It’s elementary: Basalt parents say organization is key to success
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
BASALT ” Basalt Elementary School parent Rebecca Leibinger finally decided this fall that she had spent enough time listening to parents trade opinions about the school.
So, she formed a group to do something. Beginning this fall, an organized group of parents have supported teachers, worked on issues such as improving school lunches, and tried to bridge the gap between English- and Spanish-speaking parents.
“Let’s spend 90 percent of our time trying to fix what we’re talking about 10 percent of the time, versus the reverse,” said Leibinger. “I just felt like there was a lot of untapped energy there.”
Seven years ago, the school’s parent involvement group folded. Since then, organized parent help at the school has largely consisted of a group that plans the Taste of Basalt fundraiser each year and oversees ongoing fundraising efforts. And while many parents have been known to individually reach out to teachers, no formal group has supported the school.
In September, Leibinger sent fliers in English and Spanish to all elementary school parents announcing a meeting to discuss the formation of a parent group. Roughly 40 parents showed up. One of them was Stacey Craft.
Craft had recently moved to Basalt from Los Angeles, where her children were enrolled at a public charter school. That school’s rankings had improved from average to excellent partly through the work of a strong parent group. The nascent Basalt group decided to adopt that model.
“We’ve got a pretty good school, and we want to make it an excellent school,” said Craft. “The difference in those two levels is parent involvement.”
One of the parent organization’s main goals, say members, is to support the district’s teachers in an organized fashion.
“The teachers are so overworked. We just knew we could help them do more teaching and leave the other stuff to us,” said parent Sara O’Connor, also the vice president of Partners in Education.
The group has assigned at least one English-speaking parent ” and is working on assigning a Spanish-speaking parent, as well ” to each classroom as a “room representative.”
They’ve also asked teachers to create a classroom wish list of supplies.
“[The wish list], we think, is a nice way for working parents to get involved,” wrote parent and Partners in Education secretary Kara Williams in an e-mail. “If they can’t come in and help out regularly in the classroom, perhaps they can purchase markers, pencils, tissues or flash cards on their next trip to Wal-Mart.”
Another program, “Adopt a Staff Member,” makes sure all staff members are noticed at the holidays.
“Typically teachers receive gifts during December,” noted Williams, “but these other important staff members [custodians, cafeteria employees and other support staff] don’t.”
The group fed teachers during the two days of teacher conferences in November and created a schoolwide roster to allow parents to arrange play dates or carpools more
But the organization isn’t just about supporting teachers, board members say. It also provides a platform for parents to learn more about school programs. For example, at its Dec. 9 meeting, Principal Suzanne Wheeler will discuss outdoor education. In February, Superintendent Judy Haptonstall will attend the Partners in Education meeting to answer questions and address concerns.
And it serves as an umbrella for smaller groups, called “initiatives,” in which parents can join with other parents who share similar interests ” outdoor education, for example, or school lunches.
And ultimately, the group would like to add fundraising to its list of activities. They’ve already had preliminary discussions about a big family-oriented, schoolwide fundraiser in the spring, said O’Connor.
Another goal of the group is to improve communication between English- and Spanish-speaking parents. All meetings are announced in both languages, translation headsets are present at each meeting, and the last meeting attracted “a bunch” of Spanish-speaking parents, O’Connor said. In December, Partners in Education plans to hold a meeting entirely in Spanish, in the hopes of attracting more Spanish-speaking members.
“My husband and I lived in Puerto Rico for two years,” said Leibinger. “I have been the minority … It does cause you to be shy. It does cause you not to speak out.”
So far, said Leibinger, the momentum of the group has been amazing.
“You know you ask people to do things and they’ll do them,” she said. “You just have to be specific.”
Craft said she’s been pleasantly surprised by the tremendous support the group has thus far received from the school administration.
“That’s just sort of overwhelming to me ” how open they are to any suggestions,” she said.
Ultimately, Craft hopes that Partners in Education will make the elementary school the clear first choice for Basalt parents, who have many educational options in the valley.
“If we can make Basalt the school of choice for people who live there,” she said, “that would be terrific.”
Partners in Education meetings are held the second Tuesday of every month during the school year, at 6 p.m. at the Basalt Elementary School library. The next meeting will be held Dec. 9 and will feature Principal Suzanne Wheeler talking about outdoor education offerings at the school.
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