Common Council members held a public meeting Monday evening to discuss parental involvement in the city schools -- but they spoke to an empty house.
The only parent in attendance who wasn't a member of the Council's Education Committee was Janique S. Curry, a member of the Buffalo Board of Education.
"This was something that some parents had asked me to consider," said Antoine M. Thompson, chairman of the Education Committee. "And initially we were going to meet in the daytime, but they asked us to meet in the evening."
Asked about the parental no-shows after the meeting, Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana commented: "In my opinion, you won't have great parental involvement until the neighborhood schools are fully functioning. And that's already starting to happen -- we're starting to see parents able to send their kids from pre-K through eighth grade to a school that's close by home."
Other Council members said the meeting wasn't well advertised. But during the meeting, they had lot to say about the difficulty in getting parents to come to parent-teacher conferences at school.
"I know that when you have refreshments, parents come," Thompson said. "We should use some perks. When you break bread, they come. Let's see what strategies can be utilized to increase the number of parents that show up for their kids' conferences."
Thompson said teachers feel they are under siege as they wait for parents to show up.
"Just imagine sitting there for several hours, and only two parents show up," he said. "It's got to be psychologically frustrating for any teacher. That's unacceptable. So we want to make a citywide effort to increase our parental or guardian involvement."
A good model to follow, he said, would be the successful Head Start programs of the Community Action Organization of Erie County. But as children go on to middle and high school, he added, parental interest drops off.
Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis, who is the Community Action Organization board president, said its Holy Cross and Bethel Head Start programs have from 70 to 75 percent parental involvement. He said he believes this contributes to those children's success rates and he wants to follow their progress after they enter public school.
"At School 12, we're trying to start a program to try to chart how well our [Head Start] kids in pre-K programs exceed when they walk into kindergarten," Davis said.
South Council Member Michael P. Kearns said it is difficult for many working parents to play a role in their child's school, and he suggested more evening and weekend activities.
Curry, who represents the Central District on the School Board, stressed to the Council members the importance of "advertising and making it a citywide effort" to draw parents to their children's schools.
"The parent-teacher conferences are disappointing," she said. "Our teachers are very disappointed when parents don't show up. But if we make it a priority to put public service announcements out, it will be well advertised in the schools."