Parent Engagement

Q&A: Engaging the Latino Parent Community

Traducción al español

Ed. Note: Ten years ago San Francisco Unified School District launched its Parent Advisory Council (PAC), an independent group of parents charged with representing the interests and concerns of the city’s varied communities to district officials. Today, PAC members are playing a central role in helping to devise SFUSD’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which lays out how the district will spend funds administered via California’s new school funding law. The deadline to submit the LCAP is July. Catalina Ramirez is a mother of three and a PAC member. She says that now more than ever parents need to “get to know the educational system and fight for their children.” She spoke with NAM intern Vanessa Serpas.

How did you become part of the SFUSD Parent Advisory Committee?

I was asked to be part of the PAC. When they interviewed me about why I was interested, I told them about some of the issues facing Latino parents and their children, particularly those with special needs. I have a child with special needs so I know the [educational] needs of these children. In total there are three PAC parents with children who have special needs.

Were members provided with training?

No, but I volunteered at my children’s school which had many needs. Being part of the PAC, I’m able to be a voice for the school and try to better conditions for the children there, most of who are Latinos.

Are language services provided during PAC meetings?

Yes, interpreters are provided. Without them I would not be able to be there.

What sort of role has the PAC played in forming the district’s Local Control Accountability Plan?

Members inform the district about what’s happening in schools and offer recommendations. With Latino parents we’ve worked on encouraging them to speak up to make sure district money goes to the children.

Where do you see the greatest needs?

That would be with our English Learners. PAC has been working to focus parent attention on this in order to push principals to offer more tutoring, especially for the kids who are behind academically. With the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) there is a lot of money for these kids as well as other special needs students, and what money is there is less restricted, so the district can put a little more into addressing these areas.

Latinos are some of the lowest performing students in the district. We don’t want to seal these kids’ fates … parents need to wake up and take hold of the present opportunities to make sure they reach our children.

How did you first get involved in education?

Well, I first got involved because my oldest son has special needs. I always like to know what’s going on in the schools and how my kids are doing. I like to volunteer so I can be close and see what the school is doing and whether my kids are ok. When something is not ok, I say I don’t like this, please try to change this. Most of the parents who volunteer do it because we want a safe space for our children where they are treated with respect and motivated by their teachers.

How has your involvement impacted your child’s education?

It has helped a lot. For example, the faculty regularly sees me at the school and when they are making decisions regarding the next academic school year and where they will place my son, they always take me into consideration.

Do you feel that it has helped to become part of PAC?

It has helped me. I’m learning along the way because I don’t know everything and I need more time to learn but yes, I have learned a lot and I still have more to learn.

What advice do you have for other parents who want to be more involved in education?

Just get involved because the kids see you and are proud of you because you are there. There is not a better example to give to your child then to show them that you're involved because later they will need to do the same. They will need to do some activities and be volunteers and if you are giving them the example from a young age then it will be easier for them. It will also open many doors for them to access different programs. It’s the best thing a parent can do. Invest your time in learning about things that will impact your children.

What advice do you have for parents who feel intimidated or unsure of how to get involved?

I used to be scared when I went to school meetings. When I got to PAC, I was very timid and when they would ask [members to provide community information] I would hide. I’ve since become less shy. At parent teacher meetings I ask what teachers can do to help. Parents need to ask more questions and not say yes to everything the school says.

If parents really want to help their kids, they need to continue to fight. When it comes to my children’s education I push. When I need to fight for the services of my kids I’m there. I always tell teachers, I don’t want to hear about the good things, talk to me about the bad things. What’s the bad stuff? If my son can’t do this, how are you going to help him and support him so he can change?

Any final thoughts?

We need parents to get involved. They need to get to know the educational system and fight for their children, so I tell them that if there are meetings they should attend. Donate a little of your time to find out what’s going on in the schools and in the district. That will benefit your children’s future.

To learn more about San Francisco’s Parent Advisory Council, visit their website. A list of upcoming LCAP forums in San Francisco can be found here.
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