Mandatory parent meetings could be coming to Proviso Township High Schools District 209 starting next year. District 209 board member Rodney Alexander introduced the proposal during the inaugural meeting of the newly reconfigured parent and community engagement committee, held Nov. 8 at Proviso West High School in Hillside.
Alexander believes that an annual two- to three-hour mandatory parent meeting could be the catalyst that administrators have been looking for in the long struggle to improve the academic performance and instructional setting of students in D209.
"We're asking for one day — we're not asking, we're telling you," Alexander said. "One basketball game, one night of 'Empire,' which you can TiVo. This is for the future success of your children."
The board member said that the district currently has "the structure, we've got the dedicated teachers, we've got the dedicated administration and security. The failure of District 209 is not [due to] the schools. It's [due] to the parents. It's the parents and the lack of parental partnership."
Alexander, along with other district officials, said that despite a spate of recent measures designed to increase parental involvement at Proviso East and Proviso West High Schools, they've still had trouble getting parents into the buildings and regularly engaged in students' academic lives.
Dan Johnson, the district's director of student and family services, outlined the range of new services that have been implemented, particularly at East and West, since Supt. Jesse Rodriguez was hired last year.
Those services include the appointment of two parent coordinators and the creation of parent centers at both East and West. Those coordinators, Dr. Eva Kardaras and Delinda Hyde, said that despite measures like quarterly newsletters and the district's regular Parent University sessions, they haven't made the headway they desire.
"One parent's child registered four weeks late, because the parent was looking at where she would buy a house to get out of this district," Karderas said. "She had to come into the building and we had to show her what she was leaving. We need to get more information out to our parents."
Alexander said that he was part of the parent engagement committee that helped draft the district's current parental involvement policy a few years ago.
The policy currently requires parents to "agree to review and acknowledge" their students' completed assignments, grades, truancy and disciplinary actions. The school district, according to the policy, must provide internet access for parents without it in order for them to perform their duties as required by the parental involvement policy.
The district is also required to "hold at least two events per semester specifically designed to attract parents/guardians on school premises," among other requirements.
Alexander said that, despite those requirements, the policy lacks an enforcement mechanism to hold parents who don't meet their duties accountable. The annual mandatory meeting, he said, would be a requirement that has teeth.
Alexander said that the proposal has been vetted by the district's lawyers. The enforcement mechanism for the mandatory meeting, he said, would be similar to that related to chronic truancy.
According to D209's policy related to truancy, any guardian who "knowingly and willfully" allows a student to be truant could be convicted of a Class C misdemeanor, subject to no more than 30 days of in jail or fined up to $500. The district can also report the parent or guardian to the appropriate state officials.
The consensus among the roughly 20 district officials and community leaders at the meeting was that voluntary measures designed to increase awareness and engagement among parents, in the hopes of getting those scores to increase, have bumped up on their limits.
"I'm definitely for mandatory meetings," said Barbara Cole, the founder of Maywood Youth Mentoring. "I think parents want their kids to be successful. It's just a matter of getting them here in the room so we can inform them on how they can best assist their students in becoming successful."
Supt. Rodriguez — who along with new Proviso West Principal Nia Abdullah, was also at the meeting — said that "there is a lot of value in this."
"As a district, we're looking at a providing a standard of service philosophy," Rodriguez said. "We welcome the community and parents. We've got to open our doors for people to come in and see what we're doing because there is a perception and reputation. We have to own it and change it, but we have to make sure that people come in and see what we do."
Some people in attendance at Wednesday's meeting said that they'd want the district to make sure that they're sensitive to the needs of parents and guardians who are working and who may have legitimate reasons for not making a mandatory meeting.
Some attendees also said that, in addition to school-related information, the mandatory meetings should feature a full range of resources, including job referrals, opportunities to build skill sets and social services.
Mike Burries, a parent engagement committee member with United Effort Campaign, of which Alexander is a co-founder, said the mandatory meeting could be implemented gradually, with the first meeting be held without consequences. The meeting after that one, he said, is when the consequences would kick in.
What those consequences might be hasn't been determined. Alexander said that the logistical details of the mandatory meeting would be worked out once it is made policy. He said he hopes his board colleagues vote on the measure by December so that administration officials can start working on the details starting in January.
"I take the full weight for this [proposal] because I know it will work," Alexander said, adding that the district will coordinate the rollout of the mandatory meeting with a range of community stakeholders, including local churches.
"The hurdle is making it policy," Alexander said. "Once we get it made policy, we will be meeting to develop a sub-committee to figure out what's best for the dynamics of the district and how we can be considerate and not do this to be punitive. We will be sensitive and considerate about how we do it."