By Terry Dean
Oak Park and River Forest High School might be able to reach more disenfranchised families who feel disconnected from the school if it expanded its one-person parent outreach office, says a member of the school board.
Ralph Lee, in his second term, says OPRF should consider examining its finances in order to possibly expand that office. In a recent report to the board, Deb Mittleman, the school's parent outreach coordinator since 2009, said she has a database of 155 students, with whose parents she's been trying to work.
Those students were identified via results from the school's Explore Test, given to eighth-graders to gauge their college-readiness. Those 155 students were considered most "at-risk" for academic failure as incoming freshmen. Their parents were given a "parental involvement survey." Fifty responded, or about 32 percent. Mittleman herself made calls to those parents about participating.
Lee suggested that more parents might be reached if Mittleman had additional staff. Her position was created as an achievement gap initiative and was primarily meant to target black parents of at-risk children. But the name was changed to "parent outreach coordinator" shortly after Mittleman was hired, following complaints and accusations from some in the community that the post was discriminatory.
Mittleman says her outreach is to parents of all races but certain events she hosts do target black families and students. Along with phone calls, she uses emails and social media to reach parents. She says she also visits parents' homes.
OPRF is known for having an active parent community but not all parents regularly attend school events or have constant contact with their kids' teachers. The school has surveyed parents over the years about their level of involvement.
Mittleman notes that some parents are single and raising their kids, working long hours and unable to attend school events. There are also those parents who admittedly feel intimidated, or sometimes unwelcome, at such a large school. Her position was created to specifically help those parents, Mittleman said.