Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Parents Who Fought Off School Resistance to Opt-Out Led to Modifed Policy

The students were told by one teacher if they opted out, they would not be part of the "culture" of the school. They would be different and not be able to be part of the after-test celebrations. We wanted to meet with the principal but at this point we were simply getting the party-line and things were moving too slowly (the ELA test was in just three weeks). Two parents from the school set up a community wide meeting and invited Janine Sopp to come and "educate" us on what was exactly entailed with opting out. We brought our kids (who at this point were conflicted as they didn't want to be "different" from their peers). We left the meeting pretty sure we were going to opt out and my kids were DEFINITELY interested in opting out. The more they heard the madder they got. We wrote up careful notes from the meeting and presented those to our principal and the PTA.... Brooklyn parent
It is not easy for a small minority to stand up, especially if you and your kids are turned into outliers. This great story came in from a  Brooklyn elementary school parent. I get where teachers are coming from -- if your job were on the line based on test scores and if your high scoring kids talked about opting out, you just might get that sinking feeling.

Kudos to these parents, their kids and the school principal for willing to listen and modify the policies.
There were several families interested in opting out but we felt unsure. We were at first met with resistance by the principal but especially by the teachers and even the PTA. This was new territory for our school because nobody had spoken of opting out before. The students were told by one teacher if they opted out, they would not be part of the "culture" of the school. They would be different and not be able to be part of the after-test celebrations. We wanted to meet with the principal but at this point we were simply getting the party-line and things were moving too slowly (the ELA test was in just three weeks).

Two parents from the school set up a community wide meeting and invited Janine Sopp to come and "educate" us on what was exactly entailed with opting out. We brought our kids (who at this point were conflicted as they didn't want to be "different" from their peers). We left the meeting pretty sure we were going to opt out and my kids were DEFINITELY interested in opting out. The more they heard the madder they got. We wrote up careful notes from the meeting and presented those to our principal and the PTA. He then set up a school-wide meeting and spoke from the administration's side and we were there as informed parents from the Opt Out side. It was a good conversation with probably 50-60 people. We reassured the principal and the staff that we were worried about harming our school (a school we all care about) or teachers but felt this was really important for parents to stand up. The principal did agree that things were changing so quickly and that the commissioner really is looking to the parents and not the teachers for the lead. He asked us to please, just let him know soon so he would be able to think about staffing on those days. Once we had the reassurance that our kids were going to be included in school activities and not punished, 10 families opted out of 5th grade (and others from the third grade). The kids spent the mornings with their "buddy classes" helping them with their reading.

For a first year and pulling the momentum together just a few weeks before the ELA we think this was a success. Many parents of 2nd graders looked to us for guidance and cheered us on.

Friday before vacation we got a school-wide email from our principal:

The staff and I share some of the feelings that you may be reading in the newspaper. The PTA is creating a page on their website that allows parents to access many resources related to State testing so thta you can be informed about information from the State and discussion or events that are happening around the city.

I just looked and that page is not up yet but it is a positive sign of open dialogue and transparency. We learned the importance of engaging the principal and working together with the school. Additionally, I know many parents who have left the choice up to their kids. We learned the importance to inform our kids in order to make that decision. (The more the kids heard the night of the community meeting, the more committed they were to not participate in this test).

It does take courage to be the minority and stand up for what you believe is right. Some people need others to step up first (are you that person?). It takes courage to ask our children to be different from their peers and stand apart. Finally, it takes courage and trust on the part of the principal and staff. Our principal is new and has no tenure and I believe he was courageous in NOT trying to silence us, NOT trying to dissuade us and ultimately said "I have to be neutral but I am here to support families who make that decision."

2 comments:

  1. Anyone remotely familiar with Christine Rubino's case can tell you the true value of NYSUT/UFT legal help. Not much better than when Alan Dershowitz accepted $5 million from Iron Mike and presented a case that blamed the rape victim for being dumb enough to allow Mike Tyson to take her to a hotel room. In other words you can resign as the NYSUT/UFT legal eagles will advise or end up selling your house to pay for a real lawyer... I think in Vegas they call it Lose/Lose.

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    1. Don't agree about nysut lawyers - I've seen some excellent ones. But I think they are given guidelines to work within - like I heard they will never call a student to testify even if it helps the teacher. I would advise teachers who need a lawyer to have one ready but check out the nysut one first.

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