Washington School grades parents

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On Feb. 7, Harold Washington Elementary School in Burnside put two sets of report cards in the mail. One set graded students, the other graded students’ parents.

Launched three years ago, Washington’s Parent Report Card program has helped eliminate tardiness, boost attendance by several percentage points and increase parent participation in school activities by 75 percent, according to Principal Sandra F. Lewis. On any given day, some 25 parents volunteer time for work at the school.

Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas was so impressed when he visited Washington School that now he is recommending parent report cards or contracts for schools citywide. “The card itself acts as a ‘what you need to do,’ a kind of reminder on some of the big issues,” observes Vallas.

Every marking period, Washington parents and guardians are graded in several “subjects,” including whether their child gets homework in on time, has regular attendance, is punctual, respects authority and dresses in the required uniform. They get A’s, B’s, C’s or “area of concern.”

Parents with high grades have their names posted on an honor roll and, at the end of the school year, are rewarded with certificates, trophies and accolades at an awards assembly and luncheon. “The kids feel really good because it says to them, ‘You’ve earned your parents the chance to be on the honor roll,'” Lewis notes.

Also, Lewis has continually “raised the bar,” requiring more of parents to get honor-roll status. “The first year we concentrated on what the children were accomplishing. This year, parents also have to participate at the school, in any capacity at least once every marking period, to qualify.” The school also asks parents whether they want a conference to talk about how they might improve.

Before the program began, almost 20 percent of the children were consistently late or absent, and parents weren’t very involved, reports Lewis. “I was looking for a way to connect with them, a way that would show the significance of their participation in their children’s academic and social behavior.”

“Initially, teachers were wary,” she recalls. “They didn’t want to appear to be judgmental. But the parents themselves were so overwhelmingly supportive that it has become an integral part of what we’re doing here.”

“When I received my first report card, I looked at it and my children’s, and it just made me feel good to know that my efforts in helping them with their school work were being recognized,” says Rita White, mother of Don, a 2nd-grader, and William Jr., a 5th-grader.

Dar-Lisa Meaders, a 2nd-grader, says her mom is happy “because I’m working very hard now, and she knows that I’m on the honor roll because of her, and she’s on the honor roll because of me.”