Community Voices: Many components factor into school success

The first day of pre-K and high school graduation day are two of the biggest events in a student’s academic career. There’s a lot of learning that falls in between those two days, not just for students, but for parents and community members as well. The contributions of those two groups add to student success.

As a parent of students in two Atlanta Public Schools, I’m familiar with the struggle. Juggling activities, along with helping with homework and family time, can be a tough balance.

Shelia Williams, mother of two children who have matriculated through APS, emphasized the importance of togetherness.

“In our community, our stakeholders must feel that the leadership of the school values their input,” she said.

The learning curve for those stakeholders includes navigating through PTA meetings, curriculum nights, field trips, fall festivals, science fairs, sporting events, holiday programs, and trips to the principal’s office. One also must know the issues, become informed on the educational process, recognize what is working and support those efforts, as well as identify what isn’t working and offer solutions.

I met Jodi Merriday, the APS ombudsman, at a recent stakeholders meeting at Jean Childs Young Middle School in Southwest Atlanta. She also stressed the importance of interaction with parents and the community as a whole.

“Systemic change requires systemic-wide involvement,” Merriday said. “Every layer requires everybody’s input. All of the solutions require that everybody be at the table,” in what she described as the post-modern village, which includes administration, schools, parents, municipal services and the business community.

However, the time is an investment in not only student success, but community success.

Factor in problems that can arise during a school year—falling test scores, students struggling academically, disciplinary issues, new school or district policies to learn, declines in funding for schools and disagreements about what is best for area schools—and that makes the job even tougher. Frustrations mount and can translate into a decrease in parental involvement or financial and community support.

Franshay Jordan, PTA president at West Manor Elementary School, too, emphasized the importance of gaining community support.

“When speaking to prospective community partners, I have found success in getting a commitment from them by explaining how their involvement will positively impact the academic achievement and development of our students,” Jordan said. “I like to compare their investment in the students to an insurance policy. The payout comes when these students grow up to be productive citizens who are able to patronize neighborhood businesses.”

I think Merriday summed it up best when she said great partnerships, vibrant and robust parent involvement and engagement, as well as enthusiastic and optimistic teachers are critical to school and community success.