Thursday, May 3, 2007

Schools continue to fill liaison positions

Some say parents are confused about the role

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Some Prince George’s parents and education activists said poor planning by the school system has left parents confused about the role of parent liaisons as the county has more than half the liaison positions unoccupied.

Around 100 county schools have parent liaisons while the school system will sift through more than 800 applications to fill the approximately 100 remaining slots by the start of the 2007-2008 school year, said schools spokesman John White.

‘‘We should be fully staffed by the next school year,” White said.

Parents said some liaisons needed time to understand their responsibilities as a bridge between parents – especially those who speak English only as a second language – and schools.

Schools Superintendent John Deasy announced plans to hire a liaison for every school in the county last summer. The liaison would work at the school, preferably be someone from the community, organize meetings with current and potential parents and serve as a go-between for parents whose children face disciplinary measures at school. Several schools with heavy Spanish-speaking populations have had parent liaisons since the mid-1990s.

After 11 years as a security guard at Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine, Shannon Brown said her transition into the parent liaison spot was a smooth one.

‘‘Since I already had a rapport with the kids and parents, they knew me, which made the job easier,” said Brown, who started as liaison in January. ‘‘I feel pretty comfortable with [the position], because I kind of know the ins and outs of the school.”

Like many parent liaisons in the county, Brown said a major part of her job is scheduling parent workshops. A recent workshop focused on the importance of High School Assessments (HSA) and how parents could help their children prepare for the series of tests that will be a requirement for graduation beginning with the class of 2009.

Unlike many Prince George’s liaisons, who have less than a full school year of experience, Ana Burgos is a veteran in the position. In her tenth year as liaison at Adelphi’s Buck Lodge Middle School, Burgos said her responsibilities differ from many other county schools.

‘‘Translating is a big part of my job,” said Burgos, whose bilingual skills have proved crucial at Buck Lodge, which is 57 percent Hispanic.

Burgos said some parents who recently moved from Latin America have a low level of education and don’t speak any English.

‘‘They want the best for their kids, but they don’t have the ability or the tools to help them,” she said.

Burgos said she organizes monthly workshops designed to help parents understand the Maryland Schools Assessments (MSA) and how students should prepare in the weeks before the tests. Workshop sessions also show parents signs of drug use or gang involvement, she said.

Pamela King-Williams, PTSA president at Gwynn Park High, said the remaining liaison positions should be filled by locals familiar with the school and its surrounding area.

‘‘You care more when you’re from the area,” she said.

Liaisons are paid between $17-$34 an hour.

‘‘I’m a little nervous about the parent liaison working for the county,” King-Williams said. ‘‘But everything has been fine so far.”

The county will spend about $2.2 million on the parent liaison initiative next fiscal year.

Sandy Pruitt, a member of People for Change in Prince George’s County, a citizen group formed last fall, said many parents she has talked with don’t know if their school has a liaison, prompting concerns that the school system was inadequately prepared to fill the roles.

‘‘My concern is we’re using taxpayer money on a program we rolled out and did not plan correctly,” Pruitt said.

Anita Naves, liaison at Charles Carroll Middle School in New Carrollton, said workshop planning is secondary to daily calls to duty. When a student is cited for disruptive behavior in the classroom, Naves said she contacts the parents and tells them what punishment the student faces. She also tells them how to appeal or arrange a meeting with a teacher or administrator.

‘‘You take a negative situation and you make it productive and positive,” Naves said. ‘‘I’m here for you and to help you navigate the system. ... Parents should feel that they have someone to advocate on their behalf.”

E-mail Dennis Carter at dcarter@gazette.net.