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News and Speeches

Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott Delivers Address at Parents as Partners Keynote Conference


Remarks of Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott
As Prepared for Delivery on October 17, 2012

Welcome parents and family members, teachers and principals, colleagues and community leaders. I want to start out by saying two important words: thank you. Thank you for everything you do to support our public schools.

Thank you for showing up every day, and thank you for partnering with me to deliver on the promise of a high-quality New York City public school education.

I also want to thank the High School of Fashion Industries for hosting us this evening. You should be proud of your accomplishments: 90 percent of your students are graduating—and nearly all are moving on to college. And you’ve achieved four consecutive A’s on your school Progress Report! You’re a model for what a strong school community can achieve.

And a special thank you to Dr. Karen Mapp, a Harvard lecturer and researcher, who is helping us re-imagine the role of the parent coordinator. I’m sure those of you who attended her professional development session today left energized and inspired.

I encourage all of you to take advantage of the activities going on throughout this Parents as Partners Week. And tell other parents to come, too.

When I became Schools Chancellor 19 months ago, I made one thing clear: No matter what challenges our students face or what neighborhoods they come from, I expect everyone to excel and to graduate college and career ready.

For me, the status quo isn’t good enough. I’m always striving for better.

Being Chancellor means accepting responsibility for 1.1 million futures. All day.  Every day.

I also know that the responsibility for educating our children doesn’t begin in the classroom. It begins in your homes, with you.

As great as we make our schools, students still do best when they have involved, supportive parents. Parents who instill a love of learning, the self-confidence to go the distance, and the grit and resilience to persevere in the face of adversity.

Providing a solid foundation for a successful future.

Every parent wants his or her child to succeed. I know because I spend a lot of time talking to so many of you and hear about your concerns for your child’s future.

And the good news is: by almost every measure, our students and schools are improving.

Since 2005, the city’s four-year graduation rate has risen by almost 41 percent, to more than 65 percent in 2011, while the dropout rate has fallen by 45 percent, to 12 percent.

For students who need more time to complete high school, our five- and six-year graduation rates are even higher. This progress has opened the door to college and a brighter future for thousands of young people.

We are also giving parents more options. We opened 55 new schools this year—and nearly 600 during the Bloomberg administration—so students have more opportunities for a high-quality education.

We are proud of these successes. But we are far from done. College readiness, while improving, is still woefully low. And that’s simply unacceptable. All students deserve to succeed.

In the end, however, high quality school environments are not enough. A new study of the impact of parental involvement on academic achievement drives this point home.

I have always recognized that parents are children’s first and most important educators, and should be their greatest advocates.

I know personally that it’s a hard job. My wife and I raised four children. I know what it’s like to work, go to school meetings, keep up with homework, make sure you understand what’s being taught, and the never-ending cycle of running from school to school. It is not easy. But the thing is, it really works.

Researchers evaluated data from a national, representative study that collected information from more than 10,000 students, as well as their parents, teachers and school administrators.

The study affirms the tremendous value of the bonds between parents and children, such as trust, open lines of communication and active engagement in a child’s academic life. They call this “family social capital” and it’s something I want for each of our students.

I express this wish in the many gratifying conversations I have with parents and family members. During the 2011-2012 school year, I participated in numerous Town Halls, parent coordinator workshops, and PTA and Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council meetings.

And, again, I cannot over-emphasize the important role you play. When you are involved and support the important work going on in the classroom, your children are more likely to succeed.

In fact, a large body of research shows that students with involved parents:

  • Are more likely to complete homework
  • Have more positive attitudes about school
  • Get higher grades and score higher on tests

And are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college.

As some of you may recall, a year ago I committed to making parents strong partners in preparing all our students for success.

Today, I’m pleased to tell you about some exciting new initiatives that will give you the support you’ve been asking for.

First, I’m pleased to announce the official launch of our Parent Academy with partner Long Island University, which will administer the program.

I want to thank DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement for their hard work getting this project off the ground. I’m sure many of you will be pleased to know that FACE will continue to be involved in our Parent Academy.

I want to acknowledge the Parent Academy Project Director Evelyn Castro.

I also want to acknowledge Kathleen Feeley, Associate Professor of Education at LIU, who developed the terrific curriculum.

This curriculum will give you the tools you need to increase parent involvement in your school.

Now, one component of the Parent Academy is about creating and enhancing partnerships within school communities. How will we do that?

First, we will provide training for parents, teachers, principals and other school staff working to implement the standards for school-family partnerships that I announced last year. We developed these best practices by listening to you.

As of today, 100 schools have volunteered for the free partnership standards training. I’m excited to announce that through the Parent Academy, we will eventually bring all our schools up to these standards.

To expand access as much as possible, we will publicize the trainings and make them available in all 10 official DOE languages.

The Academy will also offer borough-wide workshops to provide families with the training and resources they need to be more involved in their child’s school and support learning at home.

This school year, we’ll offer 15 workshops—3 per borough—and train at least 2,000 families.

The first training will take place November 10th at LIU’s Brooklyn Campus and will provide guidance to help you get the most out of parent-teacher conferences.

When we initiated Parents as Partners last year I also promised to strengthen and reaffirm the role of the parent coordinator as the primary contact for questions about your child’s education.

For everyone here who serves as a parent coordinator: thank you for your service. You are the “command center” of your school communities.

In recognition of the key role you play in supporting and informing parents, this year we are providing even more resources to help you connect principals and school staff with families.

This month, for example, we are launching professional development activities for parent coordinators. Some will be citywide, but we’re going to tailor professional development through our clusters and networks to meet individual schools’ needs.

We have also developed the Parent Coordinator Resource Guide and Toolkit, which includes suggestions for how to build a welcoming school community and resources for delivering parent workshops.

This exciting work complements the commitments we outlined last school year in Raising the Bar, our blueprint for college and career readiness for all students.

Parents also asked us for more tools to help them support their children’s success in school.

We’re delivering on that, too.

We’ve produced two Expect Success family guides, available on our web site now. One is for parents of children in pre-k to eighth grade. The other is for parents of 9th to 12th graders.

They include information on this year’s rigorous academic standards, course requirements, ways to help children become college and career-ready, and learning activities parents can do with their children at home. I know you will be referring to these guides year round.

Another way for parents to partner with us is to take on active leadership roles on our education councils.

Community Education Councils are essential to strengthening our schools. We rely on our parent volunteers to tell us how we’re doing and where we need to improve.

I know that last year’s Council elections were a disappointment. Again, we heard you loud and clear: the process needs to change.

And so we have revamped the strategy to ensure better success. The 2013 CEC selection process will not only be transparent, we are making more information available well in advance of the elections.

Starting next week, you can visit nycparentleaders.org to learn more about serving on an Education Council.

You also asked us to improve how we communicate with you. And we got the message.

Let me highlight a few ways we’re getting information directly into the hands of parents and families.

For the first time ever, we produced a back-to-school guide that ran in the free Metro newspaper. The issue included information on how to enroll your child in a public school, how to apply for free or reduced-price lunch, what special education reform means for students and parents, and much more.

Our second guide came out this week and we’ll issue additional guides throughout the school year.

Almost everyone emails and texts these days, and you’ve asked us to use the latest technologies to connect with you. And we’re doing that, too.

This school year, for example, we launched a new text messaging program.

Our subscribers receive reminders and updates on a wide range of topics, including school enrollment, parent-teacher conferences and test dates.

As a matter of fact, we would love all of you to sign up. I know we always ask audiences to turn off their cell phones but if you would indulge me… Please, take out your phones—right now—and send a text to 877-877. Like this: in the message field, write “nycschools,” all one word.

And, as of today, you can get updates in Spanish. Just text “escuela” to 877-877. It’s that simple to get connected!

Also for the first time, I will be conducting a series of webinars to walk parents through our new programs and policies and answer your questions, which you can submit on our web site. This is an opportunity to provide real-time information on critical classroom issues.

For the first webinar, on October 22nd, I will be discussing the Common Core Learning Standards, which require students to read more challenging texts, solve more complex math problems, do more writing, and use evidence when presenting arguments.

These tough new standards affect students at every grade level and across subjects.

Through all of these initiatives, we aim to better connect you with your child’s academic life.

Because while we are doing our part to provide excellent schools and instruction, as I said, this isn’t enough. Your child needs your support to succeed.

There are many ways to reinforce learning at home.

Start by talking more. Get your child’s opinions about local, national, and international events.

Check in every day and ask questions. Ask them: Do you feel like you’re struggling in any of your classes? Are you reading challenging non-fiction texts outside the classroom?

Reinforce the importance of regular attendance, class participation, and teach your child to remain committed to long-term goals.

And involve yourself in your child’s school. Volunteer for school events and attend parent-teacher conferences.

Also reach out to teachers and guidance counselors and ask what you can do to help your child succeed.

Parents also need to challenge one another to raise their game. You need to be first in line to forge a path to your child’s future.

I feel passionately about education because I know personally that it has the power to change lives.

My father never finished high school. But he was able to get a decent job—as an exterminator for the New York City Housing Authority—and support a family.

Back then, college or training for a serious career was a privilege; now it’s a necessity.

If my father dropped out of high school today, he would be on a path to poverty, with almost half the lifetime earning power of a college graduate.

My parents saw that the world was changing and envisioned a different path for me: I was bound for college and an exciting career.

So they pushed me.

They encouraged me to take hard classes even when people said I would fail or that it wasn’t cool.

They encouraged me to show up and give it my all, even when I was tired.

And they believed in me—and expected me to believe in myself.

My experiences taught me that you can never underestimate how important it is to remind young people what they’re capable of. They need to hear from you that it takes character to stay on task and achieve their dreams.

It wasn’t easy when I was in school, but today it’s even harder. The economy is much different.

So my colleagues and I are working even harder to prepare our students for college and serious careers.

But we can’t achieve this without you. Parents must expect this from their children, their teachers and our schools.

And now, I am excited to hear from the parent panel and see our parent partnerships in action.

Thank you for everything you do on behalf of our students and your children.