By Hannah Esqueda
Merced. Calif.– It was a promising start to the new school year, as nearly a hundred parents gathered together with school principals, teachers and district officials during the first official Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) community input forum for the 2016-2017 school year.
Additional chairs had to be brought into the auditorium at Tenaya Middle School to accommodate all the parents, many of whom came prepared to speak about the changes they hope to see at their local school. The funds in question are part of California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that provides additional monies for low-income, English as a second language (ESL) and foster youth students.
Many of Merced City School District’s elementary and middle schools have large student bodies that qualify for such funding and millions of dollars are on the line. The funding is meant to support eight specific goals for students, said Claudia Corchado, program manager with Cultiva La Salud in Merced County.
LCFF goals include increasing student test scores and English comprehension, providing clean, safe and secure learning environments and increasing parent participation. Parents are also supposed to have a say in how local schools carry out their LCAP, a goal Corchado and other local advocates say is essential for Merced families.
“All the parents we work with have always wanted to participate in their kids education. They’ve always wanted to get involved in the school but they just didn’t know how,” she said.
Last week’s LCAP input forum helped open the door for many, and Corchado said the local Schools Action Team (SAT), a division of Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Merced, helped bring nearly three dozen families to last week’s event.
Those who attended were able to confer with fellow parents and provide their feedback on how each district site may best improve parental participation. While answers were often specific to a particular elementary or junior high school, several common themes emerged including the need for district and school officials to make meetings more accessible for working parents.
Additional measures like providing on-site child care services, transportation or even hosting more meetings in South Merced were all tossed around as parents and school officials each emphasized how important it is to make more families feel included in the education process.
“I think it would help if we had a place for parents where they can get together and discuss issues or see things that are happening at the school,” said Esmeralda Garcia, a parent and advocate for Gracey Elementary School in South Merced.
School officials agreed and said more resources should be created for parents to familiarize them with the district policies and communication technology.
“One of the things we discussed in our group was having a place where parents can learn computer skills and a lot of other skills,” said Michelle Colburn, principal at John Muir Elementary School.
Merced’s schools currently use a variety of outreach methods to inform parents of school events or student progress including text messages, automated phone calls and email.
Not all families can easily access those messages however, and during the meeting Corchado pointed out that many Merced residents do not read or speak English fluently.
“One of the issues we have is in communication. Everything we say is in English,” she said.
As a community advocate and aunt of Merced school students, Corchado said she’d like to see the district prioritize translation services within LCAP budgets. By investing in simultaneous translation equipment, more parents will be able to follow and participate in school meetings.
“I think that would really create an environment where parents really feel included in the meeting,” she said.
Simply listening to parents during a meeting is not enough however, said Arlette Flores, a parent from Wright Elementary School in South Merced.
“A lot of times, in fact, I’d say most of the times, our voices are not being heard. If you want more parents to come to your meetings then you need to pay attention,” she said. “We will feel more appreciated if you really, really meet our needs.”
Flores said she’d like to see LCAP budgets address key issues at South Merced schools including old water pipes and faulty air conditioning units.
“You showed a beautiful video earlier [showcasing the district] but in reality our schools are missing a lot of things,” she said.
As more parents attend LCAP forums and planning meetings, advocates say they are hopeful that the district will see real change. By showing up and raising key issues, parents are able to showcase which issues matter the most to them.
So far this year, Corchado said SAT has been encouraged by some of the changes made by the district. While this was the first LCAP forum of the school year, district officials listened to previous requests and held the meeting in South Merced where it was more accessible to parents. Child care was also provided onsite for families in attendance.
“We do feel like they are listening to us because they moved the meetings, before they were all held in the north side of town,” she said. “We’re hoping to keep increasing participation at each future forum.”
For more information about LCFF or the Schools Action Team, you can contact Cultiva La Salud Program Manager, Claudia Corchado at [email protected].