The one complaint I hear most often from parents of school-age children is that their children aren't being properly educated, and that the school doesn't respect parents when they voice concerns.
Those parents can now thank the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County and the Louisville Urban League nearly $150,000 to help parents understand how the process works, and how they can navigate the system so that their children get the best educational access that parental empowerment can provide.
"Whatever we can do to ensure more students graduate, we will do," said Porter Peeples, President/CEO of the Lexington's Urban League.
The Urban League is working to improve student success and narrow the achievement gap through workshops at the Parent Leadership Academy. Lexington will be starting an academy; Louisville's academy was established four years ago. The 200 graduates of Louisville's academy are actively involved in the academic lives of their children.
In Lexington, Nieta Wigginton will serve as parent trainer and project coordinator for the new academy's program, which was tweaked to be more user-friendly by former Fayette County Public Schools superintendents Elaine Farris and Stu Silberman.
"Our children are having the most difficulty in school, and their parents need more information," Wigginton said. "The goal of the Urban League is to empower those without power."
Parents can call the local Urban League office to sign up for the three workshops held over three weeks beginning in August. They will cover an orientation session that serves as an introduction to the academy as well as a course on rights and responsibilities of parents.
"They will receive an awareness of what the process is," Wigginton said, including the hierarchy of the school system and how to navigate it.
Each parent will be given a project to explore that has been a cause of frustration. That frustration sometimes stymies the process and hinders the implementation of possible solutions.
"You can get frustrated and then you don't navigate correctly and can't get the assistance you need," she said. "We are trying to show you where the door is."
The second workshop will encourage advocacy not only for the parent's child, but for any child they encounter. Parents will also become better acquainted with academic standards, curriculum, and report cards, which is how their child's success is measured.
"Parents need to have a broad understanding of what that entails," Wigginton said.
The final workshop will be about what parents can do with their new knowledge.
"The ideal," she said, "is going from being involved to being advocates for other people."
That advocacy could include becoming members of the site-based decision making councils of their child's school.
Although the public schools, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and other agencies hold parental training sessions, some people are not drawn to or aware of those opportunities, said Annissa M. Franklin, CAO of the Lexington Urban League.
"We are here because there is an audience that is not being reached," she said.
Parents will leave with materials they can refer to, and they will be given contacts for issues not covered by the workshops.
Two workshops, covering the same material, will be held each week. Parents can sign up for a morning or afternoon session to accommodate their schedules. The free workshops will be held on Saturdays at Russell School, 211 West Fifth St. Call (859) 233-1561 to register or get more information. Space is limited.
"This is our pilot program," Wigginton said. "We need to talk to parents to see what else might be needed."