told San José Spotlight.

    Claudia Coello, an Alum Rock parent, said she used to regularly attend school board meetings and wants to be involved in her son’s education. Online or in-person, meetings should foster participation and parent involvement, she said. While she kept up her attendance during the pandemic because the Zoom format allowed attendees to see each other, that has changed. Now she attends less, because attendees are no longer visible and she feels more isolated on the platform.

    “As a parent of a special needs child, I definitely want to know how the district my son is in functions,” Coello told San José Spotlight.

    Jillana Kimsey-Leonard, president of the San Jose Unified Council of PTAs, said a lack of community engagement means that programs or policies could go into effect or disappear with little notice. Attending PTA meetings is a good first step, and more discussion can mean improvements in curriculums, graduation rates and more, she added.

    “People need to get involved with their school,” Kimsey-Leonard told San José Spotlight. “You’re entitled to have a voice in the education process.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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