By Terry Dean
Oak Park Elementary School District 97 is considering creating a parent outreach coordinator position. The new post was a stated goal in the district’s 2007 strategic plan but has yet to be authorized.
Michelle Harton, a board member who will depart after the April elections, has pushed the district and board to at least discuss whether the position is worth pursuing. That talk occurred during a study session of the board March 1.
Listed as parent “ombudsman” in the strategic plan, the position is meant to be a point person for parents with kids in the district, but who aren’t as active or present in the schools.
Harton, who sat on a strategic plan committee that developed the goal to create the position, said those parents are disconnected for a variety of reasons. Some parents work multiple jobs and can’t attend every school-related function, she said. And there are those new families to the district who need help with basic questions, she said.
Harton said those parents might network with other families to learn how to “navigate” the system. But she recalled that members of the strategic planning committee felt those parents would be better served by having an outreach coordinator as well. Harton noted—as did her fellow board members during their study session—that the district has often been cited by parents for communicating information poorly. She said the outreach coordinator was meant to help address that issue also. Harton, though, added that the coordinator would be open to every parent in the district who needed assistance.
The board spent about an hour discussing the position. Some supported its creation while others opposed it and questioned the need for it at all. Jim Gates strongly opposes the position. A former Dist. 97 teacher, Gates insisted that the parent-teacher relationship needed to be strengthened in the district and a parent coordinator would get in the way of that. Jennifer Reddy also questioned the need to create the position.
Peter Barber said he could support the post if it had a specific focus on those parents who are disconnected for whatever reason from the district. Barber said he didn’t see the need to have the coordinator available to any and all parents. Rance Clouser and Bob Spatz expressed support for the position.
Peter Traczyk, the board’s president, weighted the pros and cons of the position, but stressed that if some parents find it difficult to “navigate the system,” then the district’s focus should be on making sure the system works for all parents. Barber also noted that point. Traczyk also wondered if one person would be able to coordinate information going to so many parents.
Harton said another idea behind the position was that the coordinator would help facilitate a volunteer parent network in each building. So, for those parents who need help, they can rely as much on fellow parents, as well as the coordinator.
Following their study session talk, Traczyk said the board will revisit the coordinator position in a future board discussion. He added that the district will do some research on the position, including looking at other school districts with such a post.