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You had to be fast to catch the charismatic man in the tan suit gliding around the Los Angeles School District's 13th Annual Parent Summit held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. One minute he was checking with volunteers and staff at the registration booths, the next he was one floor up sticking his head into conference rooms making sure presentations were running smoothly. Look again and he was on stage in the West Hall introducing the entertainment and speakers during lunch.
"Come in Chris, come in Chris," a staff member on a two-way radio was trying to contact Christopher Downing, the man in charge now on stage. "He may not answer because he probably can't hear from the band playing," said the staffer who was about to give up when a voice crackled through the intercom. It was Downing who calmly troubleshooted the caller's question before introducing a marching band on stage.
Downing, the Administrator of the LAUSD Parent Community Services Branch (PCSB) is thrilled over the success of the Summit, which drew over 4,000 attendees April 25th. "This Summit has to have been our best judging from the feedback and comments we have received." said Downing who points out there was a lot of new parents attending. "We used Connect-ED, a new notification system to get the word out this time." Connect-Ed was implemented in 2007 to be used for school-to-parent communication in an event of an emergency, but it's also used for regular attendance notifications, as well as important district announcements like the Summit.
"Parents are getting a lot of information to help their children and they will have more power and connections," says Getachew Kassa, an Ethiopian born Music instructor. "They are learning what is expected of them as parents and ways to help their students. They are also learning their rights," he said. "This Summit is opening a door for more parents, because they will go home and tell other parents who will attend next year."
This type of networking is exactly what happened between two women at the conference. Cynthia Pitts, the mother of two teenagers has been coming every year to the Parent Summit since 1997, and she told her friend Khoya Howard the mother of a one-year-old, who started joining her. "I truly enjoy the parent conference," says Howard, " I think they are very informative. They provide good information and I look forward to coming every year."
This year's powerful keynote speaker Mary Montle Bacon, Ph.D., a highly sought-after educational consultant around the world, is known for her straight-talk seminars and speeches, "Parents have to understand they can't just drop off their kids in kindergarten and expect them to walk across the stage later and get a high school diploma unless they are vigilant about journey through the educational system," said Dr. Bacon. "The Parent Summit is important because we have assembled a group of people who understand how important it is to learn how to be more effective co-educators with schools."
This is exactly the aim of the Parent Community Services Branch (PCSB) to help reach out to parents so they can become more involved in their child's education." "We have set out a course to change the paradigms here in our office," says Downing. "We've been working more with training parents on the school site counsel. It's been very rewarding shifting from just having meetings to actually working directly with parents at school sites and providing information that's going to make a difference in the lives of students."
An enthusiastic Downing says recent parent trainings have included Title One Parental Involvement Policies and child abuse prevention training. PCSB is also incorporating a new bulletin that provides support for schools in regards to their parent advisory committees. Parents are now able to download trainings notes and power point slides from presentations they have missed like the Summit. And, according to Downing, one of the most exciting developments is the upcoming "Tool Kit" that will be placed in every Parent Center in the district. "This kit will provide guidelines and the best practices to make sure each Parent Center is engaging and empowering parents at school sites."
Downing, who is approaching his 21st year as a LAUSD veteran, says eight members of his family have been district employees at one time including his mother and father. He has a unique perspective of LAUSD having been a teacher, mentor teacher, a principal, and assistant principal. Downing's distinguished career includes being a District-wide Coordinator and the Assistant Director of the Compensatory Education Compliance and Evaluation Unit.
When complimented on heading the Parent Summit, Downing quickly deflects any praise and instead points to Rita Caldera Assistant Superintendent, School, Family and Parent/Community Services; his 10-member staff at the Branch office; the 30 members of the parent advisory committees, as well as district staffers who all collaborated to put the event together. "I'm very please to work with such a committed group of individuals. It took many hours of planning and preparation to make sure 54 workshops went well. Dr. Bacon who gave a powerful message, and the high quality of the workshops this year made the Summit the best ever."
Downing believes in the importance of parent training from more than an LAUSD Administrator perspective. He feels his best experience aiding his job at PCSB is being the father of two small girls. "They keep me centered on the importance of parent involvement," says Downing. "I'm a life long learner. I often sit in on workshops and trainings and learn strategies to hopefully help my wife and I to be better parents."
His message to fathers? "Be involved. Male support is necessary at the school site," says Downing. "It gives a strong message to your kids. We are working on making sure the environment at schools is more welcoming. If you have never tried to volunteer make an effort, it will be very rewarding experience for you."
For more information on reaching the Parent Community Services Branch. Visit http://sfpc.lausd.k12.ca.us/pcsbÂ Â or/call (213)217-5272.
Janet Alston Jackson - www.Sportingtherightattitude.com