Conferences connect on a personal level at District 16

By Elyse Kaner
Staff Writer

Woodcrest Elementary School was busy last week, as were the other schools in District 16, with parent-teacher conferences.

Curtis Horton, left, first-grade teacher at Woodcrest, visits with parent, Mohamed Adem, during parent-teacher conferences. Principal Judi Kahoun is on the right. Photo by Elyse Kaner

The conferences, the second scheduled for the school year over a three-day period, are especially important for teachers, a time to connect on a personal level with families.

Woodcrest, with a current enrollment of 383 students, usually has about a 95 percent turn out, according to Principal Judi Kahoun.

“Most families, they want to come,” she said. “They care about their kids and they want to come.”

As of last week 95 percent of parents at the district’s elementary level attended conferences, according to District 16 staff. Additional conferences were planned as this edition went to press.

Sharing data

In the 20-minute conferences, teachers share student data with parents. They learn about their child’s progress toward learning targets. Teachers share their observations, not only about general academics but also about their child’s social skills in the classroom.

“I always try to think of it as a team,” said Woodcrest first-grade teacher Curtis Horton. “It’s not your job there (at home) and my job here, it’s our job.”

Conferences create opportunities to set academic and social goals, discuss expectations, identify strengths and challenges, and the teacher learns more about students’ interests and aspirations, said Denise Waalen, director of educational services at District 16.

“We understand that parents are our students’ first teachers and that working in partnership with our families will increase our ability to ignite our students’ inner passion to learn,” Waalen said.

Further, conferences afford additional benefits. They enhance students’ grades, improve behavior and foster more positive attitudes.

“Attending conference sends a signal to sons and daughters that their parents care about their education and that school is a priority,” Waalen said.

Conference discussions can center on anything from Suzie is doing well in reading to Bobby is having problems on the bus. Or Cindy is finding it difficult to follow directions in phy ed. Teachers also learn how the child is getting along at home.

Change over the years

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Conferences have undergone change over the years. Criteria are now set and students are expected to reach targeted goals.An example would be for first-graders to be able to read 40 words per minute. The teacher can track a child’s learning and give more specific testing data nowadays, which gives parents a more realistic view of where their children are at.

The data allows teachers to be more specific in conferences, Horton said.

Also, translators are available for parents who speak limited or no English. Translators have been available at Woodcrest for about 10 years.

Last week, Woodcrest scheduled interpreters for 54 student conferences (about 14 percent), plus one American sign language interpreter. The majority of the interpreters were Spanish (44). Others were Arabic, Chinese, Oromo, Somali and Russian, according to the school’s staff.

Tina Ericson, parent of a first-grade boy and two preschool boys, looks forward to attending conferences.

“I think you learn new things about your child from their teacher,” she said.

Last week she was pleased to learn that her son is blossoming socially.

But Ericson stays in close touch with her son’s teacher more than twice a year at conferences. She communicates through e-mails and voice mail and writes notes in his work folder that he carries with him to school. Recently, she volunteered to chaperone a field trip. Her efforts ensure that she and the teacher are on the same page and allows them to work together, she said.

“The teacher can be your eyes and ears in the classroom,” she said.

Woodcrest makes every effort to ensure that parents have the opportunity to attend conferences, Kahoun said.

The school sends reminders home with the kids. Conferences are offered on three separate days. Two of them are held after school and into the evening, the third is held during the day. If parents miss a conference, efforts are made to follow up for a reschedule.

Some principals have gone so far as to give parents rides who don’t have access to transportation, Kahoun said.

Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]