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Pandemic has made it harder for City Schools of Decatur to connect with families

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Pandemic has made it harder for City Schools of Decatur to connect with families

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education. Top row, left to right: former Superintendent David Dude and School Board Chair Lewis Jones. Bottom row, left to right: School board members James Herndon, Tasha White (Vice Chair), Heather Tell and Jana Johnson-Davis. Image obtained via City Schools of Decatur

By Sara Amis, contributor 

Decatur, GA — The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education at its March 23 work session heard reports on parent and family engagement and also on operations and information technology.

Dr. Frances Holt, Executive Director of State & Federal Programs, described district programs as operating on three tiers:  those that are school wide and available to everyone such as equity and student support, the state and federal funded programs such as the various Title (I though IX) that students must qualify for, and those that are individually targeted such as the gifted and special education programs.

“We seek to engage families on all levels,” said Holt.

Under normal circumstances, the schools themselves are the primary way the district connects with families. “Our first line of communication is through the school,” said Holt. Over the past year, the pandemic has forced the district to both rely more on other means and to make sure that families who did not already have internet access are able to connect with instruction and communication, primarily through distribution of Chromebooks and internet hot spots. As a result, tech support for at home learning became a significant part of engagement with families.

In addition to newsletters, websites, and events, the district has sought to reach families through organizations such as the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights and parent teacher organizations.

In addition, the district set up a help line for students who are part of Title programs, which allows them to speak to a teacher for assistance with their work. For the future, the district plans a parent help line and an app that will allow parents to see notifications and access information tailored to the schools their children attend.

Board members asked how the district was making sure students are in programs they qualify for.

“I think we’re always concerned about the kids who fall through the cracks,” said Board member James Herndon.

Board member Lewis Jones said the school district should be more active in making sure that students are receiving help they need and are entitled to.

He said that the programs were excellent but students have to be in the program to get the help, and parents have to know to seek them out.

“I know from experience that we have some major gaps, and people are falling through the cracks. It’s happening way more than we should be comfortable with,” said Jones.

Kristy Beam, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, said that solving that problem was part of the ongoing development of the Multi Tiered Systems of Support process, and the screeners they used were designed to find the students who need extra help.

Board member Jana Johnson Davis suggested using the Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire as a universal screener.

Dr. Lillie Huddleston, Executive Director of Equity and Student Support, said that the district’s school counselors were looking at using it.

Board member Heather Tell praised Holt’s work throughout the pandemic. “I appreciate how you’ve had to reinvent how you connect with parents and families,” said Tell

Executive Director of Operations Sergio Perez offered a report on Operations and IT performance in recent months. He stated that overall usage of electricity is up because of the increased need for constant ventilation, mitigated at Talley Elementary by the installed solar panels. COVID related projects included cleaning and the installation of water bottle filling stations with locks on the fountains, HVAC modifications, and the installation of physical barriers and PPE. Completion of work orders overall is an average of four days, rather than the one to two days that is the goal, partially because of pandemic related supply chain problems.

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