PARENT POWERED: Q&A reveals how one Richmond charter faces community engagement challenge head-on

In a recent post, Education Matters called on West Contra Costa Charter Schools to more effectively live up to the requirements and expectations of the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

Prompted by a report that criticized charter schools for falling short, our piece encouraged local charter schools to not only meet the LCFF’s requirements, but also to improve their transparency and best-practice reporting within our community, as well as in mandatory state reports.

Tana Monteiro, Family and Community Engagement Coordinator at Richmond College Prep (one of the charters named in the report), responded to our post. She recognized RCP’s need to offer a more complete picture of its community engagement work, and lamented that, in their focus on doing the work required to deeply engage parents, they did, indeed, fall short on reporting all the steps she and the RCP community have taken to fully realize the intent of LCFF funding.

In the following Q&A, Montiero elaborates on that work, including the successes and areas for continued improvement RCP has identified for the future.

Monteiro’s responses have been edited for length and clarity.

* * * 

Education Matters: What was your reaction to the report that was critical of local charter schools compliance with LCFF, and to our call for charter leaders to do more?

Tana Monteiro:  I thought the report was pretty much right on target. I know that writing a good LCAP takes a lot more work than Richmond College Prep has had the capacity to do. In the past few years I have been to numerous LCAP trainings and School Site Council trainings, given by the West County District, Healthy Richmond, and even one with Rigel Massaro, who authored the Public Advocates study.

I know what it takes and how important is to ensure that the parents and community are meaningfully involved. I also know how hard it is to capture everything that is being done especially in a LCAP document which doesn’t really allow for a full report such as the type I would write up for our school board, SSC, or a grantee.

EM: What steps have you and the RCP community taken to increase parent voice in deciding how to allocate state funds provided by LCFF?

TM: Well, first, we realized we had to get more African American parents involved in our School Site Council (SSC) meetings. As far as I know, RCP is the only school in West Contra Costa Unified School District with an SSC that has a balance of parent voices. At most meetings, we have five to seven African American parents in attendance, and seven to ten Latino parents. This is new for us. In the past few years, we only had one African American on our SSC.

EM: With its sizable African American student population what do you think was responsible for this imbalance?

TM: We knew the problem was ours. We were not doing enough to engage African American parents in an intentional way. We were not reaching out in the way that would ensure they would truly feel welcome and invited to be involved in the school.

Tana Monteiro, Family and Community Engagement Coordinator at Richmond College Prep. Photos: Education Matters

EM: What did you do to try to change that?

TM: We hosted a special dinner just for the African American parents. We sent home sealed invitations to each African American parent, and we personally called each one to invite them to the dinner. We even did a “robo-call” reminder.

This intentional outreach brought 50 African American parents to our dinner!

At the dinner we had beautiful linen tablecloths and flowers, and we provided childcare. We had breakout sessions to hear from parents in smaller groups, and guest speakers including Dr. Fatima Alleyne, who is a member of the Contra Costa County School Board member and an African American parent of a WCCUSD student. Speaking from her own experience, Dr. Alleyne emphasized the importance of parents’ role on the SSC and of their participation in decision-making around the LCFF.

EM: Did you see any change? How did the event impact African American parent involvement in the SSC?

TM: The following week we had our first SSC meeting of the year, and about 30 African American parents were in attendance. I used the district and the Parent Leadership Action Network SSC training tool kit to give a brief overview of what the SSC is and does.  I was clear that the SSC was an elected voting position and that parents would be voting on budget issues regarding the LCAP, and our low-income, foster youth, and English-learner’s needs. At that meeting we had ten parents sign up to run for the SSC, and five parents were elected.

EM: Since then, how has the SCC made a difference in RCP’s practices, especially in terms of the school’s LCAP?

TM: Over the few months that followed, our SSC meeting agendas included an LCAP training and breakdown of the school LCAP. The Directors gave the monthly report with the test scores and other student achievement data, and explained the programs we use in the classroom. We had a presentation from the Mindful Life Project so that parents would be informed about the programs that the LCFF funds are supporting.

At RCP, the SSC parent co-chairs now create the agendas and co-facilitate the meetings.

At our next SSC meeting we will review the annual parent surveys. We will assess the parent responses/feedback from those surveys. We will also have our parent member of the WCCUSD Multilingual District Advisory Committee (MDAC) give a monthly report at our SSC meetings so that our school is up to date and in compliance with ESL priorities.

"We can do more and will do more."

Tana Monteiro, Richmond College Prep

We take very seriously our responsibility to engage and be responsive within our community. The RCP parents and I attend Nystrom Urban Revitalization Effort meetings, Santa Fe Neighborhood Council meetings, Healthy Richmond Schools and Neighborhood events and trainings, as well as City of Richmond Community Services Department meetings. We consistently integrate our effort into larger neighborhood and community initiatives.

EM: What kept you from including some of these updates in your report, and how will you change your practices so that, in the future, there’s more clarity and transparency around your efforts to include parent and community voice in your LCAP?

TM: Even though we do a lot, we still have room to improve. I thought that the recommendations in the [Public Advocates] article were right on, and Richmond College Prep can and should adhere to them. We can do more and will do more.

Moving forward we will use the recommendations Public Advocates addressed in their article as a guideline, and we will make sure to not only list the services we provide, but to explain the services as principally directed or effective for high need students and the engagement of parents.

We have made the commitment as a school to make the time needed to ensure we are fully capturing and writing robust reports on what is being done.  We will make sure our LCAP reflects the work, engagement, and services that are being provided for the students and families we serve.

EM: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am proud to work at RCP. I am proud of the work we do to ensure that our high need students (which represents about 92% of the students we serve) are getting everything they need to succeed and to thrive. I am also proud of the work I have been able to do to meaningfully engage parents in my role as the Family and Community Engagement Coordinator.

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