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Lowell Parents Eager for Citywide Dialogue

September 26, 2018

LOWELL -- In an effort to engage district parents, the long dormant but once vibrant Citywide Parent Council -- now called the Citywide Family Council -- is returning.

“We want the make-up of the group to be diverse. We want all schools to be represented,” said Rebecca Duda, Family Resource Center Coordinator. “We just want to have a dialogue with families.”

The kick-off meeting is scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Lowell Senior Center. It will include dinner, raffles, childcare and, upon request, interpretation services. The first 50 attendees will receive a backpack.

Eventually, Duda said the group will be “parent-driven,” though the first event is a collaboration between the district and two non-profits: Project LEARN and Working Cities Lowell.

In April, School Committee member Dominik Lay made a motion instructing Superintendent Salah Khelfaoui to investigate strategies to increase parent engagement, including the Citywide Parent Council.

Duda said the district held a preliminary meeting in June that drew about 30 parents who discussed the reintroduction of the group. The name change, to the more inclusive Citywide Family Council, was decided at that meeting, she said.

Though district schools have individual parent organizations, this group will focus on issues and initiatives across multiple schools.

Current School Committee member Jackie Doherty joined the Citywide Parent Council decades ago when her oldest son was a kindergarten student at Bailey Elementary School. Her involvement in the school system grew from there.

“Being part of this community effort ... got you involved in other aspects of the city and community,” she said.

Former School Committee member Michael Gallagher and Middlesex North Register of Deeds Richard Howe also took part in the council, she said.

The Citywide Parent Council was a strong organization for two decades though attendance started dwindling after 2001 and by 2012 only a small group remained, Doherty said.

She believes the regular attendance of superintendents at the meetings was key to its success. At a meeting last week, Doherty urged Acting Superintendent of Schools Jeannine Durkin to attend.

“That’s the plan,” Durkin said. “If I cannot be there, there will be a member of the team there to hear the voice of our families and provide information that might be requested.”

Duda said she also plans to attend the meetings.

Shamir Rivera, the Alumni and Engagement Coordinator for Project LEARN, and Shaun McCarthy, Initiative Director of Working Cities Lowell, said the Citywide Family Council will continue their engagement efforts.

Rivera said her organization has held well-attended action groups over the past year that tackled issues like busing, scheduling and recess.

She said they want to hand the reins to parents now that the organization is more than halfway through a three-year grant funding this initiative.

Working Cities Lowell, a partnership between thirteen different organizations focusing on the Acre, has held monthly dinners for parents and administrators. The organization will provide food at the upcoming event, but expects to continue these monthly dinners independent of the Citywide Family Council.

“It’s a welcoming environment sitting at the table with the superintendent,” McCarthy said. “It takes out the intimidation factor.”

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins

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