Businesses can help keep parents involved |

Businesses can help keep parents involved

John Seelmeyer

When Elaine Lancaster was a classroom teacher in Pleasant Valley, she relentlessly told parents they needed to be in the audience when their kids were on stage in a class performance.

“For a child to not have someone who loves them in the audience, it’s devastating,” she says.

These days, Lancaster is a top official in the Washoe Education Association, and she’s joining with schools executives to make the same point to business owners and managers in the region.

It’s critically important to the region’s economic vitality, say Lancaster and other participants in Truckee Meadows Tomorrow, that businesspeople provide opportunities for parents to stay involved with schoolchildren.

The argument of Truckee Meadows Tomorrow, a group that seeks to protect the region’s quality of life, starts with the importance of education to the region’s economy.

The group isn’t alone.

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“Quality education is crucial to growing existing business and attracting new companies to northwestern Nevada,” says Reed Simmons, chairman of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.

“Business correlates education to a region’s quality of life especially when they’re looking to start up an operation in the area, so it’s critical for us to have an available skilled workforce to support quality business growth.”

So how does the area improve the quality of its educational system? There’s no shortage of opinions, says Steve Mulvenon, director of communications and community outreach for the Washoe County School District.

When a Truckee Meadows Tomorrow group considering education set out to define the factors that could be measured as part of educational quality, the group originally came up with more than 100.

“We took our job seriously, but this was unmanageable,” says Mulvenon, who was part of the group.

Now the list of education yardsticks is down to 35 and the group quickly figured out that the involvement of parents is a key piece in achieving many of them.

“We knew from 20 years of research that the level and quality of parental involvement has a huge impact on a number of other indicators,” Mulvenon says.

That, in turn, led to a three-way deal between the school district, the education association and Truckee Meadows Tomorrow setting out specific goals to increase parental involvement.

The compact signed in early 2003 commits the school district and teachers group, for instance, to training sessions for teachers and administrators on methods of increasing parent involvement.

The school district’s fulltime coordinator of parent involvement and volunteerism, Lisa-Marie Lightfoot, is spreading the word about programs that individual schools in the district have found successful.

One growing realization among organizers of the effort to increase parental involvement is the importance of businesses.

“What would help is a more schoolfriendly, parent-friendly philosophy on the part of some businesses,” says Lancaster.

Although many businesses encourage parents and other employees to be involved with schools, she says some businesses won’t give parents time off to attend a conference with a teacher or other important sessions.

Mulvenon notes that school executives seek parental involvement as a continuum.

On one end, he says, is a parent whose involvement with a schoolchild results in a well-fed, well-rested child arriving for school on time.

At the other end are parents who become deeply involved in the creation of policies for schools in the Legislature and elsewhere.

No matter where a parent’s level of involvement may fall, it ultimately helps build the region’s economy through a stronger educational system, Mulvenon says.

“We know we have a big piece to play in economic vitality,” he says.