The ABCs of Developing Parent Leadership

Years before I became a superintendent, I sat down with two dozen newcomer parents from countries around the globe to talk about the needs of their children.

They had plenty of questions and concerns: What’s a GATE Program? What’s special education? How can I help my child at home? Their questions were not much different from my own parents who had immigrated to the U.S. from mainland China decades earlier.

In 1996, our school district created the Parent Leadership Conference to support families that were trying to navigate our schools. Hundreds of parents and families now attend this free annual event. Joining them are board of education members, principals, district staff, civic leaders and representatives from community organizations. The 23rd annual conference took place in March in multiple languages with workshops to counsel parents and guardians on how to support their students at school and at home.

We also launched the Parent Leadership Academy, which runs more than 40 workshops for parents throughout the school year, attended by more than 1,000 parents. Academy sessions include “How to Help Your Child With Homework,” “Navigating the College Admissions Process,” “Working with a Special-Needs Student,” “Dealing With Cyberbullying” and “How to Cope With a Teenager.”

The academy organizers, composed of district staff, develop a comprehensive and diverse schedule of workshops based on the needs expressed by parents. Staff works closely with presenters to convey relevant information that is easy to understand.