“Partnership” was the key theme at Columbus Municipal School District’s annual Title I meeting at Brandon Central Services Tuesday night.
The meeting also served as a kickoff to the district’s new Parent University initiative, which aims to encourage parent involvement in schools and keep them updated about issues related to their child’s age group throughout the year.
Andrea Pastchal-Smith, the district’s new federal programs director and chief academic officer, said she took the opportunity to combine an informational meeting about the program with that of Title I federal funds and programming.
“The program is intended to help ensure that all of our students meet the academic standards set by the state,” Smith told a packed house of more than 150 parents, faculty and students. “We will be successful, but in order for that to happen, we need to have a partnership with you, the parents.”
Parent University is a series of monthly meetings for each school which parents can attend to learn more about issues affecting the students from those schools.
CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat said Parent University was a program she used as principal in the Bay-St. Louis Waveland School District.
“It’s an effective way to discuss data points and information with parents and disperse information,” Labat told The Dispatch in a phone interview, although she was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting. “Dr. Smith has done a great job of getting our … principals in mind of understanding the importance of parent involvement, as a federal programs director.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, school counselors introduced themselves and played games with the students and parents that introduced some of the issues they’ll discuss at Parent University sessions. Columbus High School counselors quizzed the audience on everything from scholarships to taking the ACT and other requirements for graduation. The counselors from the elementary schools focused more on the importance of reading with children and encouraged parents to keep students at five absences or fewer per year.
It’s not just the parents who benefit from these meetings, both Smith and Labat said. Parental involvement is a surefire way to increase achievement for individual students.
“It’s necessary, it’s required and it’s imperative that you are involved,” Smith told parents at Tuesday’s meeting.
Family involvement in children’s education improves student morale, increases grade point averages, results in better attendance and less retention and improves behavior at school and home, Smith said, while also increasing the chances students will enroll in more academically challenging programs.
The first Parent University meeting will be Oct. 16, though Smith said the times will depend on which school the parents’ children attend. She said the administration released a survey to parents asking them the best times for a meeting.
Parents who attend at least six sessions from October to April will qualify for a “Parent Graduation” in May, which she said is basically a celebration of parents and students at the end of the school year.
Labat said for parents who can’t attend the meetings, there will be other ways for the district to engage them. She has visited community housing projects and plans to visit churches, community centers and even assisted living facilities to make sure she’s meeting parents where they are to discuss the importance of student achievement with them.
“We want them to have a positive interaction with us,” Labat said. “I know that Andrea’s energetic and intelligent and parents appreciate getting the information they need so they can make better decisions for their children.”
Smith also went over Title I, a federal program which funds initiatives at schools with at least 40 percent free or reduced lunch.
At CMSD, 100 percent of students this year receive free or reduced lunch. The district receives just over $3.9 million in Title I funds.
Smith said those funds help pay for district programs such as i-Ready, a student assessment that helps gauge what academic levels students have already achieved and helps set goals for improvement.
“(It helps teachers) create a plan for them to make sure that they continue to advance throughout the year,” Smith said. “It’s a phenomenal program.”
The funds also pay for benchmark assessments which students take at the end of each nine weeks to gauge how they’re improving throughout the year as well as reading programs, leadership programs for students and other initiatives.
The programs all have the overarching aim of increasing student achievement, Smith said, which is why it’s important parents understand those programs.
Smith said the district is already seeing improvement in parental involvement. She said 150 parents showed up at a parent-teacher meeting night earlier this year, and Assistant Superintendent Craig Shannon, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said this year’s Title I meeting had a larger turnout than any previous year he remembered. He said he’d never had to put out more chairs at those meetings before.
“We’ve had this many times,” he said. “We’ve never had this kind of participation.”
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