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My child's school got an "F" now what?

Your hands tremble with a mixture of anxiety and excitement as you open your child’s report card. Your heart sinks when you see a failing grade. Now imagine that it’s not your child that received a failing grade, but his school. That’s what parents whose kids attending one of the 34 Focus or Priority schools across the Hudson Valley are feeling right now.

New York State was recently granted a “flexibility waiver” to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, more commonly known as “No Child Left Behind.” According to “No Child Left Behind” schools are now identified based on their rank in the State regarding student performance on State tests and are categorized as either Reward, Good Standing, Focus, or Priority schools.

The lowest performing 5% of schools are considered Priority schools, and Focus schools either have the lowest achieving students or the lowest graduation rates for a particular student subgroup.

If you got a letter in the mail informing you that your child’s school has been designated a Priority or Focus school, don’t worry! There are several ways you and your child’s school can band forces and help your child succeed.

1. Treat school status as a grade

It’s important that you don’t panic. Instead treat your child’s school status like any report card. It is merely one in a series of measurements of performance and doesn’t mean your child is doomed to failure. Schools identified as Priority or Focus schools are required by law to complete a school comprehensive improvement plan (SCIP) by November 17th. These plans will identify what the educational gaps are, set goals to improve these areas and set timelines for achieving those goals. These plans will be made available to parents once they are completed. That being said, parents should take extra steps to help their child continue the learning process once the end-of-school bell rings.

Kids are under increased pressure these days as they are subjected to more and more state testing. “In a time of high stakes testing, parental involvement takes on a higher role than ever before,” says Dr. Ivan Katz, superintendent of Fallsburg Central School District.

2. Become friends with your child’s teacher

The only way to really know how your child is doing in school is to make their teacher your new best friend. That means try to attend as many open houses and parent teacher conferences as possible. If you simply can’t fit it into your schedule, then send the teacher an e-mail once in a while to find out how your child is doing in class and what areas they may need extra help in. If your child does need help with something, the teacher will be able to suggest things you can do with your child at home or perhaps recommend an after-school program that has tutoring available. 

“Parents should realize that it’s not solely the teacher’s responsibility to teach our kids; it’s ours as well,” says Allison Wall-Carty, mom of a kindergartner at Benjamin Cosor Elementary School. “Anything I can do to further my child’s academic career, I’ll do it.”

3. Make it your homework to help your child succeed

“It’s so important for parents to help children with their homework,” says Shyla Carlson, former kindergarten teacher at Benjamin Cosor Elementary School in Fallsburg. “Kids can lose up to 80% of what they learned during the day if they don’t do their homework, which reinforces it.” Parents can sit down with their child every night and go over their assignments with them. Better yet, parents can ask their kids what they learned from their homework and if there are things that they do not understand or had trouble learning. 

“Parents should have in-depth conversations with their kids about what they are learning in school,” advises Mr. Scott Persten, kindergarten teacher at Benjamin Cosor Elementary School. “Ask questions that require more than just yes or no answers and remember to keep the topic of school fun.”

4. Make learning part of everyday life

Today, most kids can use a computer mouse long before they even pick up a pencil for the first time, so why not steer your child toward educational websites that offer games and other fun ways to learn important skills like reading and math. If you don’t have a computer in your home, libraries offer computers with internet access free of charge.

Whether the grade is your child’s or your school district’s, it can be improved when parents and teachers work together. Succeeding in school means more than just getting good grades, it’s making learning a way of life for our children.

Erin Johnson is a freelance writer and mother of two. She lives in Sullivan County. Her motto is: “All moms are working moms.”