By Alfredo Camacho
LAMONT — A large group of parents and their children crowded into the Myrtle Avenue Elementary School cafeteria on a Monday night earlier this month to make their voices heard in the growing debate over how area school districts should be spending their state education dollars.
Sweeping changes to the education system are underway in California, where earlier this year state legislators approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), a plan that will funnel more money to the most struggling schools while expanding the power of districts to have more say over how that money is allocated.
The event in Lamont was the first of twelve community forums being billed as the “School Success Express,” a statewide effort by The California Endowment, a private health foundation, to spread awareness about the recent changes to California’s school system and collect input from some of those most impacted by the new policy: parents.
Turnout at the standing-room-only event surprised even some of the organizers, who had reserved two classrooms at Myrtle Elementary for child care, both of which became filled beyond capacity.
“We only booked two classrooms for daycare and they’re full,” one organizer was heard saying to another. “Should we just take the older kids and move them outside?” The same organizer had just finished politely refusing a family’s request for watermelon, since that had also run short.
Parents and their kids were not the only ones on hand. There were also teachers and community organizers from the South Kern area who added their perspectives to a dialogue on what the priorities should be for new school funding.
“Well, improving schools through [after-school] activities,” said Isabel, a local mother of four. “There are very few sports… things for kids to do.” Also, she continued, “school buses can be improved; my daughter tells me they seat them three to a seat. And for some schools, they only have buses for the kindergarteners.”
The event became a forum for candid talk between parents and teachers. One parent complained that their child was losing out on instruction time on Fridays for what he called “teacher training,” to which an Arvin High School teacher countered by reminding the audience that the time was regained during an extra week of classes held in June, and that the trainings help teachers with their lesson planning.
One mother of a special education student gave an emotional accounting of what she claims is poor treatment of special needs students at Arvin High School.
Despite some tension, the discussion between parents, teachers and community organizations remained civil, with popular statements by speakers garnering applause or vocal agreements from the rest of the audience. The most audible support from the audience was elicited by a parent who suggested that planning meetings and board meetings take place at times similar to the Express, so as to accommodate for parents’ work schedules, rather than in the middle of the day.
“Often people simply don’t have time — if you’re a single mother you simply don’t have time to be involved,” said one mother. “You get home, and you have to cook [and] tend to kids or the home. There just isn’t as much time.”
She suggested fliers or teacher telephone conferences for busy parents.
The bustle of an auditorium full of parents eager to share their views on the problems afflicting their children’s schools provided ample information for administrators — some of whom were present, such as the Vineland district superintendent — and teachers. The needs most frequently mentioned by parents included increased access to technology, increased availability of after-school programs, especially sports and physical education, and increased school bus routes.