Washington--Serving as a sort of Pied Piper of parental involvement in the schools, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson led parents and children into classrooms at several Washington-area schools last week to kick off a new year of commitment to education.
Mr. Jackson had issued a call for parents to attend the first day of school with their children. And while he focused his campaign on Washington and its suburbs, he said his message was aimed at the rest of the country as well.
“When parents and teachers are disconnected, it’s like a disconnected car battery with no fire power,” Mr. Jackson preached at a Labor Day rally in Washington, where he was joined by the comedian Bill Cosby and local officials.
“The more parents we get in schools in September,” he said, “the more graduations we’ll see in May and June.”
In his visits to schools in Washington and in suburban Maryland and Virginia, the former Presidential candidate also met with teachers and encouraged them to help parents feel more welcome when they do get involved.
Such partnerships, he said, “should be the new formula for excellence in all schools across the nation.”
To support Mr. Jackson’s efforts, Washington Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. issued an executive order allowing city employees two hours of paid leave from their jobs so they could bring their children to school on opening day.
School-district officials do not have reliable counts of how many parents heeded Mr. Jackson’s call, but several principals described the campaign as a great success.
Brian J. Porter, a spokesman for the public schools in Prince George’s County, Md., a suburban Washington district that is the nation’s 16th largest, said officials have estimated that 12,000 to 15,000 parents visited on opening day.
“What first appeared to be a tremendous headache for principals turned out to be a very warm reception,” he said. “Principals are calling in asking if we can do something like this every year. They say sometimes it takes something like this to open people’s eyes.”
While some parents and educators described Mr. Jackson’s efforts as political grandstanding because of speculation that he may enter the city’s mayoral race this year, most welcomed the attention brought to the issue.
Praise From Parents
“I think this is wonderful,” said Martha A. Sheppard, the mother of two elementary-school honor students. “There are so many parents out there who don’t have any idea how much they can help their children by being active at school.”
“I see this as my duty as a parent,” said Rochelle Bungie, who, with her husband Leon, took the day off work to accompany their 9-year-old daughter to Columbia Park Elementary School in Landover, Md. “We’re fortunate that we can take the time off work.”
“For a lot of other parents,” she added, “it may come down to a mat8ter of dollars and cents. But this is not something I’m willing to sacrifice.”
“It’s also a real plus when parents reinforce at home what kids learn at school,” said Gerald Stone, teacher at Coolidge High School in Washington.
‘Revitalizing and Re-energizing’
Andrew E. Jenkins 3rd, superintendent of schools in the District of Columbia, praised Mr. Jackson for “revitalizing and re-energizing” the call to action for parents.
But he pointed out that the city launched a similar campaign last spring as part of a district move toward school-based management.
He added that the city has established an office for parental involvement, with a staff of 13, to train principals, teachers, and parents to work together.
Solomon Majid, the district’s new parental-involvement coordinator, said parents in Washington traditionally have not gotten involved in schools because they have not felt welcome.
“Many parents here are poor and under-educated, and they are intimidated by educators,” he said, “but we’re working to break down those barriers.”
He also noted that some district officials were slightly miffed that Mr. Jackson “took ownership of this issue as if he started it here, without acknowledging what is already happening.”
But, he said, school officials “are glad for his help.”