Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Summit

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend SAISD's Parent Summit. Considering I'm not a parent, I decided to attend to grasp a better understanding of what was being offered at the summit to SAISD parents. The summit was held on a Tuesday from 8.00am to 3.15pm, working hours for most parents.

The day began with a session entitled "Desire, Drive, Determination: A Journey to Student Success". The speakers included an educational trainer, Aric Bostick, and three GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) Class of 2012 students. Aric introduced himself with a story of triumph over adversity involving a family life that included divorce, alcoholism and neglect, the usual story of many troubled youth who end up succeeding in the end. The three students, who all had worked with Aric throughout the past four years, spoke about their path to success and how they're planning and envisioning their future through college and beyond. The session was more of a motivational time for parents, rather than an instructional session.

The session that followed peaked my interest because it elaborated on how to get to the success that Aric and the students spoke about. Dr. Rosales, the Senior Director of Academic Support for SAISD, spoke to parents about the actual steps along the path to graduation from high school into college. She instructed the parents on how to support their children, not only on their path to graduating high school, but also to successfully preparing for college.

Other sessions throughout the day included topics on Behavior Intervention, Time Management, Understanding Your Child's Disability and there was even a session providing information about Adult Education. One of the sessions stood out to me for the title alone, "School Attendance: It's Important!" I didn't think that anyone needed to be informed that it is important for their child to be in school, so I decided to attend the session to see what it was about.

The entire session consisted mainly of what are acceptable and unacceptable reasons for children not being in school. Considering the presenters laid it out pretty well in their presentation, I didn't expect many questions from the audience. I was wrong. After the speaker was done, several hands went up immediately for the Q&A portion. Questions like, "What is the latest I can turn in a doctor's note to the school before it is an unexcused absence?" to "Which class does my kid need to attend to be marked present?" to "What if my kid doesn't listen to me?" It stunned me. Not for the fact that parents were curious about their children's attendance, but that it seemed like every question referred to how far they could cross the line, without getting in trouble.

The motto for the summit was "Students, Parents and Teachers Together Achieving Academic Results", or STAAR. Coincidental or not, STAAR is also the acronym for the new standardized tests being implemented in Texas this year, STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness). STAAR is replacing TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), which replaced TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills) in 2003, which replaced TEAMS (Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills) in 1990, which replaced TABS (Texas Assessment of Basic Skills) in 1986, which was the first in the line of state-mandated tests in Texas.

I got the impression that STAAR would be engrained into these parents heads just as much as TAKS was in the past. In fact, the summit agenda was closed out with a whole group session entitled "State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR): A Parent's Guide to the New Student Testing Program". Not to mention, there was a separate session earlier in the day focused on the "New STAAR Assessment Program for Students with Disabilities".

Overall, the summit was definitely a success in my opinion. SAISD did a wonderful job of providing information that covered all bases from behavior intervention to attendance to college preparation. My only wish is that the summit could have been held on a weekend, or repeated more than once a year in different locations.

As I walked out of the conference center I stopped to ask the ladies at the front desk how many parents they had attend the summit. They told me "about 400", with a proud smile and nod to follow. I confirmed with them that we have over 50,000 students in SAISD. Which means we have at least 50,000 parents in SAISD. They got the point.

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