School Beat — January 14, 2010

Let’s not forget power of conversation

by DAN WARREN, Principal
East Rockford Middle School

As you may know, Rockford Public Schools (RPS) has an Internet-based school and home communication system called Family Access. This system has streamlined communication with parents throughout the district. Family Access not only allows a parent to view their student’s daily grades, but also to obtain updated school information and provides easy electronic communication with teachers.

In Family Access, teachers can provide parents with various classroom materials associated with the education of their child. These materials may include worksheets, field trip forms or supplemental reading resources. Teachers and school administration can post school information in Family Access for viewing, allowing another valuable means for quick and efficient communication.

At East Rockford Middle School, 94 percent of parents have signed up and are using Family Access. If you are an RPS parent and wish to sign up for Family Access, you may do so by visiting your child’s school and providing appropriate identification. It only takes a few minutes to sign up.

Speaking as a building administrator, having Family Access certainly has improved our overall communication with parents. This electronic communication has allowed us to avoid sending hardcopy material home with students, thus saving the district money in paper cost. Family Access allows us quick and efficient means to provide important school information via sending out group e-mails to our parents.

Obviously this system has drastically changed how we communicate with parents. Communication through Family Access allows teachers and parents to remain in constant contact about a student’s performance in the classroom.

Without a doubt, this electronic communication is most beneficial in assisting educators and parents with guiding student success. Rockford is blessed with highly involved parents who believe in the importance of a quality education for all students. Our school system’s overall success is rooted in this active parent involvement. Parents are involved in a variety of ways and provide tremendous support for all aspects of our schools. However, the existence of Family Access presents us with another challenge, a possible trend toward a decrease in person-to-person communication between parents and classroom teachers.

Since the inception of Family Access, we have witnessed at the secondary buildings more parents indicating that they have only used electronic communication with their child’s teachers. Most always in these discussions the parent indicates satisfaction with their child’s classroom performance. In some cases, the parent has stated that they only arranged conferences with teachers in those classrooms in which the student may be struggling.

The trend for some parents is to allow the transfer of student performance information through teacher e-mails or viewing performance online. This communication is certainly all good. However, its convenience does create a move away from the positive parent and school communication once only existing through personal meetings with classroom teachers.

The quality of a person-to-person meeting best defines interpersonal relationships that exist within the walls of a classroom. It is difficult for educators to relay a child’s classroom personality, social contributions, their spirit for involvement or their overall healthy relationships with others through electronic communication. E-mails and posted grade reports do not totally speak for the child’s overall school progress.

So, I encourage you to certainly use Family Access. It’s a wonderful communication tool that will only get more efficient. However, I strongly encourage you to find the time to meet personally with your child’s teachers. The power of human conversation is most valuable and elicits emotions that don’t exist using a machine.

Building a positive school and home partnership is significant to student success. Certainly Family Access is an excellent means of communicating. However, genuine conversation between parent and teacher is absolutely necessary in defining our overall success as a quality school system.

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