Educate Oklahoma: Parental Involvement

Monday, August 29th 2016, 10:32 am
By: Emory Bryan

As class sizes grow, students get less individual attention, and could be more likely to fall through the cracks.

In 2015, 3,683 Oklahoma students dropped out of school. But what about children being pushed out through State of Oklahoma suspensions?

High School math and physics teacher Andrew Smith said the demands of teaching and maintaining order are exhausting.

"It's so integrated really, it's hard to separate the two," Smith said. "I teach and behavior-manage all day long, which is probably why I'm so tired at the end of the day.  I've done both simultaneously, all day long."

It's a challenge that's increasing, according to many teachers. It's causing schools to reconsider how they handle behavior.
Tulsa is one district moving away from the idea of sending students out of the classroom.

Dr. Kathy Seibold is the Executive Director of Student and Family Supports at Tulsa Public Schools. 

"Of course we want to see suspensions come down, and referrals come down," Seibold said. "We want teachers to have the tools in their classroom so they're not sending students to the office as often."

Seibold heads a new effort to help teachers resolve issues with students before it escalates into a suspension - in part by informing parents early when there's a problem - and encouraging them to come in and work it out.

"We have to get really good at providing those opportunities and making sure that parents understand that we do want them in the building. And we want them involved," Seibold said. "It's critical to education that parents are involved."

But schools and PTA groups find parents aren't as involved as children reach the upper grades -- a trend they'd like to turn around.

"There's a misconception that some parents feel if they're too nosy or too involved with their childrens school work, they feel like a helicopter parent," said Moore parent Alison Taylor. 

Taylor is the parent of three children in Moore Public Schools, and she's a recruiter for the PTA.

"Always know your teachers or kids' teachers, even in middle and high school," she said. "I think it's important for them to know you're a parent and you do care."

Dr. Ebony Johnson has spent the last three years as a high school principal, and in that role, sometimes suspended students.

"It didn't matter if we gave them five, 10, 15 days out of school, the behaviors were not changing regardless of how long they were sent home.

After making a concentrated effort to engage parents to improve student behavior, she's a believer that parents are key.

"I truly believe it changed the parental component piece, the culture of our building," Johnson said. "Parents knew we expected them to come in. The correspondence I sent out said We can't have school successfully unless you're in the building."

The relief would be welcome for Smith and other teachers.

"The hardest part of teaching is classroom management," Smith said.

He's now a believer that teachers, working with parents and students, can solve most problems, without suspending students.