Parent Engagement

In CA’s Largest High School District, Parents Demand ‘Real Engagement’

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Leticia Prado, whose son attends Arvin High School in Kern County, has tried to get involved in her son’s school in the past. But she says that once she started asking questions about how the school site council selection process works at Arvin High’s parent meetings, she was no longer welcome.

“I would like to see more transparency with the involvement of the parents, because I have a son who’s a graduate of Arvin High School and another in 10th grade, and I have never seen a process as to how people get to participate,” she says.

“Arvin High has a parent group, but it’s really a social group,” she says. “They won’t call you for their meetings, they won’t communicate with you. I was part of that group, but when I started to question things, I was no longer welcome, and never again did I receive an invitation.”

Arvin High School, situated in an agricultural community and serving a large number of children from farmworker families, is a part of Kern High School District (KHSD), the largest high school district in the state and the third largest school district overall.

With California's new school funding law, known as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), education spending in the state is expected to increase by $18 billion over eight years. The law gives school districts more choice in how these funds are spent, and districts are expected to create their own Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP) by July 1, which lay out how they plan to use additional funds to serve high-needs students. (See a draft of KHSD's LCAP here.) The law also requires districts to involve parents and the local community in their decision-making process.

KHSD has faced criticism from parents and community organizations over a perceived lack of authentic engagment with all parents in the district, and especially the parents of high-needs students, defined as low-income students and English language learners.

In response, the Kern Education Justice Collaborative -- composed of several community organizations (including the Dolores Huerta Foundation, California Rural Legal Assistance, and Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance -- formulated its own LCAP by surveying attendees at various events throughout Kern County. The collaborative presented its recommendations to the Kern High School District Board of Trustees earlier this month.

Among its primary recommendations to the district are to create a system of authentic parent engagement to remedy situations like that of Leticia Prado. In addition, the collaborative wants the district to work toward improving school climate by implementing disciplinary alternatives to suspensions and expulsions, which parents say often leads to dropouts.

According to data from the California Department of Education, KHSD's dropout rate for the 2012-13 school year was 14.1 percent. That compares to a statewide average of 14.4 percent for the same year. 

Juan Garcia-Moran, a father of three from the small town of Weedpatch, has seen the effects of suspension and expulsion on his son. Like many South Kern residents, Garcia-Moran came to the United States from  Mexico in the 1980s, and speaks very little English.

“They suspended my son because [of a fight in which] he did not participate. My understanding was that the suspension would be for five days,” he says. “The lady from the office at Arvin High spoke Spanish, but the document was in English, and she just told me, ‘Sign here, sign here,’ and I did, not knowing what I was signing.”

“When my son went back to school after the five-day suspension, the principal told me that I would be taking him to the continuation school on 34th Street in Bakersfield for a whole semester,” he says. His son was in the 9th grade at the time.

Since then, his son has also faced an expulsion. “We didn’t have the resources to send my son to school when he was expelled for a year, and he lost the whole year of school,” he says. His son is now in 11th grade, and is “depressed because he says that he might not graduate. He often wants to give up.”

Parents in the collaborative also want to ensure that the district uses funds to help students who are being left behind.

“I would like to see tutoring programs offered for students that are behind. I feel that they often ignore the ones who are behind and focus on the high achieving students, and push the underachievers away,” says parent Virginia Melchor. “I would like to see programs so that students can get the help they need, instead of sending them to continuation schools.”
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Ethnic Media Report on LCFF

Ethnic Media Report on LCFF

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A series of reports from NAM's media network on parent engagement and California's new school finance law.
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