Elimination of M-W evening parent-teacher conference catches some parents by surprise

| 22 Feb 2012 | 05:10

    CENTRAL VALLEY - Nina Gilstrap is not happy about the change of scheduling in the upcoming spring parent-teacher conferences within the Monroe-Woodbury School District. The elimination of the evening conference opportunity creates a problem for Gilstrap to now meet with her child’s teacher because it’s impossible for her to attend the daytime meetings. That’s because Gilstrap is a teacher and will be at school. “I work full-time and I can’t take a day off, and neither can my husband,” said Gilstrap, who lives in Monroe and whose child attends kindergarten at Smith Clove Elementary School in Central Valley. “I feel very upset about this. The district gave up my rights to meet with my child’s teacher.” Gilstrap, a high school biology special education teacher in the Paterson, N.J. School District, understands how much time teachers put into their work. “I totally understand the teachers’ perspective,” she said with empathy. “I have four (conference) nights a year. I’m there two hours each time and maybe five parents show up. I don’t want to give up my evenings either.” When she contacted the school district’s administrative offices, she was told the change was due to the contractual agreement resulting from last September’s teacher’s contract ratification, which changed those days from three to two. Part of negotiations Her gripe, she stressed, was with the district for giving in and allowing the change to be something negotiable. “I want to be able to see my child’s teacher,” said Gilstrap. “I want to see his classroom. I want to touch his work.” Gilstrap said she was told to contact her child’s teacher to find an alternate way of meeting. In her case, Gilstrap and her child’s teacher are finding time during the upcoming spring break for a face-to-face meeting. She expressed her gratitude to her for being so gracious to make time during a school break. But Gilstrap knows that may not the case for other parents; and she knows she can’t be the only full-time working parent who can’t take time off. District Superintendent Edward Mehrhof said he’s received a handful of calls from parents and he wanted to set the record straight as to why there was a change from previous years. In past years, he said, the district has scheduled three evening parent-teacher conferences so as to minimize the loss of daytime instruction. However, said Mehrhof, an outcome of last summer’s teacher contract negotiations resulted in a decrease in those evenings from three to two. While negotiations were taking place during those summer months, the district still needed to compile and print its annual calendar which notes most days off and confirmed special events and meetings going on at each school, as of the calendar’s printing deadline. In order to meet the printing and mailing deadline, a decision was made to include the spring conference evening. But that date needed to be eliminated and conference dates changed after the contract was ratified. The calendar had already been distributed. Letters, Mehrhof said, were recently sent home explaining to parents the change in the schedule. Mehrhof wanted to clarify the issue, noting the teacher’s contract also requires them to be available two days a week for conferences; either before or after school, when no other time can be scheduled. An array of other contacts He also said other opportunities to meet with teachers include open houses at each school; through e-mail and telephone contact; and through the district’s Parent Portal so parents can check on their child’s attendance, grades, homework, tests and quizzes. “A key element of a youngster’s academic success in school is parent-teacher contact, Mehrhof wrote in a note to The Photo News. “If a parent needs a face to face meeting with their child’s teacher then the teacher must accommodate the parent and provide dates and times before or after school. There would be additional time to meet even during the school day.” Mehrhof also wrote: “To put this issue in perspective the typical parent-teacher evening conference is five to 10 minutes in length. As a parent I always preferred to schedule my conferences so I could have 20 to 30 minutes with my children’s teachers. I would then have a much better understanding of their progress or issues. I hope this information helps.” While Gilstrap was able to solve her meeting challenge, she hoped the district would revisit this issue during the next contract negotiation. “What am I getting?” Gilstrap said. “The district gave up something, the teachers got something, and I lost my right to meet with my child’s teacher at night.” - Nancy Kriz

    Changes to the Monroe-Woodbury spring parent/teacher conference schedule
    Thursday, March 31, will remain a half-day, parent-teacher conference day for kindergarten through fifth grade.
    Friday, April 15 will be a full day parent-teacher conference. There will be no school for students.
    There will no longer be evening parent-teacher conferences on the following dates:
    Thursday, March 24 for Middle School
    Tuesday, March 29 for Middle School
    Monday, April 4 for high school
    Monday, April 11 for kindergarten and first grade
    Tuesday, April 12 for high school
    Thursday, April 14 for grades two to five
    Source: The Monroe-Woodbury School District Web site