Since the early 1900's, parent organizations have been the connecting rod between local public schools and the families of children attending them. In Cleveland a multitude of such groups exist throughout the district, most of them self-funded, with their names and organizational structures mostly self-determined. School district officials plan to change that by implementing a new way of organizing such groups. 90.3 WCPN's Bill Rice reports.
Bill Rice: In what turned out to be a surprise to many members of local parent groups, the Cleveland Municipal School District called an informational gathering recently to explain the new set-up. The School Parent Organization, or SPO, as it will be known, will be a three-tiered organization that district officials say will bring parent representatives together under one roof. Teresa Yeldell, who unveiled the plan Tuesday at Lincoln-West Middle School, says the current system is unwieldy.
Teresa Yeldell: There are schools that have as many as five different parent groups, we have some that have none. That's a major disparity. We have some schools that have active PTA's , we have some that are trying to get them up and running. We have some school where we have a PTO, which is not quite a PTA, that is functioning and some schools where it is not. What we looked for was something that we could say has consistency throughout the district without it being a clone. So from building to building you would know that this is the parent organization that represent that school building.
BR: What the district settled on is a three-tier parent organization model developed by Joyce Epstein, a researcher and educator at Johns Hopkins University. At the bottom tier is the individual school organization. Representatives, one from each school SPO, make up the middle, or regional tier, and the top tier is made up of representatives from each region. Only parents or guardians of children attending a particular school, says Yeldell, will be allowed as members. Design Theory are scientifically sound.
TY: Because what I have heard over and over again is that parents want to be able to know and have input on what's going on in their specific school. It does not mean other people can't be invited in, but in terms of making those decisions for their children, they do want to make those decisions for their children.
BR: That doesn't mean others can't be invited to participate, Yeldell says. In fact, other school parent or citizen groups can exist alongside the SPO, but the SPO will be the official representative parent group in the district.
While the Epstein SPO model has a proven track record for bringing more parents into the education mix, some have reservations. Many who are members or officeholders of existing groups say the suddenness of the announcement caught them off guard. Sandy Coombs is a member of the McKinley Elementary School PTO.
Sandy Coombs: A parent happened to tell me this morning that there was an article in the paper yesterday, and I went home and read it. And that's how I found out about this.
BR: Coombs and others say they wish the district had been more forward with their plans. Many are not enthusiastic about their own long-established organizations being replaced, or that elected officeholders will have to repeat their bids if they want a place in the new order. And then, Sandy Coombs wants to know, who controls the money? Most parent organizations, she says, control their own funding.
SC: Does it become a school fund where the principal has to sign off, or where we have to have a purchase order and wait for downtown to approve it? That's a very slow process and the parents balk at this.
BR: The money, replies the district's Teresa Yeldell, will be controlled by school principals.
TY: The principle should be the leadership of the school, and so the principle is the person who would then spearhead any fundraising. The principle is the person who would also be responsible for any money raised in a school to see that it goes to the purpose for which it was raised.
BR: Exactly how the SPO will be funded hasn't been decided yet, says School Board member Sandra Morgan. In fact, there are still many details that still need to be worked out. Morgan says the system is still a work in progress, but a critical one if the district is to succeed in reaching out to parents. But, she says, she understands people's apprehension.
Sandra Morgan: Change is difficult and this is a district that has been undergoing a great deal of change over the past three years. But probably on a parental level and in terms of community involvement we've been pretty passive. Now we're actively engaging parents and asking them to make a paradigm shift with us.
BR: Those who didn't make the meeting - either because they didn't know about it or had other obligations - will have another opportunity next Tuesday. The district will hold a second informational session on the School Parent Organization at Collinwood High on Cleveland's east side. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN News.